Could James Baldwin be America’s greatest essayist? Ta-Nehisi Coates believes so — at The Atlantic, he argues that The Fire Next Time shows Baldwin committing “amazing acts of intellectual and emotional courage.” (Related: Buzz Poole paid tribute to Baldwin back in 2008.)
Over at Threepenny Review, Jess Row expounds on “blandness” in the work of Haruki Murakami, and particularly in his 2.8 lb. tome 1Q84—a book tabbed by Charles Baxter in last year’s Year in Reading as the best he’d read all year. Row contemplates the way Murakami’s characters and sentences “almost never lose this placid, observant neutrality,” or “continuous monotone.”
Max Linsky interviewed Riddle of the Labyrinth author Margalit Fox about the other career she’s had for eight years: obituary writing. Fox remarks on how obituaries have grown from being “the bastard stepchild of American journalism” into “the best gig” in the entire industry. Here’s one of my favorite Fox obituaries, by the way.
New York Times travel editor Monica Drake recounts visiting Antigua after reading Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place—a sharp critique of tourism and the colonialist narrative around the island. As she puts it, “For all the drama of its history, […] the beauty of the place, the very thing that bewitches its tourists, renders it a time capsule to its residents.”
Matt Seidel has a helpful guide for book clubs across the country: How To Tell If Someone In Your Book Club Is a Homicidal Maniac. One possible clue? He contributes to the Water for Elephants discussion by “telling anecdotes about torturing animals as a child.”
This may be a temporary thing, but David Foster Wallace’s posthumously published novel The Pale King appears to be shipping now from Amazon, more than two weeks ahead of the official tax day publication date. Update: From the official Pale King Facebook page: the book “doesn’t have a one day laydown: stores can sell it as soon as it’s in their shop.” So looks like the book is now available everywhere. Do you have your copy yet?
Azadeh Moaveni writes about what it was like to own her dog, named London, in Iran: “Most Turks, like most Iranians, recoiled from dogs as though they were grotesque vermin; only ‘guard’ dogs, charged with protecting humans and their goods, were deemed less offensive, though still repellent.” To Moaveni, it was like cultural rebellion.