“Sometimes I fear that Midwestern authors are seen from a similar vantage point: that many of us are ‘fly-over writers’ to whom readers wave (or just ignore completely) as they make their way to Saul Bellow and Stuart Dybek and Marilynne Robinson. I fear that these bigger names, along with a few others (Charles Baxter, Lorrie Moore), are seen as exceptions to the general rule that little of cultural worth grows in this flat, middle stretch of the country.” On the plight of the literary Midwesterner.
New this week is Julian Barnes’ new collection of stories, Pulse. We also have new novels from Geraldine Brooks (Caleb’s Crossing) and Jean Thompson (The Day We Left Home). There’s also a new collection available from Nobel laureate J.M.G. Le Clezio (Mondo and Other Stories). And new in paperback: Millions Hall of Famer Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart and The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis.
How do you write an accurate memoir without perpetuating stereotypes? Jesmyn Ward struggled with this when writing about absent black fathers and husbands in her book Men We Reaped. “I also had to figure out how much of the truth do I tell, how do I make the truth as balanced as I possibly can? How do I make these people as complicated and as human and as unique and as multifaceted as I possibly can? For me, that was the way I attempted to counteract some of that criticism,” she told The Rumpus.
“I’ve always been interested in the internal shape-changes of the poem. In my student days, it was common to assume that the poem makes a statement — that it’s protesting war, or is grieving a death. My teachers, on the whole, didn’t see a poem as an evolving thing that might be saying something completely new at the end because it had changed its mind from whatever it had proposed at the beginning.” An interview with Harvard’s Helen Vendler about the structure of poetry, the benefits of studying science and mathematics, and the “miraculous” voices of Shakespeare and Keats.
An illustration of why Cliffs Notes are never a substitute for the real thing.The Britannica Blog looks at “fun facts” about the 1,000 most popularly held books in libraries around the world, including this item: “Which author has the most works on the OCLC Top 1000 list? William Shakespeare (with 37 works). He is followed by Charles Dickens (16 works) and John Grisham (13 works).” Here’s the full list where The Bible comes in at #1, the Census at #2, and Mother Goose at #3 (in 2,036 different versions and editions.) (via)Powell’s is making a series of short documentaries about writers that will supplement and stand in for book tours. From the New York Times: “The British author Ian McEwan is the star of the first film, which is planned to run 23 minutes and will feature snippets from an on-camera interview with Mr. McEwan, as well as commentary from peers, fans and critics.” The film is being put out to coincide with the release of his new novel, On Chesil Beach. (via)
In literature and film, there are epic heroes, Campbellian heroes, romantic heroes and tragic heroes. Less well-known is the Byronic hero, whose personality is rakish, extravagant and otherwise similar to Lord Byron. At the Ploughshares blog, a literary blueprint of the archetype. You could also read Jennifer Egan on Byron’s Don Juan.