Mark Twain first rose to fame as the author of an essay about a frog-jumping contest in California. Originally titled “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” the essay went viral in America’s biggest newspapers, eventually inspiring the New York Tribune to write of Twain that “no reputation was ever so rapidly won.” Yet the humor which made the essay so popular is often lost on modern audiences, in no small part because, as Ben Turnoff writes in Lapham’s Quarterly, frontier humor isn’t funny if there’s no Wild West.
“It has been said of the Beatles that there is not a clunker of a song in their oeuvre because they simply never let the bad stuff get released. The same might be said of Nabokov—for ‘Camera Obscura’ shows that he was indeed capable of writing a second-rate novel. (He knew it, and rewrote it.)” John Colapinto looks at Nabokov‘s retranslation of Laughter in the Dark for The New Yorker.
Sometime Ph.D candidate, sometime actor, and ubiquitous lit blog all-star James Franco (henceforth known as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”) has begun filming an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God in West Virginia, and I’m reminded of that line from W. B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming” — “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”
Just in time for today’s Booker announcement, a pair of shortlisters are now (or will be tomorrow) available stateside: In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut and The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. Ian Frazier’s big travelogue (generously excerpted in the New Yorker) Travels in Siberia is out, as is Adam Levin’s massive The Instructions from McSweeney’s. Three more: Djibouti by Elmore Leonard, How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu, and a gorgeous Library of America edition of “six novels in woodcuts” by pioneering graphic novelist Lynd Ward.