Recommended Reading: a piece from the New York Review of Books blog on modern attention spans and what they mean for literature. Hint: it’s not looking too promising. Tim Parks closes with a prediction that “the novel of elegant, highly distinct prose, of conceptual delicacy and syntactical complexity, will tend to divide itself up into shorter and shorter sections, offering more frequent pauses where we can take time out. The larger popular novel, or the novel of extensive narrative architecture, will be ever more laden with repetitive formulas, and coercive, declamatory rhetoric to make it easier and easier, after breaks, to pick up, not a thread, but a sturdy cable.”
Michiko Kakutani‘s generous and oddly moving review of Jay-Z‘s Decoded – in which she seems to find a kindred spirit – almost makes me want to take back all the mean things I’ve said about her. I still don’t trust her judgment, but the review’s worth reading just for the mental image of her in big headphones, nodding along to “Streets Is Watching.” Go ‘head, shorty.
Since his death in 1950, George Orwell has grown more and more popular, so much so that his eponymous adjective is now widely used even by ideological enemies. So how did this state of affairs come about? In the new Intelligent Life, an offshoot of The Economist, Robert Butler delves into the story of how Orwell became an icon. Pair with: Vishwas Gaitonde on his visit to Orwell’s birthplace.
By now the overlap between writers and drug addicts is pretty well-known, but it wasn’t so well-known back when Thomas De Quincey wrote Confessions of an English Opium Eater. In the essay, De Quincey admitted that not only was he addicted to opium, he suspected he’d ingested more of the substance than any other man save Coleridge. (Incidentally, we reviewed a novel by Year in Reading alumnus Jeet Thayil that largely took place in an opium den.)
Every year, like clockwork, a few brave administrators ban a classic book in time for the opprobrium of Banned Books Week. This year, the brave administrators in question work in Randolph County, NC, where Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison will no longer be on the curriculum. Why? Real quote: it’s a “hard read.” (Related: Kelsey McKinney on banning The Bluest Eye.)