“Whenever I tried to invent a character or a situation, I felt a stab of guilt. I could hear my teacher’s quavering voice saying, Write what you know! Why had she insisted on this so vociferously?” Writing class mantras are easy to impart but they are also easily misinterpreted. A.X. Ahmad, author of The Last Taxi Ride and The Caretaker, learns this truth the hard way as he tries to become a writer following a personal upheaval. Pair with Ahmad’s Millions essay on “The Thriller, Reinvented.”
RIP Robert Stone, who passed away at his home in Key West on Saturday. The author, who won the National Book Award in 1975 for his novel Dog Soldiers, was 77. You can get a sense of his work by reading Tatjana Soli’s review of his story collection Fun with Problems.
The big debut this week is Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis. Also of interest is a new collection of essays by Sloane Crosley, How Did You Get This Number. The much delayed U.S. edition of a controversial 2009 Booker longlister, Ed O’Loughlin’s Not Untrue and Not Unkind, is now out. As is this intriguing curiosity: Peacock and the Buffalo: The Poetry of Nietzsche, which purports to be the “first complete English translation of Nietzsche’s poetry.”
Zoë Heller’s takedown of Salman Rushdie in the NYRB may yet ruffle some feathers, but for now it’s nabbed the top spot on New York Magazine’s approval matrix.
The international popularity and utility of English doesn’t show any signs of slowing, but what will the language look like after a few generations of increasing usage? The Economist gives a brief answer, but it doesn’t address the ways English is or will be used by different people to tell their stories. Damian Fowler addresses this when he asks, “[W]hat does it mean to have an American point of view,” or to call a book American in tone, as opposed to British or just English-language? In a blog post for The Paris Review, Fowler offers an answer: American novels are characterized by “a spare, sure sense of narrative, reflected in a colloquial voice, free of affectation.”
A new Pew Research Center survey finds that the share of Americans who have read a book in the last 12 months – 73% – has remained largely unchanged since 2012. And when people do reach for a book, it is much more likely to be a traditional print book than a digital product. See also our essay on the persistence of physical books and, of course, The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, edited by our own C. Max Magee.