Is readability a myth? In an article for The Atlantic Noah Berlatsky argues that there are no “easy” or “difficult” books, or rather that these are relative terms – a book that gives one person fits may be light reading for someone else. His argument pairs interestingly with our own Emily Colette Wilkinson‘s “Difficult Books” series.
We recently offered a look at the odd history of the book blurb here at The Millions. Now the New York Times is looking at this peculiar custom, inviting four contributors to discuss their merits and pitfalls. Among them is our own Bill Morris, who revisits his 2011 essay “To Blurb Or Not To Blurb” about the dilemma he faced when asked to blurb a friend’s book.
Jacob Silverman tackles the niceness epidemic besieging literary criticism at the moment. Where have the hatchet jobs gone? Is social media’s “communalism” robbing critics of their fangs? Each time a publication refuses to print a negative review, the act amounts to “a victory for a publicist, but not for readers,” he writes. (Just a few notes: Silverman’s piece is based on a blog post he wrote recently; Emma Straub has responded on her own blog; and, for what it’s worth, our own Michael Bourne’s recent review of Richard Ford’s Canada was pretty toothy.)
Now online: PEN World Voices video of Keith Gessen interviewing Vladimir Sorokin, author of the just-released Ice Trilogy and Day of the Oprichnik. I was a little nonplussed by the Times‘ decision to begin its profile of Sorokin with a discussion of his hair, but really…it is quite something. Come for the mane, stay for the acerbic insights.
Erika Anderson recites her teenage poetry at readings and shares her reasoning for doing so. “I want to live where irony meets kindness, where daring meets bullshit, where everything that failed meets the hope that something might not. I hope my readers do too.”
The Mississippi was integral to Mark Twain’s fiction, so David Carkeet traced Twain’s path on the river in the new issue of Smithsonian. “What would Samuel Clemens have made of the Riverwalk? He was a grown child who readily took a God’s-eye view of life on earth. He would have loved it.” Pair with: Our essay on Twain’s travel writing.