Novels that focus on obsessive characters hinge on persnickety details. The need to depict accurately the mind of an obsessive demands that the novelist overemphasize the trifling and tangential. In The Kenyon Review, Vanessa Blakeslee reviews a new and representative example of the form, The Understory by Pamela Erens. Sample quote: “When the smaller steps of daily life are magnified, does that narrative reach its greatest potential for a unified and powerful resonance?” FYI, Erens has written for us.
If you’ve ever heard that literary skill is synonymous with a good memory, you’ve likely bemoaned your own forgetfulness, especially when it comes to important things. Tim Parks felt the same way, until he read a new book on forgetting, which led him to wonder how much knowledge we can retain. In The New York Review of Books, he tackles the paradox of the reader’s memory. You could also read our own Mark O’Connell’s review of Parks’s book Italian Ways.
There's been an incredible amount of both excitement and controversy ever since Harper Lee's publisher announced the upcoming publication of Go Set a Watchman, the reclusive author's second novel. But in a piece for Ploughshares Cathe Shubert wonders "Why not marvel at what all this hullabaloo in the news really signifies: that books still matter, deeply, to the American public–especially books that spark dialogue about interracial relations, justice, and, as Atticus would say, walking in another person’s shoes."
At Slate, our own Mark O’Connell delves into the history of the self-interview, which you can find many examples of over at The Nervous Breakdown. Mark cites examples of self-interviews by prominent writers, including Tennessee Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Year in Reading alum John Banville.
Infinite Jest may have "really taken on a foothold as the 'novel of ideas' of the late 20th and early 21st centuries" but now it's also a "novel of legos," courtesy of Kevin Griffith and his 11 year old son, Sebastian.
New this week: Moonglow by Michael Chabon; I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb; Morning, Paramin by Derek Walcott and Peter Doig; Selected Poems 1968-2014 by Paul Muldoon; and a new Richard Pevear translation of Alexander Pushkin's complete prose. For more on these and other new titles, go read our latest fiction and nonfiction book previews.