Implicit in a lot of the discussions about how negative a book reviewer can be is a question of utility: is a book review an act of public service or a work of art in itself? In the Times, James Parker and Anna Holmes debate the purpose of the review. Sample quote: “I’d argue that a majority of the reading public doesn’t necessarily benefit from the sorts of reviews for which artistry is the point.” You could also read our own Matt Seidel’s hypothetical worst review ever.
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.
“Maybe Gnossos, had [Richard] Fariña lived long enough for a sequel, would have wound up on a commune in Canada, nibbling feta and blissed out on retsina, exhaling paregoric joints in some lush and fragrant garden … But he died in his twenties, like a lot of energetic young men of his era. It was the kind of romantic death we feel we understand almost too well, a promising talent suspended, that sense of exemption he wrote about—from mediocrity, from bourgeois compromise and midlife disappointment—a membrane forever intact.” On the enduring joys and exuberant voice of Richard Fariña’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.
Congratulations are in order for Vanessa Veselka: PEN American has awarded her debut novel Zazen the Robert W. Bingham Prize. I first heard about the novel last year, from what was then the brand-spanking-new LARB, though this Minnesota Public Radio profile of Veselka is also a great way to get acquainted with her exciting talents.
“At first, I didn’t realize that AlexanderIII was translating the book; I thought he was just a fastidious Russian reader with a loose command of the English language. It was fun to see people debating the meanings of my thoroughly worked-over phrases…Then I remembered that no Russian publisher had acquired the rights, and realized that AlexanderIII must be translating it for some kind of book-pirating outfit.” Over at The Atlantic, Peter Mountford recounts the experience of watching book piracy in action.
When you’re trying to keep up with the best new writers out there, it’s easy to forget the debt we owe to the classics. So let’s go back to the beginning: Why Homer Matters, a new book by Adam Nicholson on the father of all poets, explores the question of who Homer was, and whether or not he was even one person. You could also read Frank Kovarik on the parallels between The Odyssey and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.