“In creative writing, I teach that characters arise out of our need for them. By now, the person I created in New York was the only one I wanted to be. …Eight years after reaching the end of myself, I was on borrowed time. Whether it was in a plane or a coffin, I knew I had to get out of Jamaica.” Marlon James, author of The Book of Night Women, which once gave me so much trouble, and whose novel A Brief History of Seven Killings the Book Report covered here, writes for the New York Times Magazine about leaving Jamaica to find himself in Minnesota.
“How is it possible that a smallish army of discerning readers agree that Jim Harrison is one of the few truly great living American writers, yet he has not gotten the wider audience—or the widespread praise—he so plainly deserves?” Our own Bill Morris has some theories.
We’ve written a fair bit about the By the Book series at the Times. You can read a selection of the best entries in a collection published by the paper. This week, the series featured another novel guest: Alan Gilbert, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Sample quote: “I don’t seek out books about music. I’ve read them over the years, but somehow, as a genre, it isn’t something I am specifically looking for.”
Don’t blame Amazon or Goodreads for authors writing rave reviews of their own work. Writers have been self-promoting since the 1700s, when it was called “puffery.” As Nicholas Mason writes for Symposium Magazine, “Nearly every British writer of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries either participated in or benefitted from ginned-up book reviews.” The list of puffed up authors includes Mary Wollstonecraft, Walter Scott, and Mary Shelley.
Over at Bookslut, Brian Nicholson follows up our recent piece on Silvina Ocampo’s Thus Were Their Faces with his own review of the book, writing that “She does not need to invent books of infinite pages, for the world of what we know already contains things as strange as mirrors.” The review draws a comparison between her work and that of Borges, her close friend.
Last year, Laura van den Berg came out with a new book, The Isle of Youth, which Nathan Huffstutter reviewed for The Millions. On the Guernica blog, Dwyer Murphy interviews van den Berg, who talks about jacket photos, her first collection and whether a writer from Florida is part of the Southern tradition. (You could also read van den Berg’s Year in Reading entry.)
The Olympics Opening Ceremony this year sure was… something. Thankfully, folks more eloquent than I are here to parse its craziness for us: Jenny Diski and Rafil Kroll-Zaidi on what it was, plus Alex Shephard and the Full Stop bunch on what it should have been.
During the Cold War, the CIA became entrenched in cultural life through an organization named, ironically enough, the Congress for Cultural Freedom. In order to fight communism, they funded socialist artists. The Awl has compiled a list of literary journals, including the Kenyon Review and The Paris Review, that were once supported by the CIA.