How did Herman Melville’s friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne affect the writing of Moby-Dick? It’s a hard question to answer with any certainty, but Patrick James Dunagan gives it a shot, drawing evidence from Erik Hage’s book on the authors’ relationship. You could also read Hester Blum’s argument that Moby-Dick is the greatest American novel.
New this week: Orfeo by Richard Powers; Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates; Boy in the Twilight by Yu Hua; What We’ve Lost is Nothing by Rachel Louise Snyder; and His Day is Done by Maya Angelou. For more on these and other new titles, check out our Great 2014 Book Preview.
This year marks the second anniversary of Asymptote, an international journal focusing on literature in translation. The staff is commemorating the occasion by hosting a series of events in eight different locales around the globe: Beijing, Barcelona, Berlin, Islamabad, Chicago, Taipei, Singapore and New York City. Folks attending The Big Apple’s event on January 20th will get to see Millions contributor Reif Larsen live in action alongside Cole Swensen, Paul Legault, Adam Sorkin, and Ariana Reines.
“What traits make Austen special, and can they be measured with data? Can literary genius be graphed?” The New York Times tackles the question of why, 200 years after her death, Jane Austen is still so popular. (One finding: the author“used intensifying words — like very, much, so — at a higher rate than other writers.”) See also: our interview with Curtis Sittenfeld, whose most-recent novel Eligible is the ultimate literary tribute, an adaptation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Joe Fassler interviews recent MacArthur Genius and Year-in-Reading alum Viet Thanh Nguyen on the myth of overnight success, balancing an academic career while still finding time to write novels and the sacrifices all writers must make. Over at Electric Literature.