“Since the middle of the 20th century, the academy has conditioned us to stay grounded within texts and steer clear of writers’ biographies for insights while biographers are often timid about the kind of playful speculation that we can undertake here in Slate. Readers, myself included, tend to wonder about the sources for characters the likes of Kurtz, Sherlock Holmes, and Jay Gatsby—larger-than-life, mysterious, existing on a kind of separate plane—and in doing so we are continuing the quests of the narrators who tried first (Marlow, Watson, and Carraway).” Matthew Pearl asks: was Robert Louis Stevenson the blueprint for Conrad‘s Kurtz?
What’s the best book of the 21st century? To date, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao seems to be the favorite – the BBC polled a few dozen US critics and Junot Diaz‘s novel came in first place. The full list is available from The Guardian, and includes Zadie Smith‘s White Teeth and Michael Chabon‘s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, both of which appeared alongside Oscar Wao in our own “Best of the Millennium” list a few years ago.