You may have heard that E.L. Doctorow passed away last week. The Ragtime and Billy Bathgate author was known for his mastery of historical fiction. At The Guardian, Michael Chabon offers a tribute, arguing that Doctorow found a way out of the binary trap between postmodernism and realism.
“I’ve always loved memoir, but it’s still seen as such a trashy genre and I wanted to speak to it as actual literature because that’s how it feels to me.” Mary Karr sits down with The Rumpus to discuss The Art of Memoir. We recently posted an excerpt from and a review of the book.
In general, fact-checking isn’t the most glamorous part of a journalist’s career, which is why Michael Erard was surprised to find that a recent fact-checking session for an Al Jazeera article turned out to be among the most interesting conversations of his life. Why? His sources were linguists, and their job was to explain to him the workings of brand-new sign languages.
“His books are not only obviously produced by an obsessive film buff (as evidenced by one wry recurring trick, the dates in brackets that follow even citations of celluloid ephemera), they often seem to want to be movies, as shown by another signature device, the way his protagonists – from the 1890s European spies and 1950s New Yorkers in the interwoven narratives of his debut, V. in 1963, all the way to Inherent Vice and Bleeding Edge in 2013 – break anti-naturalistically into song like characters in musicals.” An argument that Thomas Pynchon writes fiction tailor-made for the cinema.
We’ve recommended reading up on Jenny Zhang‘s Sour Heart before, this interview in Hazlitt is one of our favorites. “And maybe this is crude to talk about, it’s not even that I don’t want to write a memoir. Beyond that, do you understand how vulnerable it makes someone to call something nonfiction? Not just emotionally vulnerable but financially vulnerable, do you realize someone that makes $40,000 a year cannot be hit by a lawsuit by some angry ex who objected about a chapter about him? Some guy sees one line about him, missing thousands of lines not about him. That’s why celebrities are the ones who write memoirs.”
In the sixties, when he was a student at Cambridge, Stephen Greenblatt came across a book of Persian art. The book inspired a lifelong interest in the region, which in part explains why, after the University of Tehran invited him to give the keynote address at the first annual Iranian Shakespeare Congress, he packed his bags and headed over to the Middle East. In The New York Review of Books, the Harvard professor and Swerve author writes about his experience.