In an illuminating interview for Slate, James Wood revises his opinion on David Foster Wallace and discusses how aging can change critics. As he puts it, “At exactly the moment that I wanted really to write, and started writing poems and then trying to write bad fiction, I was reading with a view to learning stuff. I was reading poetry. How did Auden do his stanza forms? And I was trying to copy those. What’s a successful poem, what’s an unsuccessful poem? […] What’s a good sentence? I don’t think I’ve changed. I am as sincerely interested in novels that fail as I am in novels that succeed. I just want to work them out. It’s a pleasure for me actually.” Top it off with Jonathan Russell Clark’s essay on Wood’s The Nearest Thing to Life.
Recommended Reading: J. M. Tyree’s new story at Guernica. “There’s a man on the bus sitting directly in front of you. He has a small brown spider crawling across his red shirt, near his left shoulder blade.” You could also watch our episode of The Book Report on Our Secret Life in the Movies by Tyree and Michael McGriff.
In Case You Missed It: This email exchange between playwright Sarah Ruhl and the late Max Ritvo, whose Four Reincarnations is out next week: “I think my mind is a set of lapis lazuli steps falling apart, and all I want is to be told ‘it’s alright, we rebuild it every day’ But what is the it? What is it? And if I was vaporized by a ray gun but was then replaced instantly by an identical person with an identical filigree of nerves shot through with identical sparks cased in an identical skull—would it still be me? I don’t think so. I don’t know if even a perfect Reincarnation would be a Reincarnation to me, in my heart. I’m starting to feel like Theseus and I just want my fucking ship out of the dry-dock and back on the water.”
“Eleven years later, the Atlantic Monthly editor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, made a similar request to an obscure, retiring poet named Emily Dickinson who had written a letter asking if her verses ‘breathed.’ Her response was much like Melville’s, if typically elliptical: ‘Could you believe me—without? I had no portrait, now, but am small, like the Wren, and my Hair is bold, like the Chestnut Bur—and my eyes, like the Sherry in the Glass, that the Guest leaves—Would this do just as well?'” The age-old problem: how writers deal with publicity.
New this week: The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant; Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz; a limited edition of The David Foster Wallace Reader; and The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems by Olena Kalytiak Davis (which I wrote about last week). For more on these and other recent titles, go read our Great Second-half 2014 Book Preview.
The Cambridge University Press just published The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol. 2. (Vol. 1 can be found here.) That alone is worth your time, but as an added bonus the Press’ blog has compiled a partial syllabus for the author — a sampling of the titles “on the writer’s nightstand … from 1941 to 1956.”