Why is it okay to say “I’m working on a novel” but not okay to say “I’m working on my novel”? The former is a normal, straightforward, expression, while the latter smacks of arrogance and self-absorption. At Bookforum, Jesse Barron writes about the oddity of Working on My Novel, a collection of retweets (you read that correctly) of writers telling the world about their labors. It might also be a good time to read Dominic Smith on the number of novelists at work in America. (h/t Arts and Letters Daily)
Three thousand Russians volunteered to proofread “forty-six thousand eight hundred pages” of Leo Tolstoy’s writings over the course of fourteen days. Soon their efforts will be available online for all to see. Meanwhile, Buzzfeed is catching some heat for enlisting the services of unpaid Duolingo students in order to translate site content for Spanish, French, and Brazilian Portuguese readers.
Here’s a thing you’ve probably never thought of before: the sheer weirdness of some of the Christmas rituals in many canonical children’s books. In The Irish Times, Rosita Boland catalogues a few of the stranger ones, including Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Christmas dinner in summer and Lucy’s gift of a dagger in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
Lots of new books out this week: Where Mortals Sleep, previously unpublished short fiction by Kurt Vonnegut, with a foreword by Dave Eggers; A Life, one of what will be several biographies of J.D. Salinger arriving over the next couple of years; Stanley Fish tells us How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One; Brian Greene introduced the masses to string theory with The Elegant Universe, and now he’s back with The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos; Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge is out in paperback; and finally, from Penguin Classics, The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime: Forgotten Cops and Private Eyes from the Time of Sherlock Holmes.
“Without any clear and agreed upon sense for what to be aiming at in a life, people may experience the paralyzing type of indecision depicted by T.S. Eliot in his famously vacillating character Prufrock; or they may feel, like the characters in a Samuel Beckett play, as though they are continuously waiting for something to become clear… or they may feel the kind of “stomach level sadness” that David Foster Wallace described…” Sean D. Kelly navigates past nihilism for the New York Times.