“Life is worth less than a line of Baudelaire’s poetry.” These two lyric essays by Chen Li over at Asymptote Journal are economical and well-worth the read. Though Chen Li is from Taiwan, he writes in Chinese; this syllabus of Chinese writing and the “New China” from Casey Walker at The Millions pairs quite nicely.
"'So your idea is to drive across America and write about it without talking to a single American?' 'Yes.'" Karl Ove Knausgaard travels North America as “a tongue-in-cheek Tocqueville” for the New York Times Magazine. Pair with his piece for The Millions, "The View from My Window is a Constant Reminder," and with Jonathan Callahan's reading of Knausgaard's My Struggle.
"Motherhood has always been contested terrain, but for the last decade or so it’s been a virtual battleground; every year, almost like clockwork, we have another flare-up in the so-called Mommy Wars, with another Tiger Mom or Get-Back-To-Work-er or Can’t Have It all-er launching a grenade as prelude to a book tour. And as much as I have an obvious stake in these battles as a mother and a feminist, I’ve come to find them depressingly repetitive, all sound and fury but offering little in terms of the policies that might actually affect our decisions.” At the LARB, Stephanie Bower gives her take on Why Have Kids?, Jessica Valenti's new treatise on parenting.
Roger Boylan at the Boston Review writes about the flourishing posthumous career of Mark Twain: "...more than 5,000 previously unknown letters of Twain’s have surfaced in the last 50 years. This represents an average of two new letters per week, but still only about one-tenth of the 50,000 or so he is believed to have written." And at Slate, Craig Fehrman discusses the "brilliant brand management" behind the handling of Twain's autobiography.
Anna Sun profiles the work of Mo Yan, the latest winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. While Sun acknowledges Yan’s popularity and prolific output, she also notes that what the Nobel committee referred to as “hallucinatory prose” is more often than not “repetitive, predictable, coarse, and mostly devoid of aesthetic value.” Indeed, Sun writes, “the English translations of Mo Yan’s novels … are in fact superior to the original.” [Ed. Note: It appears the Kenyon Review link was briefly not working; this Google cache may work better -- h/t Dan Farrely]