Part Into the Wild, part Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Howard Axelrod’s The Point of Vanishing is the story of his two years spent in profound solitude in the Vermont wilderness. Called “torture” by prison rights activists and “a threat to mental stability” by psychologists, Axelrod’s decision to sequester himself from society was nothing if not extreme. Alexander Supertramp would be proud.
Longtime writers know how hard it can be to tell when a piece is finished. Tolstoy famously tried to revise War and Peace right up to the book’s publication. At the Ploughshares blog, Amy Jo Burns offers tips for evaluating a piece before deciding to give it to someone else.
“To the pathless wastes, into thin air, with no reviews, no best-seller lists, no college curricula, no National Book Awards or Pulitzer Prizes, no ads, no publicity, not even word of mouth to guide me!” For her new book The Shelf: From LEQ to LES, Phyllis Rose undertook the ultimate stunt in writing-about-reading: an unsorted shelf with no logic at all.
New this week: Flings by Justin Taylor; We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas; The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar; Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark; The Undertaking by Audrey Magee; Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher; and a new translation of a French children’s book by Lydia Davis. For more on these and other new titles, check out our Great Second-half 2014 Book Preview.
This year’s Tournament of Books comes to an end today, after nearly a month of analyses, debates and thoughtful arguments. In the final round, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life squares off with James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird, both of which are, in Héctor Tobar’s words, “unorthodox, historical novels.” Now that the verdicts are in, the only question is: who won? (You could also read the quarterfinal judged by our own Lydia Kiesling.)
Medievalist Elaine Treharne teaches a course on Beowulf at Stanford, and one of her primary theoretical questions for her students is, “What is (the) Text? … What constitutes Beowulf?” So she got to thinking. She wondered what she and her students would do “with a social media version of the poem.” What ensued is a distillation of the great epic in 100 tweets, which you can read over here.