“The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do those things anyway. Those things are beside the point. The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.” Year in Reading alumna Sarah Manguso on envy and the purpose of writing. Pair with Jaime Green’s Millions review of Manguso’s Ongoingness.
“Once [Jenny] Diski did get going as a writer, she and [Doris] Lessing agreed to a kind of literary nonaggression pact: Lessing would not write about Diski if Diski would not write about Lessing. Even now, I sensed a note of anxiety in Diski’s attitude toward her current project. When I asked her if she had any titles in mind for the finished work, she said: ‘Gratitude.’ Or: ‘Ingratitude.’ I can’t decide which.’”
“Ocean Vuong is that rare architect of accommodation, giving the most precarious situations or embarrassing of grievances of our culture a sound environment in which they can thrive. As he kisses and tucks the parents in their beds, he sets out from the wreckage of his past towards a hard-won horizon of blunder and wonderment.” Jeff Nguyen reviews Vuong’s newest poetry collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds.
After moving to Brooklyn, Sabine Heinlein spent a year trying to learn English, a task which left the native German speaker “close to aphasic” after a few months. Eventually, she met up with another recent immigrant, who enlisted her for help in a sprawling art project: a collection of words from each language spoken in New York City. At The Hairpin, she writes about her experience.
Slate books and culture columnist Laura Miller looks at what this year's bestseller list tells us about 2017. One of her conclusions, "2017 was the year that the very concept of a best-seller became even more dubious." After reading her analysis, check out our Year in Reading lists, whose authors found joy in reading and viewed it as one of the few good things of this year, even if the bestsellers of the year didn't reflect those feelings.
This week in book-related infographics: Waterstones has put together an illustrated formula for the ultimate bestseller, "a thriller tale of crime, bondage and wizardry."
"By the time Mr. Bass bought the building for $8.2 million in 1997, the Strand had become the largest used-book store in the world." Fred Bass, the owner of the Strand, has died at the age of 89. Bass — who bought used books with panicked fervor, opened up satellite kiosks, and created the fabled literary quiz for prospective employees — turned his father's used bookstores into a New York City literary landmark.