Recommended (Long) Reading: This lengthy excerpt from the latest book in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series. In it, Knausgaard is introduced to the literary world and stresses a great deal over his own claims to artistic merit: “Deep down, I was decent and proper, a goody-goody, and, I thought, perhaps that was also why I couldn’t write. I wasn’t wild enough, not artistic enough, in short, much too normal for my writing to take off. What had made me believe anything else? Oh, but this was the life-lie.”
Leveling the kind of accusation that perhaps only such an esteemed writer can, Jonathan Franzen intimates that David Foster Wallace‘s nonfiction (such as “Shipping Out“) wasn’t exactly honest.
When did romance novels get such a bad rep? They weren’t always derided as somehow lesser than other books. At Jezebel, Kelly Faircloth delves into the history of the modern romance novel, exploring how particular stereotypes latched on to the popular genre. You could also read Julia Fierro on sex and the literary writer.
Implicit in a lot of the discussions about how negative a book reviewer can be is a question of utility: is a book review an act of public service or a work of art in itself? In the Times, James Parker and Anna Holmes debate the purpose of the review. Sample quote: “I’d argue that a majority of the reading public doesn’t necessarily benefit from the sorts of reviews for which artistry is the point.” You could also read our own Matt Seidel’s hypothetical worst review ever.
Over at Words Without Borders, Marguerite Feitlowitz writes on teaching the art of literary translation. As she puts it, “Bringing texts from one place to another, from one tongue, context, history, and human body to another, is itself a political act. We can tell the history of the world through the history of when major texts have been translated—and where, why, and by whom.” Pair with this Millions piece on literary translators at work.
Two years ago, Allison Parrish produced a diary of an expedition through “fantastical places that do not exist.” The twist? The diary was generated by a computer program, which extracted more than 5,700 sentences drawn from Project Gutenberg and later recombined at random by “switching out grammatical constituents.” An extract of the finished work, interspersed with Parrish’s nonfiction essay, can be read here.
Darryl Campbell has had enough of the clichés abundant in book reviews so he’s devised some alternatives. “If fine artists aren’t your thing,” Campbell writes, “then maybe American presidents might be a better comparison: ‘Taft-like excess,’ ‘Cleveland-esque genre-bending’ or ‘Clintonian eroticism’.”