Paula Fox, celebrated novelist and winner of the 1983 National Book Award (among other honors), died this week. Contributing to our Year in Reading series two years ago, Parul Sehgal said she couldn’t stop rereading Desperate Characters, perhaps Fox’s most popular book for adults. “It’s really a wallop of a book,” Sehgal wrote. “A barbed portrait of a marriage, not to mention a brilliant take on gentrification, white fears of black and brown people, the hostile insularity of the nuclear family, and how power reproduces and how power conceals itself.” (Bonus: Dominic Smith wants to send a scene from that novel into space.)
Our staff writer Nick Ripatrazone has published two books in the last year – the short story collection Good People and the novella We Will Listen For You – and both have recently been reviewed in New Jersey papers, which agree that the books are “an invitation to look beyond the stone walls of churches and gape in wonder at the world and the unknowable vistas beyond.” Pair with Nick’s ever-relevant essays on teaching English and becoming a writer, not a priest.
For The New Yorker Alex Ross describes the role Nebraska’s prairies played in Willa Cather’s writing, his encounters with Cather people, and how he became one himself. “From this roughshod Europe of the mind, Cather also emerged with a complex understanding of American identity. Her symphonic landscapes are inflected with myriad accents, cultures, personal narratives—all stored away in a prodigious memory. “
On July 8th 1618, Ben Jonson set out walking from London. Over the next few months, he traveled 400 miles on foot until he reached Edinburgh on September 5th. To commemorate the epic voyage, a team of researchers is re-enacting the walk online by updating a dedicated blog, Twitter page, and Facebook profile with a series of posts corresponding to dates, locations and occurrences Jonson experienced along the way. All this sounds grand enough, but I’ll be really impressed when somebody truly re-enacts Jonson’s mock-epic poem about paddling London’s disgusting Fleet Ditch: “On The Famous Voyage.”
Out this week: The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman; The Kills by Richard House; When the World Was Young by Elizabeth Gaffney; Secrets of the Lighthouse by Santa Montefiore; The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer; Ride Around Shining by Chris Leslie-Hynan; Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks; The Liar’s Wife by Mary Gordon; The Dog by Jack Livings; Bluff City Pawn by Stephen Schottenfeld; Beneath the Neon Egg by Thomas E. Kennedy; 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino; and Bad Feminist by Year in Reading alum Roxane Gay, who also came out with a novel a few months ago.
If your default mood hovers between melancholy and despair, you may be cheered (or at least made a bit less glum) by this argument that striving for happiness is bad for us in the long run. Mari Ruti makes the case that a “happy, balanced life” depends in large part on a kind of emotional numbness.