“It all adds up to a fascinating portrait-of-the-artist-on-the-make in the booming 1950s. And it makes you wish the stories were better.” Year-in-Reading alum Jess Walter reviews a new (911-page) collection of stories by Kurt Vonnegut. See also: “2 B R 0 2 B”, a “lost” Vonnegut story that first appeared in the sci-fi journal Worlds of If in January 1962.
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.
In a longform piece for The Atlantic Diane Saverin writes about Annie Dillard‘s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, the predominantly male tradition of wilderness-writing, and how Dillard found and wrote about the wild while living in suburbia. She also wrestles with the question: “if the author conveys a resonant truth, does it matter what experiences led to the realizations?”
“Seidel scared himself with poetry, and us too. How had he done it?” John Jeremiah Sullivan presented the Hadada Award to Frederick Seidel at The Paris Review’s Spring Revel last month. You can read the full text of his speech and three of Seidel’s poems. This seems to be a much better week for Sullivan because he also just won the James Beard Foundation’s MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award for his essay “I Placed a Jar in Tennessee.”
“Over the past thirty-five years alone, language from Frost’s poem has appeared in nearly two thousand news stories worldwide, which yields a rate of more than once a week. In addition, ‘The Road Not Taken’ appears as a title, subtitle, or chapter heading in more than four hundred books by authors other than Robert Frost, on subjects ranging from political theory to the impending zombie apocalypse.” David Orr writes for The Paris Review about Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” one of the most misread poems of the English language.
“Four years after first announcing the decision to open the prize to Americans, the Booker is virtually indistinguishable from its competitors. It is exactly what many feared it would become: corporate and daft.” Alex Shephard writing for The New Republic about why the Man Booker Prize isn’t interesting anymore. Still, should you want to know who’s shortlisted this year, here’s our roundup.