“He was a glutton for books who treated each text as a plate he was required to clean.” Author and critic William Gass died this week at 93, reports The Washington Post. The recipient of three National Book Critics Circle awards for criticism and four Pushcart prizes, Gass was awarded the PEN/Nabakov Award for lifetime achievement in 2000. See our reviews of Middle C, a novel that took Gass almost 20 years to finish, and his most recent essay collection Life Sentences, which amply demonstrated his background as “a former philosophy professor, but more appropriately a philosopher of the word and an esthete.” We were also lucky enough to have him pen a Year in Reading entry for us back in 2009: “I miss the leisure that let me read just for fun, not to critique, or pronounce, or even to put on a list, but simply to savor,” Gass lamented. Nonetheless, he continued,“I do, from time to time, pick up old friends who never disappoint but will promise me a page or two of pleasure between art and ordinary life.”
I’d heard that the New Yorker excerpt was the opening of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom, but it turns out it is preceded in the novel by this: “The news about Walter Berglund wasn’t picked up locally–he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now–but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New York Times. According to a long and very unflattering story in the Times, Walter had made quite a mess of his professional life out there in Washington. His old neighbors had some difficulty reconciling the quotes about him in the Times (‘arrogant,’ ‘high-handed,’ ‘ethically compromised’) with the generous, smiling, red-faced 3M employee they remembered pedaling his commuter bicycle up Summit Avenue in February snow; it seemed strange that Walter, who was greener than Greenpeace and whose own roots were rural, should be in trouble now for conniving with the coal industry and mistreating country people. Then again, there had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds.”
While calling for the preservation of the wonderful St. Marks Bookshop, Paris Review editor Lorin Stein explains that “magazines like The Paris Review need good bookstores, where the staff knows how to spread the word about good writing, face to face, hand to hand.”
“[I]t becomes an act of subversion, an act of catharsis.” Plougshares has a piece about the Lolita aesthetic on Tumblr. See also: our conversation with John Gall who, as art director for Vintage and Anchor books, was responsible for at least two Lolita covers, not to mention the redesign of the entire Nabokov catalog.
Over at The Atlantic, Lydia Millet argues for the power and legitimacy of The Lorax’s moral message. Millet believes that the heavy-handedness of activist-minded fiction like The Lorax is powerful partly due to “its shamelessness. It pulls no punches; it wears its teacher heart on its sleeve.”
Murray Farish‘s debut collection, Inappropriate Behavior, includes tales of fictionalized or alternative history that incline toward the surreal. He discusses the “principally and unaccountably strange” with Evelyn Somers, who has written about his work before, at Bloom. Fancy yourself more weirdness? Head to Weird Fiction Review curated by Jeff VanderMeer, whose Southern Reach trilogy was just released in one volume.