Tom Wolfe, known as much for his personal as his narrative style, died on Monday of this week, reports The New York Times. An author of both critically and commercially acclaimed fiction — The Bonfire of the Vanities — and non-fiction — The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test — Wolfe was a mandarin of the New Journalism style that first became ascendant in the 1960s. Several of his books (including Vanities and The Right Stuff, about the early days of the U.S. space program) also became successful films. We reviewed Wolfe’s 16th book, The Kingdom of Speech, in 2016, as well as his 2012 novel Back to Blood, noting that in classic Wolfe-ian form, the latter “is obsessed with cultural abrasion, with the way different classes and races vie for power.”
As you may have heard, this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of Sylvia Plath. It also, not coincidentally, marks the release of two new biographies: American Isis (the first to draw material from the recently-opened Ted Hughes archive) and Mad Girl’s Love Song (which looks at the poet’s relationship with her “big, dark, hunky boy”). Emma Garman weighs the impact of all this new scholarship at Salon.
“I cannot help feeling, on being invited to contextualize my own fiction, that the least qualified person possible has been asked. It is more still: hesitance, dread, that as a blind man in a failing aircraft I have been offered the yoke. I imagine it is the same for other writers, for the very fact that you write a story, and not a critical essay, suggests that near everything you hope to say lies outside the bounds of explicit statement.” Despite all that, here’s an essay by Greg Jackson at Granta in which he attempts to contextualize his own fiction.
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.
“It’s not easy to choose only five books, so I made up my mind and decided to mention the five I can’t help reading again, once in a while, because they are still here for me today.” Here’s a list of five necessary French books that you should be reading, including works by Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Marguerite Duras.
Eleanor Catton has been getting a lot of press for being the youngest author ever to win the Man Booker prize, but she claims that the new fame is a mixed blessing that often brings up sexism. “In my experience, and that of a lot of other women writers, all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are – about luck and identity and how the idea struck them,” she told The Guardian.
Read our own Kaila Philo’s essay on Toni Morrison’s new book The Origin of Others and then pair it with Nell Irvin Painter’s reflection on ‘Toni Morrison’s Radical Vision of Otherness.’ “Morrison’s history of Othering represents an intervention in history on several fronts. Although the theme of desegregating the literary canon reappears in The Origin of Others, times have changed since Playing in the Dark. Surely thanks to the more multicultural, multiracial canon that Morrison helped foster, no respectable version of American literature today omits writers of color.”