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.”
Does getting up early make you a better writer? Not necessarily according to Maria Popova’s infographic of authors’ wake up times paired with their overall productivity (books published and awards won). The findings: Writers who sleep in write more but win fewer awards than early birds. Our conclusion: Just get up whenever you want.
“[I]n the world of letters, it is hard to imagine a more seismic change than this one.” The New York Times announces that its longtime book critic Michiko Kakutani is stepping down after nearly four decades of reviews.
The Times also offers a roundup of her greatest hits, including writeups of Beloved, Infinite Jest, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Bill Clinton‘s memoir My Life:
The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages, is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull — the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history.
This announcement was followed by the great news that repeat Year in Reading alumna Parul Sehgal will join Jennifer Senior and Dwight Garner as a Times book critic, leaving her position as senior editor of the NYT Book Review. Congratulations, Parul!
In the Winter 2013 issue of The Paris Review, Kevin Prufer published a poem, “How He Loved Them,” that tackled the aftermath of a car bomb explosion outside of a courthouse. On the magazine’s blog, Robyn Creswell interviews Prufer, who laments that “somehow, when we enter the territory of politics, we expect our poems to shill for votes, to argue strongly for particular beliefs.” (He also has a new book out.)
After Herzog came out, Saul Bellow began the slow transformation from young Bellow into old Bellow, from the critically adored but little-known writer to the Nobel Prize winner whose views were solicited on every topic. In The New Yorker, Louis Menand writes about a new biography of the author, which tackles his early career. Related: our own Emily St. John Mandel on Bellow’s novel The Bellarosa Connection.
“If Gwendolyn Brooks wrote fiction, we’d say she was brilliant at world-building–but the world she builds is the real one, the part that didn’t used to make it into the pages of literary magazines.” On the continued relevance of Brooks’s poetry in the context of racial violence in Chicago. Pair with a piece on the power of reading poetry aloud.