When tragedy hits, what do we read? In the wake of the Notre Dame fire in Paris, at least, the answer is 19th-century fiction: Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame has risen to the top of France’s bestseller list, with multiple editions of the book filling five out of the top 10 slots. As this Guardian article points out, many critics have suggested that the cathedral is the true protagonist of the novel—and, obviously, of the Disney adaptation.
“How earnest, ironic, condescending, moralistic and simply funny a Tolstoy should the translator inhabit? Perhaps the only way to render Tolstoy’s variable voice is to continue producing ever-varying translations.” Masha Gessen looks at the latest English translations of Anna Karenina and breaks down their nuances of word choice and accumulated meaning for The New York Times Book Review, and along the way she questions the novel’s most famous line: just how alike are happy families? How can we know?
“Pornography has changed unrecognizably from its so-called golden age—the period, in the sixties and seventies, when adult movies had theatrical releases and seemed in step with the wider moment of sexual liberation, and before V.H.S. drove down production quality, in the eighties. Today’s films are often short and nearly always hard-core; that is, they show penetrative sex. Among the most popular search terms in 2015 were ‘anal,’ ‘amateur,’ ‘teen,’ and—one that would surely have made Freud smile—’mom and son.'” The New Yorker attempts to make some sense of modern pornography.
“[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!