Few classic and contemporary author pairings seem as apt as Edith Wharton and Jia Tolentino. Thanks to Modern Library, the two are finally together in a new edition of The Custom of the Country, Wharton’s novel of manners set in New York’s high society. In her introduction, Tolentino paints the novel’s heroine, Undine Spragg, as an easily relatable figure for today’s readers: “For my money, no literary antiheroine can best Undine—a dazzling monster with rose-gold hair, creamy skin, and a gaping spiritual maw that could swallow New York City. People like her have been abundant in American culture for some time, but I never feel invested in their success; more often, I idly hope for their failure. With Undine, however—thanks to the alchemical mix of sympathy and disdain that animates Wharton’s language in the novel and allows her to match Undine’s savagery with plenty of her own—I find myself wanting her to get everything she desires.”
For those who are out of the collegiate loop and are curious what’s being assigned in classrooms these days, The Literary Hub has compiled a fascinating list of books being taught by English professors at institutions across the country. Pair with these two related pieces from The Millions on the business of teaching creative writing and fifty-five thoughts on teaching English in public school.
Neurotic writers or friends-of-writers are likely to have asked themselves an uncomfortable question: do the writers I know use my foibles for material? At The New Statesman, Oliver Farry lists a number of proofs that they do, citing Dante’s Inferno, Madame Bovary and Beckett’s debut novel Murphy.
Literary Disco, a podcast hosted by Julia Pistell, Tod Goldberg, and Rider Strong (yeah! Sean from Boy Meets World!) is just great. In the most recent installment the hosts revisit their bookshelves and describe their new findings from rereading some faves, including Strong’s overwhelming reaction to T.C. Boyle‘s author photo.
It’s notoriously difficult to figure out how to make a living as a freelance writer. The process forces the writer to learn the finer points of negotiation. At the Ploughshares blog, Steph Auteri writes about the “abstract mathematics” of her freelance career, presenting a list of everything she considers before taking on an assignment. Pair with: our own Nick Ripatrazone on teaching the business of creative writing.
The Corrections might never make it to screen, but Jonathan Franzen’s New Yorker essay on songbird poaching, “Emptying the Skies” (behind the paywall), is already a documentary. The film follows a group of bird lovers trying to save the endangered animals and even includes an interview with Franzen. Although the documentary just found a distributor, there is no word on an official release date. Until then, here’s the trailer.
This week saw the release of The Jaguar’s Children, a novel set on the Mexican border that draws on author John Vaillant’s experience in his wife’s home state of Arizona. At The Walrus, Sasha Chapman provides more background on Vaillant in her review of the book, which notes the importance of jaguars in Mexican symbology.