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.”
“[P]ublishing is a behemoth that is trudging along slowly in the direction of progress. But it still has a long way to go.” GQ editor and Year-in-Reading alum Kevin Nguyen gets the interview treatment from Poets & Writers (and gives a few shout-outs to us while he’s at it!). Among the books he’s read in the last year that stood out: “White Tears by Hari Kunzru by a mile.”
“You can’t read books all the time; trust me, I’ve tried (and like I said to the officer, at least I wasn’t texting and driving).” Simon Lowe chooses his 10 favorite book podcasts for The Guardian. We featured a list of some must-listens earlier this year too.
John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, was a dear friend (even protégé) of King Charles II. He was also a sharp-tongued poet who called out the same King on his bedroom behavior: “His sceptre and prick are of a length; / And she may sway the one who plays with th’other.”
Joe Fassler interviews recent MacArthur Genius and Year-in-Reading alum Viet Thanh Nguyen on the myth of overnight success, balancing an academic career while still finding time to write novels and the sacrifices all writers must make. Over at Electric Literature.
When Damien Searls first read W.G. Sebald, he thought the German writer was uniquely good at factoring historical circumstance into his thinking. Sebald’s unyielding reminders of the horrors of the past were a nice corrective to the feel-good pablums of the ‘90s. But reading Sebald now, Searls thinks something has changed. What happened? The world went online. (Related: Greg Walklin on Sebald’s A Place in the Country.)
It goes without saying that Hitler is a taboo subject in Germany, which is why it’s remarkable that a German novelist, Timur Vermes, has caused a sensation with his book about a time-travelling Fuhrer. In the Times, Janet Maslin reviews the first English translation of Look Who’s Back. You could also read Merve Emre on Ben Urwand’s book about Hollywood and the Nazis.