At the Rumpus, Kaveh Akbar discusses his newest poetry collection, Pilgrim Bell, and why he avoids giving literal explanations for his work. “To reduce a poem to a purely autobiographical, experiential reading feels limiting to me,” Akbar explains. “To reduce a poem to an ‘aboutness’ seems limiting to me. The poet Allen Grossman said, ‘A poem is about a thing the way a cat is about a house.’ I always appreciated that. When people ask me things like, ‘Did that really happen?’ everything in my poems has happened to me, even if it occurred in language. But no, I’ve never literally had my nose torn from my face and set in a bowl. That just doesn’t seem like an interesting way to talk about poetry. In fact, it seems antithetical to the spirit of what my favorite poems do.”
In The New York Times, Dwight Garner reviews John Carey’s biography William Golding: The Man Who Wrote “Lord of the Flies”: “It may not be a surprise to learn that the British novelist … did not have a happy childhood. But the details will put a sweat on your forehead.”
George Packer at Lapham’s Quarterly writes of meeting a young Burmese reader of Charles Dickens: “‘All of those characters are me,’ [he] explained. ‘Neither a British nor American young man living in the twenty-first century can understand a Dickens as well as I can…I am more equipped to understand Dickens than modern novels. I don’t know what is air conditioning, what is subway, what is fingerprint exam.’” (via Book Bench)
“You have a hard time imagining how the things you’ve experienced or discovered, which seem abjectly personal, could be of use to another writer. You’re aware that you can follow every single rule in the book, and still write a crappy story.” The Preservationist author Justin Kramon grapples with the idea of teaching writing to college students.
“Year-end lists are always subjective and incomplete, but they are especially tricky for books. A dedicated film critic can watch every wide release film and a theater critic can go to most every play, but the book critic is faced with an insurmountable mountain of books each year. The sheer number of books is inspiring as a reader, but it can make “best of” lists laughably subjective when the critic has only read a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of books published each year.” This might help to explain the logic and intent of our own Year in Reading series, but it also prefaces Electric Literature‘s list of the top 25 story collections of 2014 (which includes recent Year in Reading alum Phil Klay‘s Redeployment).