For the Guardian, Lulah Ellender reflects on her own (imagined) literary rivalries and looks at famous competitive pairs throughout history, including Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, and Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield. “In classical stories of rivalry, revenge is enacted violently, often ending with a morally justified death. In the literary world things don’t usually get that far,” Ellender notes, “though Richard Ford shot a hole through one of Alice Hoffman’s books after she gave him a bad review, and Marcel Proust and Jean Lorrain had an actual duel.”
Most people know Alexandre Dumas for his classics (usually assigned as required reading for class) The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, but fewer people are aware of what he considered his masterwork: Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine. This giant tome was part memoir, part encyclopedia, part cookbook. Rohini Chaki at Atlas Obscura describes the project as “more than a cookbook. Dumas meant it to be a formidable inquiry into both gustation and gastronomy, utilized by enthusiasts and culinary professionals alike.”
Lolita was panned as “dull, dull, dull,” while Collected Poems by W.B. Yeats was called “as discouraging as a breakfast of cold porridge.” Read some of the harshest New York Times book reviews of literary classics. Of Ulysses, the reviewer declares: “The average intelligent reader will glean little or nothing from it…save bewilderment and a sense of disgust.” Ouch.
It’s been more than a decade since C. Max Magee started The Millions, then a modest DIY website hosted on Blogspot. Since then, it’s grown to staff more than 30 writers and editors and reach millions of readers. In a post that reflects on online publishing’s evolution in the context of The Millions, Magee takes stock of the past 15-plus years and all the lessons he learned founding and growing this website. “A reason that The Millions didn’t die way back then,” he writes, “is that, as it evolved, I discovered my strength was not so much as a writer but as an editor, a discoverer and an inspirer of talent and as a publisher, always looking for the next worthwhile partnership, the next revenue stream, the next tweak or optimization that would enable the project to keep growing.” Here’s to the next decade!
Photo credit: Photo by Neal Strydom on Unsplash
In Hilary Mantel’s award winning Tudor trilogy, she has a grand total of five characters named Thomas, three Catherines, three Marys, and two Annes. How does Mantel juggle the task of writing these characters without confusing the reader? For The Atlantic, Nina Martyris examines books that are rife with characters with similar-sounding names, including One Hundred Years of Solitude and Anna Karenina. “The overlapping of names is an all-too-common occurrence in life,” writes Martryis. “True, it can cause confusion (especially for the accounts department), but if fiction’s grand purpose is the mimesis of la condition humaine, shouldn’t writers be nudged to accommodate this inconvenient reality, rather than dodge it for fear of taxing the reader?”
Carolyn Keene, a name recognizable to most as the author of the Nancy Drew series, has never existed. By now, it’s a well-known secret that the popular mystery series was penned by an ever-changing cast of ghostwriters, ever since Nancy’s creation in 1930 by publisher Edward Stratemeyer. For CrimeReads, Radha Vatsal takes a look at Carolyn Keene’s many identities and how, in the end, it doesn’t matter who wrote the books. “Having a single name like Carolyn Keene attached to the Nancy Drew books helps reinforce a sense of consistency,” Vatsal explains, “and smooths over the reality that each volume had been worked over by many hands before it appeared in print.”
Over at Lit Hub, Garth Greenwell shares his commencement speech for Bennington College, in which he shares his “seven very opinionated thoughts “on weathering the artist’s life. Covering everything from envy to friendship to anxiety, the speech also cites James Baldwin, Yiyun Li, Vivian Gornick, and Edith Wharton, among others. “That intimate communication between writer and reader, that miracle of affective translation across distance and time, is the real life of literature,” he says, “That’s what matters.”
Image credit: GarthGreenwell.com
Librarians know what people are reading, and most importantly, re-reading. OCLC, a leading library technology and research organization, has released a list of the 100 most widely read novels from more than 18,000 libraries worldwide. At the top of the list? Don Quixote, followed by classics by Mark Twain, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and more. “Of course, the list of top novels emphasizes classics,” notes Skip Prichard, OCLC President, “and so reflects dominant cultural views over the years about the canon and its formation. Librarians are aware of this and are more mindful than ever of the need to think critically about their collections. Librarians are actively seeking out and preserving overlooked, minority and marginalized perspectives.”
Image credit: Library of Congress
Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings recounts the enduring friendship—one that often bordered on infatuation—between Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman. The pair exchanged letters for years, after Gilchrist praised Leaves of Grass as “truly a new birth of the soul.” The two eventually met in person, enjoying a life-affirming friendship, and their letters have been collected in a long out-of-print volume. Read about their epistolary relationship, and see that, sometimes, it is worth it to meet your heroes.
A two-bedroom condo in New York City’s Upper West Side, a short distance from the American Museum of Natural History and Zabars, would easily be considered prime real estate. But add the fact that it once belonged to Philip Roth, and there’s even more heft behind its $3.2 million price tag. Roth’s apartment is now for sale, and with its choice location and its floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, we doubt it will be available for very long.
Image Credit: Nancy Crampton