I can’t believe it… Just caught the headline. George Plimpton died today. He was one of my favorite writers. I met him twice: once in college when he signed a copy of his The Best of Plimpton collection and again a few months ago when he came by the book store to promote the new Paris Review collection. Both times he regailed everyone present with a vast array of stories that placed him as an observer or a bystander to some remarkable moments (for example he was in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel when Robert F. Kennedy was killed.) But he didn’t mind being the center of attention either, like when he stepped in the ring with Archie Moore or ran out on the field as quarterback of the Detroit Lions. He put himself in many situations like this because he knew that most folks had, at one time or another, wondered what it might be like to be a modern day gladiator. It wasn’t a stunt really; it felt more like a favor to his friends. And though he wrote a lot about sports, that was only one dimension of his life. He also founded the The Paris Review, perhaps the most significant literary magazine of the last fifty years. It is notable for having published early works by many great writers, and it is also well-known for the “Art of Fiction” (or Poetry, or Drama) interviews included in each issue. There is a wealth of knowledge in each interview; the worlds greatest writers talking about how they write. Most of all he simply seemed like someone who truly loved life. You could see it in his face when he spoke and you could see it in his writing. Whether he was ringside for the Thrilla in Manilla or running with bulls in Pamplona it was really about the joy of it all. Here’s the obit.
As promised, I have added a new feature to The Millions. I know it doesn’t look pretty, but I’m hoping it will get the job done. If you haven’t already read the sidebar on the right, it explains what I’m trying to do, but I have a few other things to mention as well. I came to realize not too long ago that it can be really hard to get a definitive answer when you have a question about a book. This is perhaps what makes reading so enjoyable. As a reader you must formulate an opinion and weigh it against the opinions of others. A book review from a friend or from the New York Times is not the same as a movie review from either. There is too much nuance to the reading experience, too much interplay between reader and book, for one person’s experience with a book to mirror another person’s experience with the same book. If you and I have both seen the same movie, chances are our experiences were quite similar: in the darkened theater or at home on the couch. If we have read the same book, however, it is likely that our experiences were vastly different: it took me two months to read; it took you two weeks; you discussed the book with several friends, I wrote about it in my journal; you read the book while on vacation in Europe, I read it during my lunch breaks at work. The infinitely varied experience of reading is what makes discussing books so pleasing and rewarding; there is bound to be angle that hasn’t occured to you, a detail you had passed over. So, I hope really to accomplish two things. First, I would like this to be a place where any book or book-related topic can be discussed. Second, I would like this to be a place where questions like “I just read Life of Pi and loved it, is there anything else like it?” and “My grandmother is really into Russian history, are there any new books about this that she might be interested in?” can be answered. As I mentioned earlier, getting definitive answers to questions on books can be tricky, since taste and experience vary so widely, however, with help from you guys, I think we can arrive at some good collective answers, and entertain ourselves along the way. So, I hope all of you think this is as good an idea as I do. If you have any further ideas or comments or suggestions please email me.I Coulda Been A ContendahBy the way, I’ll keep talking about books as I always have, mentioning whatever is of interest to me and whatnot. So, today I have a couple of books to mention. There are many, many books about Muhammad Ali, some are fantastic, others uninformative, and it seems as though very little has been left unwritten about him. However, I noticed a new book at the bookstore the other day that looks at Ali from a new angle: Facing Ali. The subtitle is 15 Fighters / 15 Stories, and in the book 15 men who faced Ali in the ring describe the experience. The book includes well-known fighters like Joe Frazier and George Foreman, as well as more obscure names like Tunney Hunsaker, the first man to step in the ring with Ali.Meanwhile, the Ali fan extrodinaire, erstwhile boxer, and Paris Review founder himself, George Plimpton, has signed on with Little, Brown to pen an autobiography, which will be released along with a collection of his essays. I’ve seen Plimpton speak a couple of times, and the man is a font of entertaining tales in which he played a small, but important part. I eagerly await this new book. To tide myself over while I’m waiting, maybe I’ll reread The Best of Plimpton. Source: Publisher’s Weekly