"Despite its brevity, the diary is an illuminating document that offers a glimpse into the mind of the artist as a young woman." The never-before-seen diary of Flannery O’Connor has been published in Image, an arts and faith quarterly, and reveals the shadow of the writer she would become. See also: our own Nick Ripatrazone on teaching O'Connor.
The best book I read this year was Swann's Way in the Lydia Davis translation. It knocked my socks off. I ought to have read it sooner, and I shouldn't have been surprised: I am a big fan of Lydia Davis's own fiction. But I am also a big Marcel Proust fan. And like most English-speaking Proust fans, I first came to him through the translations of C.K. Scott Moncrieff. I loved those translations. I loved their suavity. I loved Scott Moncrieff's cleverness with dialogue. I loved his inventive titles for the individual books--and I loved it that he stuck to them over Proust's objections. I even loved it when Scott Moncrieff refused to translate the expression "me casser le pot" (meaning to have anal sex). I loved his freedom and his decorum. I loved his Edwardian vision of the novel. I still do. But I also love comparing the old translation to the new one. Davis is invariably stronger than Scott Moncrieff and his revisers: more flexible in tone and register, more complex in rhythm, closer to the French. Some people complain that you hear the French too much in the Davis version. But her literalism teaches you to feel what's there in the original. She can make you believe, for pages at a time, that the two languages--two ways of thinking and feeling--are a hair's breadth apart. It really is magic. Magic aside, it made me happy to be reunited with the heroes of Swann's Way: the middle-aged Vermeer expert Charles Swann and the little boy, Marcel, who falls in love with Swann's daughter. These are two of my favorite characters in all of fiction--but the last time I met them, sixteen years ago, I hardly noticed that they were characters at all. I had never seen childhood misery described so exactly. I had never seen sexual jealousy dealt with so honestly. There was, as they say in peace talks, no daylight between me and either of these two poor obsessives. Proust had written down pretty much everything I knew about life at the age of twenty one. Now, thanks partly to age and partly to Davis, I saw them as individual, funny, and pathetic in ways I'd never noticed, and the same was true of Odette, Francoise, Gilberte, and the Verdurins--all of them dazzlingly distinct, as if their portraits had just been cleaned. More from a Year in Reading 2010 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions
“I’ve been hailed as a hero (hipster poets love me), gotten the rock star reception (by research librarians), and been dismissed with derision, thought possibly to be deranged,” says Jon Danzinger. So what’s his job, you might ask? He’s a researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary.
For the past few years, The Millions has offered a holiday gift list for writers. This year we’d like to give readers their due, with a list of bookish treats. Because where would writers be without readers? Also, let’s face it: discriminating and avid readers can be as difficult to shop for as cranky writers.
Arts and Letters Daily recently linked an article from the National Journal that takes stock of an interesting development at the New York Times. In the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal and a good amount of internal and external strife about wavering journalistic standards, the Times has appointed an ombudsman, a position more commonly found at campus newspapers than at the world's most important dailies. This ombudsman happens to be an author and journalist, Daniel Okrent, whom I admire for his baseball book Nine Innings and who was recently named a Pulitzer finalist for his book, Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center. His columns bring an impressive amount of transparency to a very powerful newsroom, and I suggest everyone read them before Okrent's fellow employees stage a coup and kick him out. The most recent column can be found here.
It didn't take long to discover that, as an introduction to Rick Moody's writing, The Diviners is a poor choice, though at least I know that The Ice Storm, considered by many to be his best work and an exceptional novel in its own right, is still out there. I don't have to give up on Rick Moody even though reading The Diviners was an exasperating, though occasionally exhilarating, experience.To sketch out the plot, we follow a cast of characters that are all connected, some loosely and some directly, to Means of Production, a New York based production company with a reputation for high-brow films, and its new, potentially blockbuster project, a miniseries called "The Diviners." The miniseries itself is a cipher, the project has been invented out of thin air by production assistant Annabel Duffy and washed up action hero Thaddeus Griffin, but it is fitting and probably intentional that this novel is centered around a figment. At one time or another nearly all of the novel's characters get excited about "The Diviners," often viewing it as the solution for one work-related problem or another. The problem is, it is hard for the reader to get excited about the miniseries or, more importantly, the characters who are obsessed with it.There is something tongue in cheek about all this, obviously, a comment on a bloated culture seeing salvation in a bloated TV production - the novel's main character, Means of Production head Vanessa Meandro, is quite literally bloated, if we missed the point, addicted to Krispy Kreme and mercilessly mean to boot. All of this action, which includes a number of side plots like an attack on a young gallery curator by a random brick wielding maniac and the descent of Vanessa's mother into alcohol-fueled madness, is set in the days after the disputed Bush v. Gore election, when our boom economy was beginning to crack and the seriousness of terrorism and war awaited around the corner to put a stop to the frivolity.The problem is that Moody, in his excess -- 576 pages, to be specific -- comes off as one of those pleading killjoys, like a crusading vegetarian who is unpleasant to eat with or a person who doesn't watch TV and tut-tuts those who do. Perhaps there is something compelling about the notion that our culture is vacuous, but really, hasn't this statement been made so many times, and so much more subtly, before?Nonetheless, there is an unmistakable virtuosity in Moody's writerly abilities. In every chapter he visits us upon another of his characters - some we visit two or three times or more - with set pieces that are inexhaustible in their creativity. One takes the form of a diary entry, another a police report, and another is the internal monologue of an autistic child.Perhaps most grandiose of all is when he alights again on nearly all of the book's characters as they watch "Werewolves of Fairfield County," a hit show in this alternative universe. He gives us nearly a blow by blow of this particular episode as we find that almost all of his characters can be joined only as they gaze at the television alone, together. And if that seems like a somewhat trite message, it felt that way too. For such complex, writerly book, the underlying message felt like it too should be complicated, not just one-note angst about our supposedly vapid culture.As the book ends most of the characters are all still chasing "The Diviners" and what it represents, deliverance from their empty lives. All through out the book, the diviner, that ancient holy finder of water, is returned to as a motif, and so it seems fitting that as the book nears its close, several of Moody's creations are wandering in the desert, finding nothing.
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