Saturday, July 9, 2011

Is Lolita the Most Essential Novel? (Speaking of Dark Literature...)

The New York Times Magazine asked each of its contributors to name their five favorite novels, and they've released the full list on their blog, The 6th Floor.

Lolita

The winner is Lolita, which doesn't surprise me, since Lolita seems to be the most popular literary novel of the past century. (I was, however, surprised when I first discovered its wide popularity in college.)

The list is filled with great books (and some that are perhaps a step or two below great). Many of the chosen are not surprises for those who follow the tastes of The New York Times. John Updike. David Foster Wallace. Jennifer Egan. Richard Ford. Don DeLillo. Thomas Pynchon. Ian McEwan. Michael Chabon. Zadie Smith. 

There were also some speculative fiction choices:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Shakespeare Out of Love?

 
The Denver Post asks "Are we bored with [Shakespeare]?", noting that
only 37 percent of the productions offered by the 10 leading Shakespeare festivals in North America were written by their namesake.
I've spoken highly of Shakespeare before, and I'm sure that most of the replacements are not on Shakespeare's level. But I still don't see this as a bad thing.

Some will surely shout about declining attention spans, declining tastes, the declining arts, the decline of the modern mind, etc. -- this is an old lament. The word "decline" is a shortcut to sounding wise that turns into a dead-end.

Everything turns, even tastes. Art winds through history like a river. Or a snake. It doesn't sit like a potted plant. Art involves selection, but appreciating the classics is not about killing curiosity or dutifully deferring. If Shakespeare is not inspiring a love of other art as well, then it has failed.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Surviving New Projects (Or: Smiles on a Summer Day)

Summer brings new friendships and new projects. We hope for fireworks, but also something more enduring. We're defined primarily by the aftermath.

The heat adds not only a layer of sweat but also layers of strong memories. Summer evokes many past failures. This is one of its great strengths, and one of its most daunting challenges. Failure should bring growth, not shame. Out of failure grows hope (one of the great messages of Dante's Divine Comedy.)

The pictured pup is one of my new summer projects. There will, of course, be writing as well. I'm eager to see which project produces more poop. But let's not measure ourselves by our accidents.

A life project to balance the creative projects. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Most Dumped Authors (Or: Thrift Store Heists)

The Lost Symbol

The Telegraph has released Oxfam's list of the most donated books to Oxfam shops. From the article:
The most donated authors to Oxfam shops are (with last year's position in brackets):
1 Dan Brown (1)
2 Ian Rankin (2)
3 Jeremy Clarkson (8)
4 Stephenie Meyer (New entry)
5 Alexander McCall Smith (4)
6 Stephen King (New entry)
7 Maeve Binchy (9)
8 James Patterson (New entry)
9 JK Rowling (7)
10 Jackie Collins (New entry)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

July 5th: The Day After, Revisited

The Summer Dip hits even harder today. Even those of us who are not hungover are vulnerable to sluggishness.
Things always look smaller, less glamorous, on July fifth because the magic, the Rausch, is over, the grand and ecstatic moments of the party are now, in the harsh light of day, lesser propositions, not to say embarrassments.
(Arnold Weinstein from "Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby: Fiction as Greatness," a chapter in Nobody's Home.)

I wrote recently of Surviving the Day After and The Summer Dip, and this post builds upon those thoughts, exploring the "shrinkage that July fifth brings." Weinstein asks, as will I:
What, if anything, remains of the party once it is over?
Weinstein argues that Gatsby is "dedicated to the heroic cause of making July fifth rival July fourth, the chronicle of the dream thereby capturing its enduring beauty and magic." It's a fine sentence worthy of an artistic manifesto.

In an era so focused on deconstructing and demythologizing, there is value in simply capturing, especially in capturing something great, especially in capturing something magical. The exact definitions of those words are secondary and best written by your muse, not mine. The end for the artist is simple yet ever-elusive.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sing Us Into the Holiday Spirit

I hope everybody has fun things planned for the day. For those looking to get into the spirit, I'll provide a playlist of two Independence Day-themed Springsteen songs.

First: 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Books of Disquiet (Or: Stuff I've Been Reading)

(Image from Contempt, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)

Summer Reading

We're at that point in summer in which the reading piles are still growing, and most of the things I vowed to read remain untouched. (Though my dad has lent me a nice copy of A Game of Thrones, so I'm one step closer on that one.)

But I don't mind too much. I like detours in my reading. Distraction is another form of serendipity, and a favored pathway of the muses.

The List

1. The Book of Disquiet - Fernando Pessoa. A book that lends itself well to frequent re-reads in fragments. I discussed Pessoa in this post. I got a lot of push back in the comments. This might be my most contested post, though many also questioned my defense of Ulysses.

2. Swamplandia! - Karen Russell. Set in a swampy island alligator theme park. The writing style (a strong voice densely packed with metaphor, detail and humor) will split readers (see the Amazon reviews, for example). But there's a lot to like and admire if you enjoy the voice.

3. Godard on Godard - edited and translated by Tom Milne. To me, Godard remains one of the most interesting film directors, despite the bad patches and bad politics in some of his work. A bit of a brat, even at 80, he nevertheless pushes at the edges of the form and packs his films with aphorisms, ideas, and emotions. He recently received an Honorary Oscar, though he declined to attend the ceremony.
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