It’s a massive book, it’s nearly 50-years-old, but it has been republished by the New York Review of Books press, and some critics are calling it a masterpiece.
I took a less enthusiastic view. You can check out my essay on Anniversaries and my attempt to define the “everything novel” in 3 Quarks Daily, as well as listen to the discussion I had about it on a recent Feeling Bookish Podcast:
If you’re like me, you probably find keeping up with the best writing on the web a daily struggle. That’s why Arts & Letters Daily is such a key site for me and so many others, trying to read and share great articles. Inspired by the aggregator model, S. Abbas Raza founded 3 Quarks Daily in 2004, but with the aim of bringing both humanities and scientific articles onto the same platform.
The model has proved a great success and eventually the site began bringing on writers to produce original articles every Monday. I was recently chosen to be one of the new Monday Columnists and wrote my first article last month on why literature has less and less influence on the larger culture. I did it through the lens of examining recent literary memoirs by Sergio Pitol and Edmund White. Please check out the article and look for a new piece by me every third Monday the month.
One can only hope that our greatest writers today are carrying on significant email correspondences with one another–and that one day we’ll have access to these exchanges. I can’t say I’ve seen anything like this yet, no hint of The Collected Emails of David Foster Wallace or Christopher Hitchens: The Yahoo! Years. Last fall I received an advanced copy of Samuel Beckett’s final volume of letters. I’d just written about Beckett for The Millions and was happy to continue thinking about this odd and fabulous Irishman.
I’d also been doing some thinking about aging, and was struck how Beckett’s legendary detachment–explored and cultivated since youth–had seemingly prepared him well for the challenges of aging. I got the kernel for an idea, tracked down some additional epistolary volumes: Saul Bellow’s letters and the fascinating correspondence between the poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. My article appeared last month in The Atlantic under the heading Finding Wisdom in the Letters of Aging Writers
During the last month or so I also published two short stories in online literary journals. They are both chapters from a novel I recently completed. The first piece was titled “The Phenomenon” and published in The Courtship of Winds, and the second was “If it is Beautiful, it is Passing” in the The Furious Gazelle.
When I decided to write about Tim Parks’ new essay collectionLife and Work: Writers, Readers, and the Conversations between Them, I didn’t intend to write about panic attacks, anxiety and the emotional toll of the writing life, but these themes curiously bubbled up to the surface. I was also writing it for The Millions, which unlike the Los Angeles Review of Books, for example, avoids straight-up reviews, forcing me to look for interesting themes across Parks’ divergent essays. One of his pieces focused on Samuel Beckett–no stranger to anxiety himself–and this led me to Anthony Cronin’s fine Beckett biography, which helped give me some additional material.
The piece is titled “The Writer is Not Here: On Nihilism and the Writing Life,” and I can also say that when I was reading Parks’ collection, I was finishing my own novel and experiencing a certain amount of anxiety in the process. Not anxiety in the career sense (i.e., have I written a good book?), but at the level of raw nerves, of scratching at emotional wounds, of going deep.
I recently wrote a review of Hideo Furukawa’s new novel Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale That Begins with Fukushima for The Quarterly Conversation. Furukawa is a native of Fukushima and his memoir-like novel recounts elements of his journey back to Fukushima in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that stunned the country in March of 2011.
I was in the city of Fukushima in May of 2011 visiting a friend, and there were great concerns about radiation and the long-term health effects of the nuclear disaster. And while I saw massive cracks in buildings, the city itself was spared the terrors of the tsunami because of its distance from the coast.
My review has some background on Furukawa. His is a writer we will be hearing more about in the West as his work becomes translated and more widely available. In addition to reading Horses, you can also get an interesting and novelistic take on the events in Fukushima by reading William T. Vollmann’s Byliner book on his trip there, or his long form piece in Harper’s.