“I’m an enthusiast. I think that’s why I was a good editor. I fall in love with things and I get very enthusiastic and I boost them. Now I’m a Latin enthusiast.”
Why did former publisher and book editor Ann Patty start studying Latin at age 58? Find out in our conversation about her book, Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin (Viking). We talk about her deep dive into a dead language, the “Living Latinist” revival, her unceremonious exit from the NY publishing world, the terror of the blank page, the perils of groupthink, how her pursuit of Latin reconciled her to the memory of her mother, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Living with a Dead Language!
“This is going to sound grandiose, but I’m going to say it: I identified with Aeneas because I had to find a new homeland just like he did. My homeland was the publishing world and I was exiled.”
We also talk about where mainstream book publishing has gone wrong, what it was like to be the oldest student in the room by 40 years, how her experience as a publisher and editor helped and hurt her as a first-time author, how Abigail Thomas tricked her into writing a book, the benefits of inflection, her new career goal of Girl Latin Reporter, and more! Give it a listen! And become a patron of this podcast via Patreon or Paypal to get access to bonus conversation with Ann and a big ol’ list of all the books we talked about.
“Editors have been disempowered in favor of groupthink, and there’s nothing more horrible than groupthink. Any book I was ever successful with would not have been bought if it had been subject to groupthink. I include Life of Pi.”
About our Guest
Ann Patty worked in New York trade publishing for more than 30 years. She was the founder and publisher of The Poseidon Press and an executive editor at Crown Publishers and Harcourt. Her first discovery as an editor was V. C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic. Other highlights of her career include the US hardcover debuts of: George R. R. Martin, Graham Swift, Mary Gaitskill, Patrick McGrath, Clive Barker, Frank Zappa, Michael Moore, Siri Hustvedt, and Kristin Hannah. She was the editor of Steven Millhauser’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Martin Dressler, and Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning Life of Pi. In 2008 she became a freelance editor and began studying Latin, which she continues to do. She teaches Latin to teenagers at her local library in Red Hook, New York. Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin is her first memoir.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Ann’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ann by me.
“I want to be working, making comics, and knowing that the thing I’m doing right now is the thing I should be doing and I shouldn’t feel guilty about doing it. I’ve been able to keep that going much of the time for the last 20 years, and it’s kinda great.”
Is Scott McCloud comics’ leading theorist or a deranged lunatic? Find out in this lengthy conversation we recorded during SPX 2015! Scott talks about applying (and forgetting) the lessons of Understanding Comics in his new book, The Sculptor (First Second), the massive implications of crowdfunding for cartoonists and other creators, the problems with ‘balance’ in comics pages, his rebellion against Facebook, the Laurie Anderson model of comics, how he defines success, how to keep a happy marriage inside the comics world, and more! Give it a listen!
“We’ve never seen the consumer dollar at full strength. In traditional print markets, somebody spends a dollar on my work, and I get 10 cents at the end of that chain, that massive army of middlemen. Now we’re seeing what kind of world happens when the consumer dollar stays closer to a dollar. That army of consumers really has an enormous power to put your boat afloat.”
We also talk about his next book (on visual communication and education), his strengths and weaknesses as a cartoonist, making a 500-page comic book that readers could tackle in one sitting, why Reinventing Comics was like “trying to eat 10 lbs. of potato salad”, how every success story in cartooning is unique, the differences in working in print vs. working for the screen, and trying to be a scholar for the first time. Now go listen!
“Craig Thompson’s Blankets is probably off the hook now, because I finally did a comic even more sentimental. So now I made Craig look like Gary Panter.”
We mention a few books in this episode. Here they are:
- The Sculptor – Scott McCloud
- Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art – Scott McCloud
- Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form – Scott McCloud
- Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels – Scott McCloud
- Zot!: The Complete Black and White Collection: 1987-1991 – Scott McCloud
- Maus: A Survivor’s Tale – Art Spiegelman
- Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth – Chris Ware
- The Complete Elfquest Volume 1 – Wendy Pini
- The Dark Knight Returns – Frank Miller
- Watchmen – Alan Moore
- Beautiful Darkness – Kerascoët, Fabien Vehlmann
- Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir – Roz Chast
- Kill My Mother – Jules Feiffer
- Blankets – Craig Thompson
- Here – Richard McGuire
- Gamify Your Classroom: A Field Guide to Game-Based Learning (New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies) – Matthew Farber
- The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
- Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir – Tom Hart
- Essays – Orwell
- Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything – Joshua Foer
- How Music Works – David Byrne
- Runaway – Alice Munro
- Blonde: A Novel – Joyce Carol Oates
About our Guest
Scott McCloud is the award-winning author of Understanding Comics, Making Comics, Zot!, The Sculptor, and many other fiction and non-fiction comics spanning 30 years. An internationally-recognized authority on comics and visual communication, technology, and the power of storytelling, McCloud has lectured at Google, Pixar, Sony, and the Smithsonian Institution. There’s a more extensive and funny bio at his site.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded during the Small Press Expo at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel on a Zoom H2n Handy Recorder and a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. McCloud by me.
The great cartoonist (and designer and illustrator) Seth joins the Virtual Memories Show to talk about memory and time, his love of digression, being “Mr. Old-Timey”, what it means to be a Canadian cartoonist, and learning to let go of the finish and polish that used to characterize his work.
“When I was young, I thought there were an infinite possibility of stories you could do. As you get older, you realize you’re following a thread, and that you don’t have as much choice about what you’re writing about as you thought.”
“Style’s a funny thing. I think it’s important, but I think it’s a matter of the choices the artist makes that lead to the finished product. It is chosen, bit by bit over time, with each decision you make.”
“People only have a limited patience for listening to you go on and on about your own ideas, your own mind, your own memories. Art allows you to have that perfect experience of putting that down on paper without anyone growing tired and making you stop.”
“You add things onto yourself bit by bit through life to create the kind of person you want to be. Eventually, to some degree, it IS you. You picked these things deliberately.”
“There’s some little thing that makes it hard to let it go of trying to create that fetish object you always wanted, that comic strip that looks like the best you can make it.”
About our Guest
Seth is the pen name of Gregory Gallant, a Canadian comic book artist and writer. He is best known for comics such as his ongoing anthology Palookaville, George Sprott: (1894-1975), Wimbledon Green, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, and It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, all published by Drawn and Quarterly. His illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Details, Spin, The New York Times, and Saturday Night, and he has designed books and DVDs for a variety of publishers, including Fantagraphics (The Complete Peanuts), Random House (The Portable Dorothy Parker), and Criterion (Make Way for Tomorrow). Here are his favorite Criterion releases.
Credits: This episode’s music is Time Stand Still by Rush (because Seth’s Canadian, see, and his work revolves around memory and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded in Seth’s hotel room during the Toronto Comic Arts Festival on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Seth by me.
“You can hide writer’s block, but you cannot hide that you have no control over your dog.”
I thought Linn Ullmann and I were going to sit down and record a little conversation about her new novel, The Cold Song (Other Press), but we found out that we had a lot more to talk about. So much, in fact, that we ran over the time set up by her publisher and had to get together for a second session during her stay in New York for PEN America week! In part 1 of our first 2-part episode, Linn talks about the influences of her parents — Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman — on her storytelling process, her subversion of the “Scandinavian crime novel” in The Cold Song, the importance of place in her writing, the perils of overthinking the ground rules for an interview (not ours!), how she transposed a character from The Wire from Baltimore to Norway, and how she managed to convince her book club to tackle Proust. We close out with the topic of Karl Ove Knausgard’s work and the ethics of explicitly writing fiction from life (which is where part 2 picks up). Ms. Ullmann’s a fascinating writer and this is (this first half of) an illuminating conversation about her work and life. Give it a listen! [UPDATE: Part 2 now available!]
“I wanted to write a love story not about the beginning of love or the end of love, but the middle of love, where it’s broken, and where the harmless little secrets turn out not to be as harmless as you thought.”
About our Guest
Linn Ullmann is a literary critic and the author of five novels: Before You Sleep (1998), Stella Descending (2001), Grace (2002), A Blessed Child (2005), and The Cold Song (2011). Grace won The Reader’s Prize in Norway and was named one of the top ten novels that year by the Weekendavisen newspaper in Denmark. In 2007, Grace was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in the UK. A Blessed Child was shortlisted for the Brage Prize in Norway. In 2007, Ms. Ullmann was awarded the Amalie Skram Award for her literary work, and she received Gullpennen (the Golden Pen) for her journalism in Norway’s leading morning newspaper Aftenposten. In 2008, A Blessed Child was named Best Translated novel in the British newspaper The Independent, and in 2009 the novel was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in the UK. Linn Ullmann’s novels are published throughout Europe and the U.S. and are translated into 30 languages. The Cold Song was recently published in the U.S. by Other Press. Ms. Ullmann lives in Oslo with her husband Niels Fredrik Dahl, a novelist, playwright and poet. She has two children, Hanna and Halfdan, and two stepchildren, Dagny and Kasper. She also has a dog named Charlie.
Credits: This episode’s music is Sweetheart Like You by Bob Dylan. The conversation was recorded at the Other Press offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Ms. Ullmann by me.
“In the late 1970s, I wanted to write against the grain, so I wrote about a marriage that lasted a long time, with all the strife and stresses.”
Novelist, essayist, poet, short story writer, and translator Lynne Sharon Schwartz sat down with me to talk about her newest essay collection, This Is Where We Came In: Intimate Glimpses (Counterpoint), but we talked about a lot more in our hour! Listen in to learn how she and her husband began recording literary readings by authors like James Baldwin, Philip Roth, John Updike, William Styron in the ’60s, and how they’ve re-launched those recordings. We also discuss how second-wave feminism convinced her to pursue a writing career, how her ear for music influences her writing, why she swears by audiobook reader David Case, and how Margaret Atwood once dropped the boom on Norman Mailer. Give it a listen!
“Although I identify with feminism, my literary tastes don’t divide into men and women; it’s the ones who are concerned with language and delight in language, rather than their gender, that I read.”
We also talk about her love of digressive essays, the joys of translation, her travel-anxiety, the difficulty in getting a book of essays published, why W.G. Sebald is one of her favorite authors, and how — kinda like last week’s guest, Caitlin McGurk — she got involved in bringing back lost women writers.
About our Guest
Lynne Sharon Schwartz is the author of more than 20 books, including novels, short story collections, non-fiction, poetry, and translations. Her new essay collection, This Is Where We Came In: Intimate Glimpses, was just published by Counterpoint. Her first novel, Rough Strife, was nominated for a National Book Award and the PEN/Hemingway First Novel Award. Her other novels include The Writing on the Wall; In the Family Way: An Urban Comedy; Disturbances in the Field; and Leaving Brooklyn (Rediscovery), nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award. She and her husband Harry have launched Calliope Author Readings, which offers lovers of literature a rare opportunity to hear great 20th century American authors interpreting their own works. Ms. Schwartz has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEA, and the New York State Foundation for the Arts. Her stories and essays have been reprinted in many anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and The Best American Essays. She has taught writing and literature at colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad. She lives in New York City.
Credits: This episode’s music is Gladiolas by Scott Joplin. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Schwartz’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Ms. Schwartz by me.
“I set up a scenario where all of my characters were unhappy in one way or another, and they were all watching other people, as opposed to looking inward at their own lives. I didn’t know what people do about that. I was writing a realistic novel, but part of me believed that no one actually acts on their unhappiness.”
Tova Mirvis joins The Virtual Memories Show to talk about her brand-new novel, Visible City and how she learned to act on her unhappiness, as well as the lifelong advice she got from Mary Gordon, the ways that writing a book is like building a stained-glass window, why being an orthodox Jew in Memphis wasn’t just like Designing Women with better wigs, and the advantages of being offline for a week when the New York Times publishes your op-ed about getting divorced. Give it a listen!
“Orthodox Judaism and southern culture meld beautifully. In the south, there’s a way we do things and a way we don’t do things. And it’s the same in orthodox Judaism. They’re both very well-structured worlds. I grew up as a sort of cocktail of those two worlds.”
We also talk about how one person’s urge to freedom is another person’s betrayal, why Visible City took her 10 years to write, what you can discover about yourself in your 40s and what you can leave behind, and the varieties of religious experience (ours, not William James’). BONUS! You also get my essay/monologue about Jews & Geordies!
About our Guest
Tova Mirvis is the author of three novels, Visible City, The Outside World and The Ladies Auxiliary, which was a national bestseller. Her essays have appeared in various anthologies and newspapers including The New York Times Book Review, The Boston Globe Magazine, Commentary, Good Housekeeping, and Poets and Writers, and her fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio. She has been a Scholar in Residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University, and Visiting Scholar at The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center. She lives in Newton, MA with her three children.
Credits: This episode’s music is NYC USA by Serge Gainsbourg. The conversation was recorded at the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and monologue were recorded on the same setup in a hotel in Columbus, OH. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Ms. Mirvis by me.
“The physical landscape of south Jersey is one of the most beautiful places on earth. . . . And it’s juxtaposed with rusted-out trailers and collapsing shacks that people are still living in. There are a lot of extremes thrown together in that area. . . . It’s almost easier to explain south Jersey to people who aren’t from New Jersey than those who are.”
Lisa Borders joins the show to talk about her new novel, The Fifty-First State! It’s a fine book about mismatched half-siblings brought together by calamity, set in an area of New Jersey overlooked by most everyone but its residents. Lisa and I have a fun conversation about her work and influences, how her science background informs her writing process (she’s a part-time cytotechnologist), why form has to rise from story, how to teach novel-writing, why she stands by Jonathan Franzen’s novels, how a Michael Cunningham short story changed her life, and whether southern NJ should secede and become America’s fifty-first state.
“I don’t get why NaNoWriMo is in November. It’s Thanksgiving, it’s a short month: why not January? November is a bad, crazy month for me.”
About our Guest
Lisa Borders grew up in central and southern New Jersey. She is the author of two novels, The Fifty-First State (Engine Books) and Cloud Cuckoo Land (River City Publishing), chosen by Pat Conroy as the winner of River City Publishing’s Fred Bonnie Award in 2002. Cloud Cuckoo Land received fiction honors in the 2003 Massachusetts Book Awards, and was a finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year and the Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards. Lisa’s short stories have appeared in Kalliope, Washington Square, Black Warrior Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Newport Review and other journals, and her essay, “Enchanted Night,” was published in Don’t You Forget About Me: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes (Simon & Schuster, 2007). She has received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Somerville Arts Council and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and fellowships at the Millay Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Hedgebrook and the Blue Mountain Center. She wrote a really entertaining essay about her (one-sided) love affair with Michael Stipe.
Credits: This episode’s music is What If We Give It Away by R.E.M. The conversation was recorded at the Virtual Memories Estate on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded at home on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photos of Lisa Borders by me.
“There’s this misconception that something born of the imagination is less true. It’s more true, if you do it right.”
Lori Carson joins us to talk about her debut novel, The Original 1982 (published by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins). Lori’s one of my all-time favorite musicians, so the conversation also covers her singer-songwriter career and her time with the Golden Palominos, where she recorded two phenomenal albums, This Is How It Feels and Pure. It’s a really fun talk about the blurring of fact and fiction, the differences between songwriting and prose-writing (and album vs. book launches), how the music industry changed over the course of her career, her favorite authors and the books that sustained her through her first novel, why she made this life-jump from music to books, and more!
“Many people get to a point where they say, ‘I’ve done this all my life; what’s next?'”
(And there’s a book launch at The Corner Bookstore on Madison and 93rd St. in New York City on Thursday, May 30, starting at 6 pm.! If you’re in the area, check it out! Also, here’s a video of her reading the book’s prologue.)
About our Guest
Lori Carson is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter whose albums include Shelter, Where It Goes, Everything I Touch Runs Wild, Stars and Another Year. A former member of the seminal band Golden Palominos, she has contributed to the soundtracks of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty, Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, Keith Gordon’s Waking the Dead, and others. The Original 1982 is her first novel.
Credits: This episode’s music is Little Suicides, Souvenir, and Stars by Lori Carson and/or Golden Palominos. The conversation was recorded at the Harper Collins offices (thanks, Leah!) on a pair of Blue enCORE 100, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB mic into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photo by Lauren Cook (thanks, Lauren!). There are a few more pix of us up at the Virtual Memories Show flickr set.
In the new issue of GQ (April 2013), there’s a feature called The New Canon: The 21 Books from the 21st Century Every Man Should Read. It’s not something that I take too seriously, since this is the same magazine that decided last year to promote bucket hats as a spring/summer accessory. Still, I’m compulsive about literary lists, especially when they provide the opportunity for me to see how far I’ve journeyed off the contemporary literature track.
The list, as the introduction puts it, is “numbered but not ranked,” which is to say that it provides no guidance at all, except perhaps how to fit these entries in for space. It’s also exclusively fiction, which is fine, since I don’t read poetry and that issue already has a column on “this season’s best memoirs,” a genre that really could take a break.
So here’s the numbered but not ranked list:
- The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
- The Human Stain – Philip Roth
- The Road – Cormac McCarthy
- White Teeth – Zadie Smith
- True History of the Kelly Gang – Peter Carey
- 2666 – Robert Bolano
- Tree of Smoke – Denis Johnson
- Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned – Wells Tower
- The Fortress of Solitude – Jonathan Lethem
- Pastoralia – George Saunders
- Runaway – Alice Munro
- Austerlitz – W.G. Sebald
- Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
- Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
- The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach
- Netherland – Joseph O’Neill
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
- The Line of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst
- Saturday – Ian McEwan
- The Yellow Birds – Kevin Powers
- The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri
Not bad! I was expecting more knuckle-headed bro-prose, a fiction equivalent of Tucker Max or Timothy Ferriss out there. Lucky for me, I’m so outside the loop on contemporary writers that I don’t even know who would qualify for that category.
So how do I measure up to GQ‘s literary bar? I’m amazed to see that I’ve read eight of the 21 books on their list. I thought I was far more esoteric than that:
The Corrections • Back when it came out, before I worked out my belief that life is too short for shitty novels. I read it in the month after 9/11, so I wasn’t thinking straight. Cut me some goddamned slack, alright?
The Human Stain • Maybe my least favorite of Roth’s American Pastoral books. The GQ writeup cites it as “the best book on sex, scandal . . . and political correctness in the Lewinsky Moment.” It’s also about a black guy passing for white, but that’s part of what makes it my least favorite of those books, and probably why GQ doesn’t include that in the “best” part. Also, they write, “Roth coined the famous phrase ‘ecstasy of sanctimony’,” which I swear to God I have never heard/read until this weekend.
Austerlitz • Hands-down best book on this list. You need to read all of Sebald’s books. I was going to write “novels” there, but Sebald’s writing defies the fiction/non-fiction categories in a much more interesting way than the spate of writers who spice up their memoirs by creating utterly false events. Stop wasting your time reading silly blogs and go read Sebald!
Cloud Atlas • I’m a fan of Mitchell’s work and loved the Pynchon/Calvino meta-structuring, where the novel is built like a series of nested narratives in a symbolic logic sequence (not, as GQ writes, “six rollicking story lines connecting disparate-seeming characters through reincarnation”). It jumps genres and offers plenty of thrills, along with profound thoughts on various modes of art. Give it a read.
Gilead • I’m hoping to get Marilynne Robinson on my podcast someday, once I’ve read some of her essays. She’s able to write about quietness, earnest faith and day-to-day life much better than her contemporaries. I want to reread this one before I start on her followup to it, Home.
Netherland • One of the first novels I read on a Kindle, so I’m thinking maybe I need to cut it some slack, because I wasn’t used to the reading experience and not knowing how far along I was in a book. I enjoyed the first chapter, but felt it dragged on pretty interminably after that. Enough people I respect dig it enough that I think I need to give it a reread.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao • I’ve gone on record saying that it’s a good novel that feels like a prose-adaptation of the Hernandez Brothers’ Love & Rockets comics, with the Dominican Republic standing in for the Palomar parts. I mean that pretty much as a good thing, but I also mean, “Those characters feel like they were lifted from Beto and Jaime’s strips in ways that feel really obvious to me but might not occur to critics and readers who aren’t familiar with the source matter.” That said, I consider my recommendation to be far better than GQ‘s: “Because we’ve heard heard a book talk like this one: ‘Dude, you don’t want to be dead. Take it from me. No-pussy is bad. But dead is like no-pussy times ten.'” Seriously: that’s the entirety of their recommendation. Nothing about the history of the Dominican Republic, nothing about nerd culture, nothing about the female punker characters.
Saturday • I was on a bit of a McEwan kick a few years ago, but wound up feeling like he was a writer who was working almost completely to match E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. This one, about a London surgeon whose life gets uprooted when he’s stuck in traffic because of an anti-war (Iraq) march, didn’t feel as formulaic as Amsterdam, but still felt somehow . . . modeled. It gets points for having a House-like medical diagnosis play a major role in the plot.
That wasn’t so bad. The only one I regret spending time on was Franzen.
What about the ones I haven’t read? I’ve got that Cormac McCarthy book on my Kindle, but never started it. Never saw the movie, either.
I feel like I would’ve been compelled to read Zadie Smith if she’d been around when I was a student at Hampshire, and that notion has totally repulsed me from even giving her a shot. Which is to say, I’m quite cognizant of my irrational biases. I try to overcome them, but there are only so many hours in a day. I went to a college that had no course requirements but did have a “third-world expectation”.
I was intrigued by the PR for 2666, but I lay down and it passed.
I thought about reading Tree of Smoke several times over the years and even considered buying it this morning when I saw it on bookcloseouts.com, but I opted to buy some John Hodgman books and the Complete Poems of Philip Larkin instead.
I’ll likely get around to that George Saunders collection; I really dug CivilWarLand in Bad Decline when I read it (c. 1996), but I haven’t been much of a short-story guy in recent decades. Now that he’s in vogue again, I’ll put off reading him for a while.
I know I really need to get to Alice Munro, and will.
I think I have a copy of that Lethem novel in my library, but I may have traded it in when I went through The Mid-Life Culling.
I heard that The Art of Fielding is utterly mediocre. That’s another one that got a huge PR push from literary venues, and apparently left some readers feeling like they’d been swindled. B.R. Myers tore up the publicity machine behind it, which was fun.
I don’t know anything about the other ones. Let me know if you think I’m missing anything there.
What would I have swapped onto that list? I don’t have a ton of post-2000 novels on under my belt, but I’d make a place for Gould’s Book of Fish by Ricahrd Flanagan. I’d also replace The Human Stain with Everyman, Roth’s book about an old Jew who dies. Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil is more compulsively entertaining than any book on the list. I’d put Max Brooks’ World War Z on, as well as Richard Price’s Lush Life and Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity. Maybe Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists is better than one of the books I didn’t read. I bet it is. Walter Kirn’s Up in the Air? Probably that, too. Which kinda makes the point that there’s no way to establish a “canon” nowadays, especially not an instant one like this. I still wonder what books from, say, 1980 onwards will be read in 25 years, but that’s the sorta thing that occupies my otherwise idle cycles.
I have to give the GQ editors some credit, even if some of their actual recommendations/precis were laughably bad. Unless these selections were just bought by publishers’ PR departments, they seem to have some interest in relatively intelligent contemporary fiction. Their recommendations certainly weren’t as horrific as I feared it’d be.
Still, doesn’t mean I’m going to buy a bucket hat any time soon. Nor these.
[More literary ramblings await at my podcast, The Virtual Memories Show.]