Harry Potter: the early Isherwood version

Back in the l930's, Christopher Isherwood published a fascinating quasi-memoir about his years at university called Lions and Shadows. Isherwood was a brilliant student, but — surprise, surprise — an outsider. With a fellow student named Chalmers he formed a sort of secret literary society opposed to what they called "the poshocracy."  Isherwood and ChalmersContinue reading “Harry Potter: the early Isherwood version”

How can someone so young write such a good dark novel?

My favorite interviewer of writers is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a writer herself: Michelle Huneven. She's written for countless different outlets, but these days is interviewing for the literary site The Millions.  This week she published an interview with a young novelist who wrote a book called The Gin Closet. Here's Michelle's introduction to the book andContinue reading “How can someone so young write such a good dark novel?”

Are run-on subtitles the flop sweat of publishing?

Bill Morris has a theory: In a marketplace glutted with too many titles – and in a culture that makes books more marginal by the day – publishers seem to think that if they just shout loudly enough, people will notice their products, then buy them.  In other words, the run-on subtitle is literature’s equivalentContinue reading “Are run-on subtitles the flop sweat of publishing?”

The plot escapes me, but the wraith of memory remains

In the New York Times Book Review, novelist James Collins admits an embarrassing secret. I have just realized something terrible about myself: I don’t remember the books I read… Nor do I think I am the only one with this problem. Certainly, there are those who can read a book once and retain everything thatContinue reading “The plot escapes me, but the wraith of memory remains”

The most Orwellian twist in today’s most Orwellian novel

Gary Shteyngart is a fan of George Orwell, but his new Super Sad True Love Story, a dystopian novel inspired by l984, isn't all that Orwellian a book.  Why?  Because, for all Orwell's greatness, Shteyngart is a much more amusing writer.  But the book does have a couple of surreal and ominously Orwellian moments. The mostContinue reading “The most Orwellian twist in today’s most Orwellian novel”

“War and Peace” in one sentence

I looked up War and Peace and it's about this guy Pierre who fights in France, and all this terrible stuff happens to him, but in the end because of his charm he gets to be with this girl he really loves, and who really loves him even though she cheated on him.  Gary ShtenygartContinue reading ““War and Peace” in one sentence”

The truth about Super Sad True Love Story

Super Sad True Love Story is a brilliant new satirical novel, set in the near future, built on what writer Gary Shteyngart realized was the crucial difference between the great futurist novels Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, and l984, by George Orwell (of course).  As Shteyngart points out in this typically great interview withContinue reading “The truth about Super Sad True Love Story”

Misreading (and Misunderstanding) Cheever

The reviews of the first major biography of this country's greatest short story writer, Cheever: A Life, by Blake Bailey, have been a bit glum. The late John Updike, who greatly admired his work, and knew Cheever about as well as Cheever would allow him to, called the book "a heavy, dispiriting read." The ChristianContinue reading “Misreading (and Misunderstanding) Cheever”

The Scariest Opening to an Essay Ever

From Keeping It In the Family, by Claire Watkins, in Granta's recent Fathers issue. My father first came to Death Valley because Charles Manson told him to. He always did what Charlie said; that was what it meant to be in The Family. It's a great little memoir/essay, no more than about 700 words long.Continue reading “The Scariest Opening to an Essay Ever”