When I tell you which writer from Belarus SHOULD have won the Nobel Prize this year, as I’m about to do, it’s not because I have anything against Svetlana Alexievich, the official winner, whose work I don’t know very well, having only encountered it in the magazine n+1, where I skimmed over it because I still can’t shake the feeling that her translator, Keith Gessen, is somehow a douchebag.
Instead, when I tell you which writer from Belarus SHOULD have won the Nobel Prize this year, what I’m saying is that, despite the fact that I’m an American and Americans supposedly don’t read much fiction in translation, and despite the fact that Belarus is a relatively small and unacknowledged contributor to world literature, it just so happens that I can name a writer from Belarus who is TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME and who deserves all the praise in the world, including (if I had my way) the Nobel Prize.
Remember when Michael Hofmann absolutely destroyed Stefan Zweig in the London Review of Books? It was an impressively vitriolic takedown of the writer who inspired Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and it’s worth re-reading now if only for the zingers. (“Stefan Zweig just tastes fake. He’s the Pepsi of Austrian writing… just putrid through and through.”) I remember thinking wow, okay, maybe. But why are you so angry about it, Hofmann?
Well, I should have realized—Hofmann is Joseph Roth’s translator. And if you didn’t know any better, you could mistake Joseph Roth for Stefan Zweig. They’re both Austrian and Jewish, both novelists and journalists, both born in the late 1800s and died at the start of WWII, both famous for capturing the spirit of the 1920s and ’30s, when all of Europe held its breath in anticipation of its own destruction.
Hofmann takes these two superficially similar writers and declares that you have to choose a side. Who do you love, and who do you hate—Roth or Zweig?
Robert Repino, author of the breakout sci-fi novel Mort(e), has published a new novella.
Like his first novel, Leap High Yahoo is about animals and violence in an eerie future that bears a strong resemblance to a ravaged Philadelphia. Unlike his first novel, Leap High Yahoo also about humans, China, capitalism, the Occupy movement, and xenophobia. And the audiobook is narrated by none other than Bronson Pinchot. Continue reading
Following our first review “#JonathanFranzen #Purity,” we present a second opinion on Franzen’s latest.
I found Purity a wholly enjoyable reading experience. The pleasure of the novel kept me up far past my bedtime on multiple nights. Like Freedom and The Corrections before it, Purity showcases Franzen’s extraordinary ability to pull together disparate story threads in service of a sweeping literary statement.
But here’s the thing about Purity: I’m not entirely sure it works. Continue reading
Great question, glad you asked.
A “literary scene” sounds like a place where you schmooze at cocktails parties and sign book deals. But it might also be a competitive hellhole of smarmy assholes.
A “literary community” sounds like a place where you hang out in coffee shops and join a local writers’ group. But it might also be a cultural backwater with no talent whatsoever.
Which one do you live in? I ran a bunch of Google searches to find the answer. You can see the methodology and the full results here.
Big “literary scene”
- New York City
- San Francisco
- New Orleans
- Los Angeles
More of a “literary community”
- St. Louis
- San Diego
- Las Vegas
- Washington DC
Every year sees the publication of dozens of new books about the charming, quirky little nuances of the English language, and they’re all crap. They’re. All. Crap. Crap, I tell you! Because while they purport to offer a thoughtful, revealing study of the subtleties of our language, they actually reveal nothing beyond the writer’s own social prejudices and pet peeves. “Down with the Oxford comma!” “Up with the non-gender-specific pronoun!” Give me a fucking break. This is how certain bored old white people try to re-assert their precarious hold on a certain echelon of society. It’s like quibbling over neckties at a country club.
And then, on the other hand—finally, for fuck’s sake—we have The Art of Language Invention by David J. Peterson. Peterson is a linguist (linguistics is that other way of thinking about language, the one that’s actually scientific and informative) and he’s a conlanger, which means he creates constructed languages (“conlangs”) for fun. For fun! For fun he sits around and puzzles out new ways of communicating, using the tools that are common to all languages. I’m not talking about Oxford commas. I’m talking about ergativity, semantic bleaching, phonological erosion, the pragmatics of intonation, and the reification of gender. You know, the real stuff.
Female friendships are volatile, magical things, as torrid as any romance and as complicated as a Rubik’s cube. Rachel B. Glaser’s debut novel Paulina and Fran deftly captures the intricacies of female friendship, set against the backdrop of a New England art school. Glaser knows this world well, having earned her BFA in painting from RISD and her MFA in fiction writing from UMass-Amherst, and the affectations of art school are everywhere in these pages: hours of thrift store shopping, the angst of being one of the precious few artists who “make it,” the competition for fellowships, the constant workshopping and critiquing (both in and out of the classroom), and the anxiety about earning an art degree and whether it will pay off.
Paulina and Fran, both curly-haired artists, meet at a house party, where the studied, careful ennui of aspiring artists flows freely, along with the beer. Paulina fancies herself a queen bee and harbors a vicious side; Fran is unassuming, innocent, quieter.
Paulina stared, realizing Fran was friends with one of Paulina’s enemies. Paulina couldn’t remember which girl. Her idea of Fran darkened. She wanted to be her, or be with her, or destroy her. She watched Fran’s breasts bounce in her dress. No one in the room seemed to be connected to her. Her cheeks concealed things.
It’s hard to write about Jonathan Franzen’s work without writing about Jonathan Franzen the Public Figure, an entity that seems to bear surprisingly little resemblance to the man himself. Now that his reputation as a crotchety jerk is all but set in stone, it’s easy to forget that Franzen’s original sin wasn’t dissing Twitter or calling Jennifer Weiner a hack but rather some rather tepid hand-wringing during an interview with Terry Gross about whether having an Oprah’s Book Club sticker on the cover of The Corrections could be construed as selling out. In the end—by which I mean by the end of his sentence—Franzen had decided that it didn’t, but that didn’t stop Oprah from disinviting him.1
The charges have shifted and morph over the years. More recently, Franzen has been assailed for being insufficiently grief-stricken at the death of his friend David Foster Wallace2 and, retroactively, for saying that his ambition for The Corrections was that it reach a male audience.4 You get the sense that these criticisms have less to do with Franzen than what he represents—an exceedingly privileged rich white male who nonetheless finds the world disappointing and unjust. Identity politics aside, I find it really hard to look at the facts of these claims and come away with any other conclusion than that Franzen has been frequently and repeatedly swift-boated. There’s part of me that wants to avoid it all, but with his new novel, Purity, Franzen seems be directly addressing—and quite possibly trolling—his critics. Here at last, he’s given them what they’ve been waiting for—a book that openly takes aim at millennial, feminism, and the necessity of secrecy in a world where privacy is becoming an ever more alien concept.