Tag Archives: Page Turner


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So much happened in the first half of 2012/YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE that it turns out I missed a few things. On 21 February, Wallace’s birthday, Berfrois ran “The Depressed Person in The Marriage Plot,” in which Daniel Roberts takes a closer look at the connections between Wallace and the character Leonard in Jeffrey Eugenides’ latest book. Adding to the steady march in April, Publishers Weekly began a two-week countdown of “The Top 10 Infinite Jest Characters,” starting with #10 (Barry Loach) and moving toward #1 (see here). Also, on 21 April came the long-awaited (by me at least) end of the “live” part in “Words, Words, Words: The Infinite Jest Liveblog.”

After a relatively uneventful May and June, YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE came roaring back in July. The monthly issue of GQ featured an interview with Nick Offerman, better known as Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation,” in which Offerman talked about being “halfway through Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – a writer who escaped my notice until a few years ago, when posthumously his final novel, The Pale King, came out.” In the very same issue of GQ, a Wells Tower piece on the pornstar James Deen made a Wallace-esque mention of one of Deen’s colleagues: “Kayden Kross, a wholly winning and improbably bookish young woman who reads the short fiction of David Foster Wallace between takes.” On 8 July, as noted, Roger Federer won Wimbledon, which led to Wallace-Federer references in The Telegraph, The Daily Beast, The Week, and GQ.com. There was even a weird piece on Wallace’s faith titled “Roger Federer Killed David Foster Wallace,” as well as an anti-Federer piece on the LRB Blog which noted that “‘Federer Moments’, as David Foster Wallace famously called them, are part of what I dislike. ‘Federer as Religious Experience’ says more about Wallace’s genius than Federer’s.” The following day, Michael Cunningham took to The New Yorker‘s Page Turner blog to explain why Wallace (and others) didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. Also on 9 July, the “Nieman Watchdog” at Harvard University offered “Lessons on covering politics from the late David Foster Wallace.” On the 11th, Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians books used his first impressions of Every Love Story is a Ghost Story to talk about hysterical realism. On 13 July, Page Turner posted a piece about subsidized time. Federer’s victory was still yielding DFW alerts when there came, on 16 July, the other significant non-book event in the YODFW: the launch of “Infinite Boston.”  The project was an ambitious effort by William Beutler to photograph and write about the real-life equivalents of various IJ locations:

I traveled to Boston, Massachusetts with the express purpose of visiting as many of the landmarks and lesser known precincts that appear in, or provide inspiration for, the late David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest as I could manage…now I am pleased to present what I am calling “Infinite Boston”: a ruminative travelogue and photographic tour of some fifty or so of these locations, comprising one entry each non-holiday weekday, from now until sometime in early autumn.

“Infinite Boston” attracted broad interest, showing up on The Millions, The Rumpus, National Geographic’s The Radar, Fast Company’s Co.Create blog, and from there the technology section of nbcnews.com, among others. The notice was well deserved. “Infinite Boston” is thorough and artfully done — well worth exploring for anyone who loves Infinite Jest, or is currently working their way through it. The project also had a number of spinoffs, including the super cool, Google-maps enabled “Infinite Atlas” and some other cool stuff available for sale at the Infinite Shop.

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The first few weeks of July were pretty good — but the end of July illustrated the scope of what was happening in YODFW. On the 19th, CNN ran an online story about porn stars using Twitter to gain mainstream fame. One of the stars the mentioned was Kayden Kross, upon whom they bestowed the title “The Smartest Woman in Porn” and mentioned: “She often tweets about her favorite authors, David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo.” Four days later, the Wall Street Journal reported on a past meeting between DFW and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The two men had lunch and bonded over their shared enjoyment and rigor over language and grammar. Apparently the meeting led to some book Scalia wrote, which is not important. What is important is that, within the space of a few days, we could read about how a porn star and an arch-conservative Supreme Court justice both have strong affinities for our man.


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A Personal Inventory, Ctd

It may not be Binders Full of Women or Texts From Hillary, but it seems like Brian started something like a meme with his reflections on bookshelves a few weeks back. How else to interpret the recent groundswell (relatively speaking) of articles appearing about shelves and the books they hold?

On October 11th, The Global Mail featured Geraldine Brooks addressing the “People of the Bookshelf” and talking about her shelving habits:

I start out conventionally enough, alpha by author. But while I take account of the first letter of the writer’s surname, I have other ambitions for my shelves that transcend the conveniences of mere alphabetical accuracy. It’s impossible for me to place one book alongside another without thinking about the authors, and how they would feel about their spine-side companion.

One week later, The New Yorker’s Page Turner blog had Brad Leithauser talking about the big books that taunt him, unread, from his shelves —

If your bookshelf speaks to you, it’s likely to be uttering reproaches. Or so my experience runs. All those unread books!

— and how those reproaches led him to tackle Charles Dickens.

I should also acknowledge the original pioneer, and keeper of one of the more awe-inspiring walls of books I’ve ever seen in real life, Bill at Insulted by Authors.

What about you? What do your shelves say to you? What do they look like? Do you alphabetize? Color code? Chronologicalize? What would the guy who comes to every party and stares at the bookshelves think? Have you ever won someone over with your shelving technique?

We want to know and we want to see.

– Michael Moats

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The Story of the Pulitzer that Never Was, Part II

In the second half of his piece on the Pulitzer selection process, Michael Cunningham continues the discussion on the, like, third most important prize in literature — maybe fourth, depending on how you feel about The Critical Hit Awards — by worrying over the question of “How to Define Greatness?”:

It’s easy to attribute past oversights to some imaginary band of the cowardly and nearsighted (one pictures them in dowdily sensible outfits, owl-eyed, prim, and self-righteous, speaking to one another in carefully rehearsed boarding-school accents). And, yes, the cowardly and nearsighted do exist in the realm of literature. They sometimes thrive.

It’s more interesting, though, to think about how elusive greatness can be before history delivers its verdict, even to those who are neither prim nor self-righteous.

End of quote.

Read the thrilling conclusion at Page Turner.

– Michael Moats

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The Story of the Pulitzer that Never Was

On The New Yorker‘s Page Turner blog, novelist Michael Cunningham opens the curtains on the Pulitzer Prize process:

We were, all three of us [jurors], shocked by the board’s decision (non-decision), because we were, in fact, thrilled, not only by the books we’d nominated but also by several other books that came within millimeteres of the final cut. We never felt as if we were scraping around for books that were passable enough to slap a prize onto. We agreed, by the end of all our reading and discussion, that contemporary American fiction is diverse, inventive, ambitious, and (maybe most important) still a lively, and therefore living, art form.

And yet, no prize at all in 2012.

How did that happen?

The board’s deliberations are sealed. No one outside the board will ever know why they decided to withhold the prize.

I did, however, learn a good deal about how short lists are formed, how “best” books are selected—a process that had hitherto been mysterious to me.

Cunningham’s post is the first of two, and offers an interesting look into how the three finalists were selected out of 300 books, before being sent to the Pulitzer Board for nothing to happen.

The post also intrigues with descriptions of the books that came close, but were eventually eliminated:

A ravishingly beautiful, original novel went down when one of us pointed out that, lovely as the book was, Toni Morrison had already told a version of that particular story, to similarly powerful effect, in a single chapter of “Beloved.”


A third fell under the wheel (and this one was particularly heartbreaking to all of us) when we reluctantly acknowledged that although it was wonderfully written and fabulously inventive, its central love story, while moving, was insufficiently complicated and a bit sentimental; that it failed to depict the body of darker emotions that are integral to love: moments of rage, disappointment, pettiness, and greed, to name a few. All three of us wished love to be as simple as the author imagined it to be, but we acknowledged that love, as far as we could tell, is not only not simple, but that part of its glory is its ability to survive incidents of rage, disappointment, and etc.

Any guesses on which books these are?

Read the full post at Page Turner.

– Michael Moats

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Fiction Advocate of the Day

Today’s winner: The New Yorker.  This morning the magazine launched a new books blog called Page-Turner, billed as a place for “Criticism, contention, and conversation about books that matter.” Sasha Weiss elaborates on its mission:

We’ll debate about books under-noticed or too much noticed, and celebrate writers we’ve returned to again and again. We’ll look to works in translation and at the politics of literary scenes beyond the English-speaking world. We’ll think about technology and the reading life. We’ll recommend and we’ll theorize. Daily essays will be the blog’s mainstay, with books as an anchor for wide-ranging cultural comment.

Like Fiction Advocate, Page-Turner will not be specifically focused on fiction;  it will (also like Fiction Advocate) promote smart writing of all kinds. Early contributors include Salman Rushdie on censorship, cartoonist Bob Mankoff pulling together a slideshow of New Yorker cartoons about books, and Giles Harvey using a pun I should have gotten to first to talk about “Death of a Salesman.”

– Michael Moats

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