I find myself in an unusual state of pause: between essays, and struggling to iron out some kinks in my writing life / real life balance. Ok, not kinks, some whopping fissures and alps. So I’m doing the only thing that can done: I’m skiving, lifting my head to see what’s going on. I found some interesting reads….
– A lovely short essay by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker (Oct 17th) celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of one of my favorite, and many folks’ favorite, childrens’ books, The Phantom Tolbooth by Norton Juster. Gopnik reiterates the book’s magical message, vindicating “the value to the world of a liberal-arts degree.”
– Also in the New Yorker on September 19th, was a pitch-perfect personal essay by Alice Munro, titled “Dear Life” (reg. required) about her childhood in Ontario. So perfect, I’ve torn it out to read again while working on my own flawed and lumpy recollections.
– I’m never quite sure if it’s a good thing for the author of a first book to receive a huge advance and a heap of publicity: expectations are set so high, not only for this work, but for any to come thereafter. Still, I enjoyed Keith Gesson’s article in the October issue of Vanity Fair about the ten year journey from creation to print of Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. It makes me want to read the aforementioned buzzy book, while also being a succinct and helpful analysis of the current publishing process.
And I found some hoopla. The Man Booker Prize shortlist, announced on September 6th, caused a bit of a carfuffle as some felt the selected works were more entertaining that truly literary, sparking a debate about whether it is possible (and surely, it is?) that a book can be both. One group of writers, including John Banville and David Mitchell, are standing behind a new literary prize, called, succinctly, The Literature Prize, created to redress what is perceived as this unwelcome bias by the Booker toward “readability” over ambition. Both sides are now tussling, in somewhat unseemly fashion, in the press about the definition of “excellence.” You can follow the tussle on the Guardian, and elsewhere.