Monday Round-Up…

March 16, 2009 | No Comments

Another week flies by and the height of my to-read stack has diminished by a barely perceptible one. Before I talk about that, let’s do a quick news round up.  Posthumous honors granted to Roberto Bolano continue unabated as 2666 wins the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.  Other awards granted include Patrick French’s authorized no-punches-pulled biography of V. S. Naipaul and the Nora Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing going to the deserving Ron Charles in The Washington Post. Meanwhile over at the Guardian, two articles worth checking out are Alison Flood’s query about whether we judge the quality of a book dependent on the sex of the author (yes, I fear we do), and Sam Jordison’s contention that Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald should never have won the 1978 Booker. Again, despite being an Fitzgerald groupie, I have to agree – Offshore is not one of her best.

While researching a project on the future of book reviewing, I stumbled over a fascinating interview conducted in 2007 by Michael Orbach (The Knight News) with Sam Tanenhaus, book editor of the New York Times, in which he talks about the paper’s fondness for non-fiction and his believe that we suffer from a dearth of good fiction writers.  And on a completely different track, steal the time to read Edward Hoagland’s exquisite thoughts on coming to terms with death, “Curtain Calls,” in the March issue of Harper’s Magazine. It is a long time since I’ve read an essay so delicately nuanced and fluid. Here he is talking about the fact that he has never borne a son:

 “Nor did the world need me cloned. And I don’t regard my two small grandsons as ego-stuffers or an apparatus for immortality. They will exercise their ingenuity under conditions beyond what we can accurately imagine and with mores under siege. Besides an undue focus on one’s own ancestors or descendants is unseemly if it demeans the poignancy marbled nearly everywhere….” Such a wise view of the current obsession with fertility treatment and the wanting, (the demanding) of the right to be able to produce multiple mini-me’s.

Which brings me rather clunkily back to the one book I completed this week: Edward St. Aubyn’s tragi-comedy Mother’s Milk (2005), an unflinching (but oddly optimistic) examination of the effect of children on a marriage. Patrick, now a father of two boys, mourns his demotion in his wife’s affections. “As a former beneficiary of Mary’s maternal overdrive, he sometimes had to remind himself that he wasn’t an infant anymore, to argue that there were real children in the house, not yet horror-trained. Nevertheless he waited in vain for the maturing effects of parenthood. Being surrounded by children only brought him closer to his own childishness.” The poor, wee baby….