I spent a leisurely Saturday devouring the latest Bookforum and there were several bits that caught my eye:
- Paul LaFarge's look at Tom McCarthy's Tintin - just as McCarthy asks if Tintin is literature, I feel as if LaFarge is asking if McCarthy's exploration of Tintin is literature. Kinda meta.
- A look at 60's literature - four recent novels in particular - and how books about that time are colored (or not) by those who lived (or didn't) through it all by David Ulin.
- The aforementioned review of Ed Park's Personal Days which articulated what I could not and I'm happy for it
- Stacey D'Erasmo's take on Rivka Galchen's Atmospheric Disturbances in which she finds the book charming and challenging and quite a debut
- Carla Blumenbranz's take on Rachel Kushner's Telex from Cuba (on my radar to be read oh so soon)
- Andrea Walker's review of Harry, Revised by Mark Sarvas - While Walker nitpicked a bit, all I can say is: bravo to Mark for getting reviewed in Bookforum. Book. Forum. Wow.
- Marjorie Welish's review of Maggie Nelson's Women, The New York School, And Other True Abstractions, in which Welish finds many faults, makes me not so happy. However: the review is just as academic as the book and so, you know, what can one expect? Echo chamber, indeed.
- Jonathan Schell's review of Nicholson Baker's very large, very intimidating (to me, of course, only to me) Human Smoke
- And finally, a fascinating piece on Fiction and Political Fact by Morris Dickstein which includes insights from a range of socio-political writers including Madison Smart Bell, Richard Flanagan, Dana Spiotta, Lydia Millet, Dubravka Ugresic, Norman Rush, Claire Messud, Valerie Martin and Zakes Mda. The subject has been much on my mind lately and has become the stuff of many recent conversations. It's a longer piece and is well worth your time. A few quotes that caught my eye, in no particular order and in no way representative of the entire piece, but certainly up for agreement/disagreement on many fronts:
"Yet for the most part, American fiction writers stay out of politics or choose between politics and fiction, as Grace Paley did in her life as an activist. When Norman Mailer was most involved in politics, he wrote close to his worst."
-Madison Smart Bell
"I also think the way fiction conjures interiority and consciousness is unique among the arts and deeply challenging. A novelist can inhabit some pretty unloved and vilified people and make them human and recognizable. Since the novel is built for irony as well as for empathy, it can avoid sentiment while pursuing these recognitions. Few places in the culture encourage this kind of hard-edged, uneasy empathy."
"The problem is that fiction is written about in this country, in places as prominent as the New York Times, in a way that mistakes narrative for art...Works that are little more than cross-cultural soap operas pass as literary achievements because, in a sense, they also pass for political statements: The politically correct, in other words, is clothed as the political, and apparently, that's the closest many readers care to come to transcendence."
"For the political novel in particular, the weakening grasp of actual history is a burden: A majority of young Brits think Winston Churchill is a fictional character and Sherlock Holmes is an actual one. So when it comes to possible readers, the outlook's not good."
As is always the case with Bookforum, there is so much more and it often requires several passes for me to fully appreciate all that a new issue offers. So much good stuff in such a thin wisp of a publication. Do check it out.