January 20, 2007



Great to see Snodgrass nominated. I read an article explicating a poem of his about Van Gogh, 1990, in the periodical "English". It was worthy of attention. If you can dig it up , you can see he is very serious about his work from a technical perspective....

denise hamilton

I was so excited to see literary critic Donna Rifkind on the list of finalists in book criticism, her reviews are the most cogent and dazzling out there. She never takes cheap shots and always tells you exactly why she liked or didn't like a book, piercing to the heart of the matter with sharp analysis. Hers is a brilliant, quirky and accessible intellect. And did I say she's funny? Her LAT review of the Daniel Handler novel "Adverbs" (set up like a Handler book with all of his literary tics) was pure genius. I wish the LAT would hire her full-time and let her rip. She also lives in LA, and I wish all the reporters who come out here from the Manhattan bubble to write scathing pieces about the lack of serious culture in LA would interview people like her instead of hanging around the pool at their Beverly Hills hotels or renting a house in the 'centrally located' Palisades as one recent such journo had it and thinking they've seen what this city has to offer. Thomas Mann and Sasha Viertel decamped a long time ago.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."