March 27, 2008


Cesar Bruto (Que Bruto!)

Sauron eats Remainder brain? Impala rams Brit?

Pinche oy vei!

Rory O'Connor

Why can't both be true? And one might be because of the other. That's how it seems to me.


Sorry, Rory, you need to be more specific than that because neither I nor every other site that's linked to this item sees anything other than a completely contradictory volte face. Which is entirely allowed, by the way, it just bears notice.


Rory: Perhaps it bears noting that the crisis in book reviewing was pinned to the reduction of newspaper book reviews. The assumption was that print reviews by professionals were, prima facie, superior to any other kind of book discussion, and that their demise signaled the impending doom of book culture. A very different argument is being made here.

TEV: Apropos of nothing in particular -- my dad once told me, when I was updating his tax treatise and castigating him for failing to use active verbs, that I would come to see the value of the passive voice. I laughed then, and told him he was wrong. But whaddaya know, the old man knew a few things.

John Freeman

Maud, I don't think the point I was making in that Guardian piece -- that there are far more reviews and book discussion available online than any one person can digest, book junkie or not -- and some of the arguments I made as NBCC president -- specifically, that we needed to preserve as many independent book sections as possible, in print as well as online -- are contradictory. Lots of people get their literary news only in print, and may keep reading that way for the time being, so long as there are print newspapers and magazines for them to pick up. For that reason, I've always felt that it's important for sections, from the Rocky Mountain News to the Richmond Times, to keep publishing book reviews and covering literary matters as news. I don't say this as a slight at 'non-professional' critics (if non-professionals were the only people allowed to talk about books, there would be very little book conversation at all!). Nor do I think "book reviews" are the only important part of book culture. Lots of exciting things are happening on blogs and in literary journals and places where the word professional is (and rightly so) anathema. But many of these publications are read by very small numbers of people, whereas even small newspaper sections still reach large numbers of people. And the goal is to reach as many people as possible, no? Or at least the populist in me feels like it should be. It's not an either/or. But occasionally, personally, I need a time-out from reading *about books* to recharge my readerly batteries, and in those moments I find myself wondering how much reading about books we truly need to do (as individuals) to be readier for the reading, as Edmund Wilson put it.

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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."