August 23, 2008



This is a truly yummy picture. I am saving it. I think it will come in handy in the future. Thanks for sharing!


A nice collection! I'm curious to know how you use the novels...are they all examples to admire, or do you use certain texts to show weaknesses?


Wondering why ECLIPSE is in there? (I am a Banville Fan), just wondering why that novel.


Yep: would love 20 words on each of these choices. Unpack, sir!


Where is Harry, Revised? After all, one knows one's own work best, can explain the mechanics and decisions, and besides, it was terrific. Don't be bashful Mark -- give em hell and Harry!

tod goldberg

So, did you have Living Dead Girl in another bag or something?


Sigh. I love Remains of the Day. Life changing, I tell ya.


It looks like you picked the wrong Art of Fiction. Aren't there at least two that are better than Lodge's? Maybe if you wove together the unique Arts of Fiction of Gardner, Rand, and Lodge, you could produce the most complete examination of the subject possible. Or it might be a useless mess.


At first I was struck by the James Wood text alongside Smith's "White Teeth," the object of his hysterical realism ire. But why explain hysterical realism when you can read from an example of it? Brilliant.


@Shankweather: I agree with the better part of your comment but would change the second syllable of your penultimate word to "full."

@DW (fifth comment from the top): While putting one's own work seems terrifically narcissistic to this reader (even Nabokov didn't teach from his true masterpieces in his course at Cornell) but it would be not a little generous of Mr. Sarvas to make himself availableafter class to field such questions from his students, to explain his choices and decisions.

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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."