November 17, 2008



Well, Mr. TEV, I'm about to purchase this book because you say so. Of course, my summer has been the best literary once I've had since I was in school with the books you mentioned you were using for the first novel thing you did in Australia. So, thank you...

Antoine Wilson

JW, you won't be sorry. The Gift is a gift. I was just recommending it to a fellow writer friend last week. And Trickster Makes This World is fantastic, too. Lewis Hyde should be better known for sure--a poetic scholar, a scholastic poet, the most organic of intellectuals.

Tim Jacobs

You should read Hyde's essay, "Alcohol and Poetry: John Berryman and the Booze Talking"--it's fantastic. It's the first Hyde piece I read (and I discovered it from a citation in a DFW essay).


I thought the Times article was quite illuminating as to this Lewis Hyde fellow, and I'm planning to look for The Gift.

One passage in the article has me a bit confused though, "In 1998, he published an essay in which he took the same approach to Thoreau as he does to Franklin, showing that for all his vaunted individualism, Thoreau could not have produced his work without the rich community and communal institutions surrounding him in Concord. It was the first expression of the thesis that would grow into the heart of Hyde’s new project, and it was the first piece of the project that I read."

Aren't we all products of our environment to a very large extent? Thoreau would not have been the same man he was if he had grown up in 20th century Los Angeles, for example. The "breakthrough" works of art that our culture has produced are always defined by the culture in which they came to be. How and why is this idea considered a new "thesis"? I'm sure reading the 1998 essay referenced would shed light on this question too.

I'd love to hear others thoughts on this subject.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • 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."