December 16, 2008



Tuesday marginalia is back! Sweet!


Ah, the season of the tiresome top-ten and "best of" lists are upon us! Trying to get just the right measure of conventional wisdom and curveball . . . It's all about marketing! Nice to see James Wood participating with his high-end list of "literary" commodities . . .


i think you misinterpreted the guardian piece. that sentence you quote was the end of a paragraph that began thus: "But for those who care about books being reviewed well, there are reasons for unease all the same. The most obvious one is what is widely called 'the democratisation of opinion'." seems to me he was simply making an observation (and after all it's true enough, isn't it? just look at amazon.com), not saying it's a good thing. no?


Oh thank you for linking the Cynthia Ozick address. Stunning.

Jim H.


Best of the season to you!

Listen, for those of us not in 'the biz' what's a one-sheet? I am looking forward to seeing Benjamin Button.

Drop in over at Wisdom of the West sometime for a good read and a chat.

Also, I hate to bring it up but I never received the book I won from TEV: I think it was Henkin's Matrimony: http://marksarvas.blogs.com/elegvar/2008/09/tev-giveaway-ma.html

Jim H.

P.S. I've had a story accepted for publication, but haven't yet heard back from Writer House about my novel—though now that the market's tanked I'm not hopeful. I'll keep you up to date.

Antoine Wilson

I am (I remain?) in love with Cynthia Ozick.

Antoine Wilson

BTW, Ozick published a version of that address on Standpoint:


Worth checking out.


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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."