« GO! | Main | MORNING WOOD »

November 18, 2009



I liked Gates' review of "The Original of Laura". Though this comment puzzled me:

"But none of the characters here, to the extent we get to know them, inspire much affection."

None of Nabokov's characters "inspire affection". That's not their function in his work. Nabokov had no interest in the aesthetic of identification between reader and character, something he pounded his readers over the head with for several decades.

Stephen Lovely

Thanks for this Mark! You have no idea how much I appreciate these "round ups" and the paths they send me down.



Thanks for the link to the essay on central and eastern European lit. It fit right into the readings and studies I have been doing lately.


Thanks for the link to the PBS interviews, I often DVR their broadcast - one of the reasons being because of their arts coverage - but hardly ever have time to watch it, so this is phenomenal. I'll echo Stephen's sentiments above, you do one of the best of these types of posts around.

On an unrelated note Mark, did you ever make it through Coetzee's Summertime? I think you received that and the new Banville, and I saw remarks on the Banville, but not the Coetzee and wanted to hear your thoughts..did you review it somewhere?


Have you read the "dreadful" Humbling referenced in this post? I'm wondering if those finding this book dreadful are failing to consider The Roth Factor (esp. those skewering him on the cliched lesbianism). I'm by no means a Roth expert, but having started a few years ago reading his work and also about him, I'm coming to understand his fiction as self-issues-and-fantasies streaming into his protagonists' psyches. In that case, then isn't this a "dreadful but perfect" Roth?

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."