May 05, 2010



Oh for simpler times eh?

Now we literary folk just shoot texts, facebook messages, tweets, crackberry msgs, IMs, or emails to our author friends. Where's the romance in that?


Not all, Mayowa, not the older writers, and no, I'm not talking about Andy Rooney types, those World War II vets, I'm talking about people like myself who don't text message, facebook, or twitter. We write long and windy e-mails to anyone who'll read them.


I enjoyed reading Bellow's letters. Ironically, they were so much better written than his turgid novels. But that's often the case.


"Ulysses" was published in 1922, and the great man was still without a phone!

Thomas Apolis

I've been following your blog and enjoy it very much! Since you mentioned your love for literary correspondence again - something I share - I wanted to mention my recent article on the Shelleys and their personal writings while I was following their steps in Geneva:


It's a general arts and culture blog, but the articles often focus on literary issues since I'm a PhD student in English. I think that you'll find at least this post interesting, and hopefully amusing!


"Ulysses" was published in 1922, and the great man was still without a phone!

From this letter it seems to me that Joyce did have a phone, but Hemingway did not.

Coll B. Lue

Enjoy the event Mark, mobile, phone, texts and whatever else's at hand.

Looking forward to reading more.


I was struck by Bellow on writers. From the letters: "Meantime my hopes are in people—like you and Sophie—who, like me, have devoted their lives to novels, poems, music, painting, religion, and philosophy. To most Americans we are respected freaks entitled, like everybody else, to live. They don’t have to eliminate curbstones for us, as for the blind. Like spastics whose brains outpace computers, or like those clairvoyants to whom the cops turn to find missing bodies when all police methods are exhausted, we have our place.”


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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."