Posted inBooks

Invisible Man: The Biographies of J. D. Salinger

In July 1985, the British poet, editor and critic Ian Hamilton submitted the manuscript for J. D. Salinger: A Writing Life to his editors at Random House. Three years later, in May 1988, after countless depositions, preliminary injunctions, affidavits and court appeals, Hamilton’s truncated In Search of J. D. Salinger was published. This was the “legal” version of his original biography, rewritten and wiped of all quotations from Salinger’s letters that Hamilton had included, and starring now the biographer himself as the main character on a thwarted quest to write the life of America’s most famous recluse.

Posted inPoetry

Lady Lazarus: Sylvia Plath’s Contested Afterlife

On February 11th it will be fifty years since Sylvia Plath’s death, an occasion marked by a predictable slew of new books, anniversary editions, and the revival of decades-long feuds over Plath’s contested legacy. In the Guardian, Olwyn Hughes (Ted Hughes’ sister and the supreme gatekeeper of the Plath estate) and Plath’s friend Elizabeth Sigmund keep up appearances as old foes and, to those of us without a dog in the fight, representatives of two opposing Plath camps: Olwyn as the protector of her brother (“Sylvia wasn’t the innocent victim … she was vicious and I think a bit crazy”) and Elizabeth as the tireless defendant of her poet-friend.

Posted inArt

Brooklyn Follies

In the week before the Brooklyn Book Festival, Brooklyn Magazine published its “Essential Guide to Brooklyn Literature in 2012,” which consisted of sub-sections like “Which NYC MFA Program Is Right for You?”, “10 Brooklyn Books That Should Be Movies”, and “101 Secrets to Indie Lit Success.” It also featured interviews with nine Brooklyn Writers who were visited in their homes “in order to find out how they do what they do.” The results, as I’m sure you can imagine, were riveting.

Posted inBooks

Booze Muse: Kingsley Amis, the Laureate of Hangovers

Here is a fun literary experiment: substitute the words ill or illness in Virginia Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill” (1930) with the words hung-over and hangover . It works, right? “Hangover is the great confessional”; “In a hangover words seem to possess a mystic quality”; “Incomprehensibility has an enormous power over us in a hangover.” And so on. But the best bit is this: “To hinder the description of hangover in literature, there is the poverty of the language. English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache.”

Posted inBooks

Not the Man We Used to Be: An Anthropologist’s View of the New Weaker Sex

According to a recent book, Manthropology: The Science of Why the Modern Male is Not the Man He Used to Be, by Peter McAllister, modern men are basically fucked. McAllister, an archeologist and science writer, has analyzed the iron men of yore — the Neanderthals and Wodabees, the Tahitian seducers and Mongol bowmen — and concluded that in every meaningful department the Homo modernus is a deplorable wreck.

Posted inBooks

Crossed Signals: Brian Evenson’s Stories Blend Genre and Literary Conventions

Brian Evenson’s writing might well be, in the words of a character from his new story collection Windeye, published by the venerable Coffee House Press, a means of “capturing on paper and holding steady and immobile the various motions and bodies that constitute an event.” The twenty-five new stories collected here are all event-driven, narratives spurred into life by mysterious disappearances, communal meetings, or acts of stomach-churning violence.

Posted inBooks

The Verse That Could Happen: National Poetry Month to the Rescue?

A couple of months back I was sitting in an East Village dive bar enjoying, oh, I don’t know, my third or fourth whiskey (it was Tuesday, after all), when I noticed a very attractive girl next to me committing what appeared to be lines of verse onto a yellow notepad. Hang on, I thought: a fetching young poet sitting next to me in some blighted Manhattan grotto? What movie are you in, buddy? I stole a second glance. True enough, there was her pen scribbling curtly on the paper, and there were the one or two-word stanzas — illegible, from where I sat — filling up the left-hand side of the page in cursive, like the lines of an EKG.

Posted inArt

Book Spurning: The People’s Library at OWS

When the NYPD — invasion-clad and riot-tooled — swiftly and forcibly dislodged protestors of the Occupy Wall Street Movement from their stronghold in Zuccotti Park on November 15 last year, they mangled and destroyed, among other things, the so-called “people’s” library, an impressive collection of books generously made available to the public on a barter-basis: take one, leave one. A Gutenbergian species of free trade, if you will.