Posts Tagged: Literature

The Fall of the Humanities and the Tyranny of Recommendation Letters: A Novel and a Chat

Dear Committee Members is the second novel from PEN/Hemingway award finalist and creative writing professor Julie Schumacher. Written entirely in the form of letters of recommendation, the novel relays the academic trials and tribulations of Jason Fitger, a floundering novelist, creative writing professor and self-proclaimed "dinosaur" in the rapidly changing landscape of liberal arts education. At a time when literature departments are in danger of extinction and bureaucrats wield unprecedented power over university funds, Fitger aspires to speak truth to power through his rambling, disjointed, and cranky letters of recommendation. The best use for these letters, he believes, is not to praise his misguided students and colleagues but to [...]


Man Vs. Word

In 1969, a psychologist named G. Harry McLaughlin published the results of a number of experiments he’d made on speed readers in the Journal of Reading. His fastest subject was Miss L., "a university graduate with an IQ of 140" who had taken a speed reading course and claimed to have achieved speeds of sixteen thousand words per minute "with complete comprehension." He hooked her up to the electro-oculograph, a device that measures eye movements, and let her rip.

Miss L. read Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust at 10,000 words per minute [...] When she was half way through I asked her for a recall [...] Miss L. recalled [...]


How to Write John Updike's Deathbed

A couple of weeks ago, Adam Begley was in town to publicize his biography of John Updike, which is, as Louis Menand put it, “an extended essay in biographical criticism, an insight into the man through the work and the work through the man.”

I’d intended to talk to Begley, who I’ve known for years, about a scene towards the book’s end. Updike is dying at home, surrounded by his wife, Martha, and ex-wife, Mary. It’s a vividly rendered paragraph and I wondered: Had Begley been present?

He was still at home when Mary telephoned Martha and said she’d like to come see her ex-husband. Martha suggested that [...]


"Moby Dick": The Game

I met Joel Clark and Tavit Geudelekian in Joel's Bushwick loft. They were talking, as people so often do in these situations, about a work of great literature. Joel's well-worn copy of Moby Dick was on the coffee table, next to an Apple laptop. The computer was displaying images from the card game that they have developed based on the novel. It is called "Moby Dick, or, The Card Game."

They created the project with Andy Kopas, Mark Perloff, and John Kauderer. Today it went live for fundraising on Kickstarter, with a goal of $25,000. The game mechanics combine luck and skill, much like a 19th century whaling [...]


Is Andre 3000 Better At Rap Than Biggie Was?

I have long been a proponent of the idea that the Notorious B.I.G. is the best rapper of all-time. (This after having long been a proponent of the idea that Rakim was the best rapper of all-time. I have been proponentizing for a long time. I am very, very old.) But I am starting to consider a different idea. Is Andre 3000 the best rapper of all-time? I think he might be! The body of work he amassed with his partner Big Boi across the six OutKast albums that came out between 1994 and 2006 already made for a strong case—Andre expanded the breadth of rap-lyric subject matter with [...]


You're Invited to Saturday's One-Day Symposium on Literature and HIV

A thing to do this coming Saturday: "Transmissions," a day-long conference on literature and the first thirty years of HIV. Three events throughout the day, at the New School's Wollman Hall:

11 a.m.: THE LITERATURE OF AIDS FROM 1981 – 1995, with David France, Michael Denneny, Larry Kramer, Sarah Schulman, John Weir, and Edmund White.

2 p.m.: THE LITERATURE OF AIDS FROM 1996 – 2011, with Rabih Alameddine, Gary Indiana, Zia Jaffrey, Amy Scholder, and Max Steele.

7 p.m. READING with Rabih Alameddine, Michael Denneny, Gary Indiana, Zia Jaffrey, John Kelly, Larry Kramer, Jennie Livingston, Amy Scholder, Max Steele, John Weir, and Edmund White.


"The House of Mirth" as a Poorly Played Game of "Choose Your Own Adventure"

Premise: You are an attractive, well-bred young woman in your late twenties; genteel, if shabby. You have poor impulse control, no real money, and a reasonably well-off aunt who generally bails you out of scrapes.

1. On your way to a week-long house party in Rhinebeck, you miss your train. On the platform, you encounter your true love, Lawrence Selden. He invites you to take tea with him in his rooming house while you wait. You…


Moral Calculus Elucidated

Amazon, apparently no longer all that comfortable with the role that it has settled into during the course of its ongoing standoff with the publisher Hachette—unrepentant and unyielding monopoly monster—now wishes to explain itself: It's also important to understand that e-books are highly price-elastic. This means that when the price goes up, customers buy much less. We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 [...]


Are You Useful to Anyone?

Pitchfork Reviews Reviews was a Tumblr that launched in 2010. It, as one might expect, reviewed Pitchfork album reviews in a piercingly strange and touching voice—flat, declarative, obsessive, a bit breathless—that made it wildly compelling. But Pitchfork Reviews Reviews was only partly about Pitchfork reviews. The true subject of the blog was the anonymous young man who wrote it—his insecurities, his fears, and his triumphs of experience and understanding as he made his way through the various milieus of New York. It was weirdly elegant, tender and funny because of the author's willingness to share uncomfortable details about his own life.

The deceptively banal confessional tone had a charm [...]


Nobel Literature Laureates, In Order

109. Frédéric Mistral, 1904

108. Winston Churchill, 1953

107. Pearl S. Buck, 1938

105 (tie). Harry Martinson, 1974

105 (tie). Eyvind Johnson, 1974

104. William Golding, 1983

103. Jacinto Benavente, 1922

102. John Galsworthy, 1932

101. Odysseus Elytis, 1979

100. Camilo José Cela, 1989

99. Rudyard Kipling, 1907

98. Roger Martin du Gard, 1937

97. John Steinbeck, 1962

96. Hermann Hesse, 1946

95. Sinclair Lewis, 1930

94. Paul Heyse, 1910

93. Vicente Aleixandre, 1977

92. Rudolf Christoph Eucken, 1908

91. V.S. Naipaul, 2001

90. Pablo Neruda, 1971


William Gibson On Burroughs, Sterling, Dick, Libraries, The Uncanny, The Web

In real life, William Gibson looks like you would imagine. A little older than the Gibson you imagine, but he was born in 1948, so it only stands to reason. He is gaunt and affable, clothes black, smart looking frames on his eyeglasses, more avuncular than professorial. And he really talks like that! Those neologisms and the sizzling chrome-finished turns of phrase? They fall out of his mouth in the course of conversation. He lives the gimmick.

Gibson appeared at the New York Public Library on Friday night for the LIVE From the NYPL series, and it was something of an occasion. Gibson, as active as he is in [...]


How to Win the Nobel Prize in Literature

So you didn't win a Nobel Prize in Literature this week. Unless your name is Mr. Mo. Although, if you live in Europe, you did win a consolation Nobel Peace Prize at least. (Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union is like giving an Oscar to Alf.) Anyway, I know, it’s total bullshit. You totally deserved it. But you might just be a calendar year away from getting the recognition you so obviously deserve. Let me show you the way.

I waited by the phone all week for that congratulatory call from overseas myself! Not for the stuff I’ve already written, which, let’s admit, is pretty amazing. But [...]


Soul Food: Cookbooks As Literature

"Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul."—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Alexandre Dumas père was a terrible and a wonderful man. He fought in wars, hunted, traveled the globe, owned a theatre, dabbled in politics and revolutions here and there, and was bankrupted a few times after spending fortune after fortune on women and high living. And he wrote, and wrote, and wrote, in jail or out of it. With the aid of a number of assistants he was able to turn out over 600 books before the end. He was magnificently ugly, and, apparently, irresistible. Which [...]


Who Killed Jane Austen?

A British medical researcher has put forth a new theory on the disease that claimed Jane Austen's life. While previous speculation centered around Addison's disease or lymphoma, "Katherine White of the Addison's Disease Self Help Group has written an article for the British Medical Journal's Medical Humanities magazine in which she says that Austen probably died of tuberculosis caught from cattle." This postulation is actually borne out if one reads letters Austen sent to her family at the time, as well as the original ending of Sense and Sensibility, which was changed because it was thought to be too bleak.


The Brooklyn Prophesy

I never thought I'd shake Questlove’s hand.

It was at the book release party for Bradley Spinelli’s novel Killing Williamsburg at Trash, a bar in Williamsburg, where Questlove was DJing. Spinelli had simply walked up to Brooklyn’s most famous alternative hip-hop star at his own book signing and asked; Spinelli mentioned that his novel was launching on World Suicide Prevention Day, and as Questlove scribbled his thousandth autograph of the day, Spinelli listed some of the great pop musicians who had committed suicide. Questlove rattled off some more as the people standing in line shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot and rolled their eyes. Half an hour [...]


The Faulkner Truthers

"I am the best in America, by God," William Faulkner wrote to his editor in 1939, and history has only confirmed that he was not deceived as to the quality of his gift. Faulkner's position in the American literary pantheon is such that his life has been dissected from every possible angle, inside the academy and out—even James Franco had a go at the Old Man, as some Faulkner devotees like to call him. But nobody has yet succeeded in tracing the exact path by which his genius developed.

He dropped out of high school; he dropped out of college. He corresponded with no mentor, belonged to no literary school [...]


I'm Nobody: Eve Sedgwick After Death

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick would have been 63 today. Four years have passed since her death, but her absence is felt more, not less, with each. More than ever Sedgwick’s writing generates further writing and thinking from those who engage with it.

Sedgwick once said about reading affect theorist Silvan Tomkins: "I often get tired when I’m learning a lot." Her writing has the same effect—calming and invigorating—generative and tireless even if also sometimes tiring. In her posthumous collection, The Weather In Proust (2011), Sedgwick remarks that one form of antinormative reading can lead to many other types of theorizing—this is exactly how I feel about Sedgwick’s work. Forever [...]


When Food Attacks: A Selective History of Literature's Most Alarming Feasts

Paul Newman’s egg-gorging feat in Cool Hand Luke certainly inspires wonder (along with a tinge of disgust). And yet each time I watch the film, I struggle with a nagging question raised by that stomach-swelling exploit: Which came first, our appetite, or our drive for competitive eating? Owing to the glut of cooking competitions, food trucks racing across town serving up sliders and duck-fat tots, foodies one-upping each other on Instagram and restaurants aggressively advertising their farm-to-table bona fides (as brilliantly satirized on "Portlandia"), food culture feels increasingly competitive in the broader, non-Kobayashi sense.

As the battles unfold to perform more impressive culinary feats, whether inhaling hot dogs [...]


Fictional Drugs In Order Of How Useful They Would Be To Me Right Now

14. Sex Packets 13. Glint 12. DMZ 11. Vitameatavegamin 10. Comanapracil 9. Gleemonex


The Truly Best-Dressed Characters in Literature

Recently our neighbors at Flavorwire picked their ten best-dressed characters from literature. It's fascinating, if slightly heavy on film adaptions. ("Isabelle Huppert in Claude Chabrol's Madame Bovary (1991)." No, that would be Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1856)!) Isn't the best part of novels their ability to evoke striking images in the mind alone? Let's see if we can help!