At its most literary, the style of a work of cultural criticism mirrors its subject. The prose in Geoff Dyer’s masterful But Beautiful, for example, swings and croons like the jazz music the book celebrates. James Gleick’s latest work, Time Travel: A History, is a book about time travel that aspires to that very feat.
Konundrum: Selected Prose of Franz Kafka promises to lure a new generation of casual readers, if not jaded scholars—for its streamlined, playful prose (which still manages to stay faithful to Kafka’s German syntax), as well as its contemporary concerns and sensibilities.
Recently Charles Bock was a guest writer in a fiction class that I teach at The New School in New York City, on the theory and craft of fiction. The whole class had read his new novel, Alice & Oliver, about a family’s brutal ordeal with cancer, before Bock’s visit.
One wants not to praise faintly: this isn’t simply an admirable book, one of those this-is-good-for-you literary vitamins. Dog Years is that, but it’s also quietly startling, drawing the reader’s eye toward the quiet, tiny details that make life accrue feeling and sense, maybe even meaning.
Theres No Place Like Time, or The Art of Trash Diaries, Curiosity Cabinets, & Determined Noticing
LANCE and ANDI OLSEN in conversation with Renée E. DAoust
This interview with Lance and Andi Olsen took place in Berlin over the course of two visits. The first was at the Literaturhaus Café, an elegant gathering place for writers and publishers on Kurfürstendamm, the second at the Café Cinema, a funky dive (wallpaper from another era still peeling) in the former East near Hackescher Markt. Drinking huge cups of Milchkaffee, we agreed one can never imbibe too much caffeine or talk too much about art, literature, and ideas.
A tempting entrance in reviewing Megan Abbott’s almost freakishly propulsive You Will Know Me is to note that your reviewer’s a 37-year-old white male with nothing more than the casual quadrennial enthusiasm for gymnastics, which enthusiasm demands nothing more than sitting on a couch pretending to be able to suss out differences between flips, vaults, routines.
You’d be forgiven for expecting the book If Venice Dies to focus on the impact of the rising sea level and climate change on the water-locked city.
“What is lively is what is good If it is alive, it is working,” wrote Commentary critic Herb Gans in notes for a review of writer, activist, and urban theorist Jane Jacobs’s first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961).
May Day, the name of Gretchen Marquette’s debut collection of poetry, is richly ambiguous. On the basis of the title poem, and another called “Song for the Festival,” one might think the central metaphor of the book is a spring celebration commencing rebirth.
Allusive, digressive, transgressive, John Domini’s Movieola! upends Tinseltown’s cheap dream factory, its empty fantasias, the book’s title a reference to a clunky 20th-century contraption that allowed editors to view and tweak movies in real-time.
In T.C. Boyle’s novel The Terranauts, his twenty-sixth book, four men and four women are sealed inside a self-contained ecosystem, called E2, for two years.
Have doctors lost their culture? I will ignore the smart student in the back row who whispers loudly “Did they ever have one?” Let me answer that medical student, who may well be the young Oliver Gogarty.
“You must work, always work,” were the words of advice Auguste Rodin shared with Rainer Maria Rilke in 1902, days after the struggling young poet arrived in Paris to write an essay on the sculptor. Desperate to figure out how an artist should be, Rilke lived by these wordsbut it would take until 1914 before he would truly understand their meaning.