The coronavirus has sparked a widespread cultural revaluation of writers who touched on themes of solitude in their work. Holland Carter takes a look at Henry David Thoreau’s WALDEN, and suggests that “there’s plenty to learn from standing still”. Source: The New York Times.
“In her notes, we see her honing her habit of attention, her sensitivity to shades of meaning and the music of language, her tropism toward writers with a talent for noticing.”
— Parul Sehgal reviews Essays One, a new collected volume from Lydia Davis. Read the review in The New York Times.
— Do you prefer being called Professor, Doctor, Mrs or Ms?
— I like Toni.
In 2017, Sarah Ladipo Manyika and Mario Kaiser sat down with Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. Their conversation took place in her home in upstate New York. Read more at Granta.
“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.”
― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
“No definition of poetry is adequate unless it be poetry itself. The most accurate analysis by the rarest wisdom is yet insufficient, and the poet will instantly prove it false by setting aside its requisitions. It is indeed all that we do not know. The poet does not need to see how meadows are something else than earth, grass, and water, but how they are thus much. He does not need discover that potato blows are as beautiful as violets, as the farmer thinks, but only how good potato blows are. The poem is drawn out from under the feet of the poet, his whole weight has rested on this ground. It has a logic more severe than the logician’s. You might as well think to go in pursuit of the rainbow, and embrace it on the next hill, as to embrace the whole of poetry even in thought.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 26 January 1840
“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don’t need someone to share it with or tell it to.”
— Toni Morrison, Tar Baby
“This is a superb biography. Yet it begins in the most inauspicious place. It is 1964, and Saul Bellow has just become absurdly rich and famous. His struggle, doubt, grit, immigrant story, artistic dreams — all were told in Volume 1 of Zachary Leader’s biography, To Fame and Fortune. Here in Volume 2, Love and Strife, the novel Herzog is published on the very first page and reaches “No. 1 on the best-seller list, supplanting John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.” Never again would Bellow, about to turn 50 years old, lack for wealth, power, awards or flunkies to stand by him, ready to take his coat and do his bidding. The temptation for someone in his position was to become an insufferable, spoiled monster.”
A new documentary on the fantasy and science fiction author Usula K. Le Guin explores the evolution of her writing and the ideas that shape and define her work. Source: Bust.
In With A Side of Knowledge, a podcast from the University of Notre Dame, Marilynne Robinson talks to Ted Fox about her novel Gilead, and shares her thoughts on faith, meaning, and the writing process.
— TLS (Subscription Access)
“A 1935 letter in which Ernest Hemingway details his capture of a 500lb blue marlin, an escapade that is believed to have partly inspired his novel The Old Man and the Sea, has been sold for $28,000 (£22,000).” — The Guardian
Rose early. Cool and clear morning. Went running around East Bute Dock (one lap). Reading Thomas a Kempis, Flannery O’Connor (her first published short story, ‘The Geranium’), and the diaries of Thomas Merton (describing his meeting with Zen scholar and practitioner D. T. Suzuki).
Robert Harrison has interviewed the American novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson about her religious beliefs for Entitled Opinions, hosted by the Los Angeles Review of Books. Their conversation also touches on topics of grief, history, science, Freudianism, and the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allan Poe. Listen.
Sat down and read Cormac McCarthy‘s play (or “novel in dramatic form”) The Sunset Limited. An African American man saves a white college professor from suicide, and they share a compelling dialogue about life, suffering, religion, and humanism. Sometimes McCarthy’s stage directions lack racial sensitivity and tact (e.g. “the black” vs. “the professor”), but the characters have an intelligent and entertaining critical dialogue. Dianne C. Luce offers an interesting reading of the text’s conclusion over at the official Cormac McCarthy website (contains spoilers):
“The novel’s denouement rests on the intellectual triumph of White, which ironically leads to his suicide, and the temporary rhetorical defeat of Black, who courageously recommits to his belief in the possibility of goodness. Thus the dialogue remains elegantly balanced, poised between forceful articulations of opposing views of life and human nature, giving ascendancy to neither. McCarthy seems to have no ideological agenda here, but rather he aims at capturing the internal debate of the thoughtful individual seeking to navigate the subway of earthly existence, who hears within him- or herself the competing voices of, on the one hand, empirical reasoning and world-wearying experience and, on the other, hope and the transcendent spirit.”
Overall, a genuinely engaging work struck through with darkly comic elements. Recommended.
Finished reading Stephen King‘s Under the Dome. It’s one of the author’s longest works, and has been compared by publishers and critics to his earlier post apocalyptic novel, The Stand. While the story of an hermetically sealed American community has the feel of a modern parable, Under the Dome is ultimately a straightforward (if fantastical) crime thriller about small town political corruption.