18 November 2011

Something completely insane seems to be happening.  Last week, Sam Allingham wrote an analysis at The Millions of Jonathan Lethem‘s takedown of James Wood‘s review of his own novel The Fortress of Solitude (from eight years ago).  The Lethem essay was recently published at the LA Review of Books.

But that’s not quite the insane part (depending I guess on how you feel about Lethem/The Fortress of Solitude).  The comments section of Sam Allingham’s post blew up and started to get rather heated.  Then, suddenly, someone calling himself “James wood” joined the conversation, and it got even more heated.  Soon it became clear that “James wood,” who started his comments referring to “Wood” in the third person, was in fact the James Wood in question.

From a comment by someone named “Lewis,” deep into the thread:

Talk about post-modern moments. A critic writes a review of a writer. Then the writer responds to the critic. Then a blogger writes an article about the writer’s response to the critic. Then posters attack the writer for responding to the critic and other posters attack those posters for attacking the writer’s response. Then the critic responds to the posters, but no one believes he is the actual critic. The strangest/funniest part was perhaps when one poster pretending to be the critic also in response posted a link to a James Wood web site that is for James Wood the used car dealer and another asked that money be deposited in an offshore account for James Woods in the Cayman Islands, although those posts were unfortunately deleted. In any case, I do apologize if I offended you James for my sometimes gratuitous comments, although I never said that all you write about is Flaubert and you don’t write about contemporary authors. In fairness to you I have not read all of your critiques, only enough to get perhaps a biased impression. In fairness to me and Steven though, I agree that it is extraordinarily odd for a writer or critic to write about himself in the third person. Why would you expect any of us to believe you’re you when you speak of yourself as though you’re a corporation or a press agent speaking for you?

Completely apart from the issues of literary criticism and author-responses that this thread of comments addresses; what is going on here?  I feel lost and confused about how it is we are all learning/unlearning to communicate in the blogosphere; it seems scarcely human.


14 November 2011

At The Millions today, how I feel about the National Book Awards selection controversy, and about spinach. Thanks to Laura Miller and Victor Lavalle for giving me some, ahem, food for thought.

Update: Laura Miller offered a thoughtful response in the comments section of the piece.

12 November 2011

I’m glad that there’s some buzz about re-reading on the blogs — prompted by Patricia Meyers Spacks‘s recently released On Rereading. A couple of related posts at the Book Bench, and at The Millions.

Teaching has forced me to re-read a number of books and stories – not just twice, but three and four times.  It’s a fortunate convergence of necessity and pleasure.  I suppose the re-reading experience depends highly upon what sort of reader you are the first time around: I consider myself a pretty close, slow reader (as opposed to a skimmer or page-turner), and yet still, re-reading is invariably rewarding and illuminating.  That sounds cliche and predictable, like saying you’ll feel better if you exercise and eat vegetables, but both are still profoundly true.  As a writer, re-reading almost always yields a richer reading experience; I find my admiration for the author deepens as the layers and textures reveal themselves.  Wow, I missed that and that the first time around.  Only occasionally does a book not hold up upon re-reading — which of course makes sense, i.e. we tend to select our re-reads carefully.

I do find it surprising that the further along I am in my reading and writing life (in my life in general is I guess what I ultimately mean), the more open and generous I seem to be as a reader; which is to say that — within a subset of recognized published books — I go in as a student of writing who wants to learn from what other writers are doing and trying (the varying levels of success all equally instructive), and as a person who wants to meet interesting, complex characters who feel, for those x-hundred pages, like real human beings to me.  On the one hand, it’s not much to ask; on the other, if you think about it, and if you’re working at writing yourself, it’s a whole lot.

Is it a “luxury” or an “indulgence” to re-read?  Not an easy question in an era of economic recession, multitasking, and information overload; but the question feels related to that of whether art itself is an indulgent luxury.

My previous thoughts on re-reading here.

4 November 2011

Just came across this site, and this post — Joyland Magazine on “250 Books by Women All Men Should Read” — both are delightful, the latter quite thought-provoking.  We use the word “should” so infrequently these days (not to mention joy!); it strikes me as intriguingly resolute.

4 November 2011

The Poetry Society of America and NY Botanical Garden present: Poem Forest by Jon Cotner, this weekend and next. Doesn’t this sound great?

Poem Forest
A self-guided walk designed by Jon Cotner

New York Botanical Garden
Thain Forest | Sweetgum Trail   12-4:30  Nov 4-5, 11-12

Poem Forest
 gives festival visitors a new kind of poetry experience, as well as a new kind of walking experience. Poet-walker Jon Cotner has fused lines selected from 2500 years of nature poetry with Thain Forest’s autumnal landscape. At 15 spots along Sweetgum Trail, visitors will speak, sing, or variously engage with 15 lines that encourage them to see and sense more clearly, to inhabit the present more deeply, and to fill with enchantment over the course of this walking meditation. The original poets who composed the lines are explorers – observers, lovers – of nature. They address us from America and from around the globe: Chile, China, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Sweden.