Most Entertaining Reviews: NYTBR 13 May 2012

The other literary magazine that seems to appear most frequently in this blog is The New York Times Book Review.

When self was in Hawthornden just last month (Ach, alas, what a paradise that was!), she had opportunity to sample The New York Review of Books, The Guardian Book Review, and The Times Literary Supplement.  And concluded that each of those three contain better writing than The New York Times Book Review.

But, in the meantime, she has piles of NYTBR to get through.

So she starts off this morning with the NYTBR of 13 May 2012.  And here are the reviews self found the most entertaining and perceptive:

  • Jeanette Winterson’s review of John Irving’s new novel, In One Person.  It’s been aaaages since self has read John Irving, but to tell the truth self was never into him, even when he was hot.  Self will read him now because of one paragraph by Winterson:

Irving likes to track his characters over long stretches of time.  In One Person begins in the mid-1950s, when Billy is 13, and shadows him until he is in his late 60s, in 2010.  As a work of fiction, it is true to the way we recall our lives rather than the way we actually live them; we live in linear time —  we have no choice —  but the curve of our memory is never a straight line.

  • Chandras Choudhury’s review of Rajesh Parameswaran’s debut collection, I am an Executioner:  Love Stories (This title is definitely echoing Irwin Yalom’s Love’s Executioner).  From 1st sentence to last, it is a most engrossing review, perhaps self’s favorite of all the reviews in this issue.

Self skips over the Children’s Books section, as is her usual custom.

  • Christopher Benfey’s review of John Sutherland’s Lives of the Novelists:  A History of Fiction in 294 Lives is a tad slow to get going, but once Benfey starts discussing a few of the novelists, once he mentions that “Hawthorne may have perpetrated incest on a sister before spreading the theme in his fiction,” and how Anthony Burgess was told “he had a brain tumor” and reacted by writing a sequence of “Damoclean novels, including A Clockwork Orange,” we are most definitely hooked.  Not only that, he has piqued self’s interest in Edmund Wilson’s The Wound and the Bow.

Very uncharacteristically, self finds nothing of interest in Marilyn Stasio’s Crime column.

The end-paper essay, however, by Roger Rosenblatt, is so reassuring.  After reading it, self realizes she is not really a ____ (female version of a “jerk”), she is just a writer.  Here are the passages in Roger Ronsenblatt’s “The Writer in the Family” that seem to describe self “to a T” :

  1. . . .  as far as anyone in the family can see, I do nothing, or next to it.
  2. A friend of my son-in-law’s asked me the other day, “You still writing?” —  as if the profession were a new sport I’d picked up, like curling, or a disease I was trying to get rid of.
  3. . . .  in the nothing we do —  the “nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (Wallace Stevens) —  we do not live in the real world, or wish to, it is fruitless and dishonest to pretend that we do.
  4. We deliberately cultivate a distance from normal experience, whatever that may be.  We seek and relish anarchy.
  5. For the wolf of a writer, the family is a crowd of sitting ducks.  There they assemble at the Thanksgiving table, poor dears —  blithering uncles, drugged-out siblings, warring couples —  posing for a painting, though they do not know it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Law # 6 of Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power: COURT ATTENTION AT ALL COST

Robert Greene is a Harvard professor, and his book is published by Penguin.  In other words, dear blog readers, he is a human being of some intelligence.  If there is someone in the world you simply cannot stand, never ever let The Hated One read Robert Greene.  Because if The Hated One were ever to read Robert Greene, he or she would then know exactly how to make himself or herself more infuriating.

Law # 6 of his book is:  Court Attention at All Costs.  In this chapter, Greene discusses “the power of the mysterious.”  The mysterious, he writes, “invites layers of interpretation, excites our imagination, seduces us into believing that it conceals something marvelous.”

(But then how does one know, self wonders, if a person is being mysterious or is just being downright rude?  SHUT UP, self, and keep reading!)

“Do not imagine,” Greene writes, “that to create an air of mystery you have to be grand and awe-inspiring.”

Mystery that is woven into your day-to-day demeanor, and is subtle, has that much more power to fascinate and attract attention.  Remember:  most people are upfront, can be read like an open book, take little care to control their words or image, and are hopelessly predictable.  By simply holding back, keeping silent, occasionally uttering ambiguous phrases, deliberately appearing inconsistent, and acting odd in the subtlest of ways, you will emanate an aura of mystery.  The people around you will then magnify that aura by constantly trying to interpret you.

As Exhibit A, Greene cites Mao Tse-tung.  He was such a manipulator that “no one, not even his own wife, ever felt they understood him . . . ” (And why this woman —  no pushover, she! — endured this confusion for so many years while staying married to The Great Mysterious One is another REALLY GOOD question that shows how entirely confused self is, at this very moment)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

More World Poems on the London Underground

The London cabbies self talked to were generally glum about the Olympics.  Self gleaned that they were rather morose about the traffic and how much more time it would take to negotiate the streets (“One fare might take up half a day,” remarked one cabbie).  Self gathered that athletes were already starting to arrive when she left.  Good luck, oh London cabbies!  Hope the Olympics aren’t too stressful for you!  And hope you all make lots and lots of money!

(There you go again, self, losing yourself in digression.  Wasn’t this post supposed to be about those poems festooning the London Underground in honor of the Olympics???)

Here’s a poem from Kurdistan, written by Choman Hardi (in English):

My Children

I can hear them talking, my children
fluent English and broken Kurdish.

And whenever I disagree with them
they will comfort each other by saying:
Don’t worry about mum, she’s Kurdish.

Will I be the foreigner in my own
home?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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