Just a few more days until the election. We can do it.
In the meantime, here is the best the internet has to offer on books and related subjects for the week of October 31, 2016.
- Beloved children’s author Natalie Babbitt, who wrote Tuck Everlasting, died this week. She was 84.
- Earlier this week we talked about Tam Lin and Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock. I will admit here, in this safe space, that I have never really understood the ending of Fire and Hemlock (yes, I know that book is meant for children, but man, it is abstract). If you are in the same boat, you might enjoy this two-part essay that very productively close-reads the ending. Here’s part one, and here’s part two:
Now, it is a principle throughout the Four Quartets that the ending is contained in the beginning. The exact phrase, 'In my beginning is my end', occurs at least twice outright and in variations several other times; the inversion, 'In my end is my beginning', also occurs. This is absolutely true of Fire and Hemlock. All the elements of the ending are laid out very neatly quite close to the beginning.
- Zadie Smith’s new book Swing Time comes out on Election Day, so you’ll have something to look forward to besides the end of this godforsaken eternal election cycle. Swing Time has a lot in it about dance, so to prepare, read Smith’s Guardian piece on how dance is like writing:
What can an art of words take from the art that needs none? Yet I often think I’ve learned as much from watching dancers as I have from reading. Dance lessons for writers: lessons of position, attitude, rhythm and style, some of them obvious, some indirect.
- Emma Watson is scattering free books around the London Underground. There are lots of programs that do this kind of work around the world if you would like to do the same; I personally am partial to BookCrossing, which has the mission of turning the entire world into a library.
- Rebecca Solnit, the author of Men Explain Things to Me, tells us why New York City is a book you should read:
New York may be a book you haven’t read, but it is rich in Talmudic scholars of the everyday who read it as carefully as any sacred text.
- In the New Republic, Alexander Chee writes against Elena Ferrante’s unmasking:
As a reader, I never once grudged Ferrante her space—perhaps because, as a writer, I understood it. I typically write best when I feel hidden and anonymous, as though anything could be possible. It was always clear to me that Ferrante’s battle against notoriety was waged, in a sense, for all of us. She wasn’t doing this just for herself—she wants to change the world.
- And if you want to read an excerpt from Ferrante’s latest autobiographical-but-not-really book, there’s one at the New Yorker:
I understood then, for the first time, that geography, language, society, politics, the whole history of a people, were for me in the books that I loved and which I could enter as if I were writing them. France was near, Yonville not that far from Naples, the wound dripped blood, the sparatràp, stuck to my cheek, pulled the stretched skin to one side. “Madame Bovary” struck with swift punches, leaving bruises that haven’t faded. All my life since then, I’ve wondered whether my mother, at least once, with Emma’s words precisely—the same terrible words—thought, looking at me, as Emma does with Berthe: C’est une chose étrange comme cette enfant est laide! (“It’s strange how ugly this child is”). Ugly: to appear ugly to one’s own mother.
- At LitHub, Emily Harnett discusses how language renders horror in this age of Trump, using The Shining as a case study:
Kubrick’s film revels in the psychic resonance of the image: an elevator flooded with blood, twin girls at the end of a hallway, a madman with an ax. But the characteristic feature of King’s novel is the way it dwells, with paranoid intensity, on the awful potency of its own language. The novel is as much about the wrathful potential of words and writing as it is about King’s struggles with fatherhood and addiction. And perhaps it was the extreme slightness of Kubrick’s script—the perfunctory quality of its dialogue—that gutted the novel’s wordy, exuberant heart. Watching The Shining might feel like having a nightmare, but reading it feels like living in one, which we might as well be this October.