On this week’s podcast, we welcome National Book Critics Circle board member Carolyn Kellogg to talk about the NBCC awards, the changes to the National Book Award (which set me off on a bit of a paranoid rant), Bookish and its suckishness, and a variety of other literary topics.
I also want to add a bit of an update. Since the time we spoke, I’ve finished HHhH and most of NW, and contrary to all the niceties expressed on this podcast, I’m pretty bummed out about the NBCC finalists for fiction. Both HHhH and NW are staggeringly mediocre and should be replaced by Satantango and Maidenhair. Then again, the sheer literary quality of a list of books including these two masterpieces along with Lydia Millet’s Magnificence would be so mind-blowingly amazing that no future list could ever match up. In other words, the NBCC chose to middle-mind the shit out of their list of finalists to save you—the readers—from experiencing too much literary joy all at once. That’s the best explanation I can come up with, since, wow, I gave these books way too much credit before reading them.
And don’t even get me started on the fact that Errol Morris’s A Wilderness of Error isn’t on there. (I totally blanked on this while we were recording.) But as a nod to my other conspiracy theories, I’ll give the NBCC the benefit of the doubt on this one and assume Wilderness isn’t a finalist because of Joe McGinniss.
This week’s music is We the Common (For Valerie Borden), which is off of the new Thao & The Get Down Stay Down album, We the Common. (This is an amazing album. Probably my favorite of the year so far. And is aesthetically more pleasing that HHhH and NW. Yeah, I had to.)
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .