WRB—July 27, 2022
Australians, Floridians, Mormons, New Yorkers, Frenchmen, Mormons, oh my!
—The rage of Charlie Brown at not kicking the football, he said. If Wilde were only alive to see you!
Drawing back and pointing, Chris said with bitterness:
—It is a symbol of Washington life.
To do list:
order a tote bag;
avail yourself of our world-famous classified ads, now stored on this page for non-paying readers to access, either by placing or responding to one;
and, because Julia’s poetry notes this Wednesday morning are a delight which you won’t want to be left out of:
Last month, a very diligent reader kindly reminded us that Gerald Murnane is not from up north but the antipodes. Let’s correct the record: in the August 1, 2022 issue of The New Yorker, Merve Erme has an essay on “The Reclusive Giant of AUSTRALIAN Letters” and his “last” book (Last Letter to Readers, 2022): “Murnane’s prose can be both exhilarating and exhausting. His materials are primitive, verging on crude, but worked with absolute finesse. His method suggests a cloistered discipline unparalleled by any writer I have encountered. It would be wrong to call him a genius or a mystic. He is an assured craftsman, a workhorse of the written word. He is not unaware of his tendency to pedantry and crankiness, which often emerge as objects of his irony. Yet who could complain? The attention paid to every part of the work ripples outward to the whole, the way that pebbles dropped one after the other into a pond will soon cover the surface in vanishing halos of wonder.”
And in the same issue, Casey Cep has a great story about the LDS-Literary-Industrial Complex.
This piece from Airmail has already made the rounds over the weekend [To my shame I didn’t beat the rush and write it up on Saturday morning when I had it in the draft. —Chris] but Johanna Berkman’s story about a debut novelist’s plagiarism troubles is still worth reading.
For the Journal, James Romm reviews Adrienne Mayor’s new book of classical oddities (Flying Snakes and Griffin Claws, 2022): “An odd or arresting episode in a classical myth or text starts Ms. Mayor down a trail that ends up far from where we ever dreamed she’d go. She groups her subjects under the heading ‘unclassified residua,’ by which she means ‘the outtakes of ancient history, apparent dead ends of classical studies.’ Here she collects 50 far-ranging musings on curiosities that have piqued her interest, most of them connected in some way to ancient Greece and Rome but sometimes diverging from her usual field of research.”
For our independent cousin, John P. Loonam reviews, well, get this, a new piece of autofiction (The Martins, 2022), translated from the French: “The drive in this novel comes not from the plot but from the narrator’s struggles with it. The way he must ‘submit to the will’ of his characters, who sometimes defy him and ‘act deliberately.’ He thinks about the difference between telling a story and making a story happen. He wonders if he has become too involved or not involved enough. He fears he is manipulating his characters and that they are manipulating him.”
For The Washington Examiner, Alex Perez reviews another piece of autofiction, Jordan Castro’s debut book (mentioned here on June 18; The Novelist, 2022), and he thinks its author’s rage has something to it [A+ headline work here. —Chris]: “A successful literary rant novel, a la Bernhard’s Woodcutters, must be a biting annihilation of the system or people under dissection while never tipping over into the purely misanthropic. The contrivance of the plot matters less than the subject and efficacy of the rant insofar as the ranting reaches heightened levels that allow for the suspension of disbelief. After some hit-or-miss attempts in the first part, Castro goes ‘full Bernhard,’ aping the legendary Austrian’s style. The result is the total decimation of the contemporary literary scene.”
From the same issue, about a new beach read (Florida Woman, 2022) River Page reports: “Florida Novelist Could Have Done Better”: “The book also contains the most concise theory of Florida I’ve ever read. It made me root for Rogers as a writer, even when I felt indifferent to the character she created. It reads, in part: ‘People flood to Florida because it is the end of the country, the end of the line, the last stop, the last call, last chance to start again.’ If I hadn’t read that, I would have said, ‘Florida Woman is a solid crack at a mystery novel, and I recommend it for diverting summer beach reading.’ It is, and I do. But because of that paragraph, I know Rogers could have written something better than a beach novel. I just wish she had.”
Obama’s Summer Reading List has dropped. No comment. [No actually, I still want to read Sea of Tranquility. —Chris] [I’m glad he’s also listening to Wet Leg with the Managing Editors. —Nic] [To be fair to the former POTUS, I also went nuts when David Byrne showed up in that Maggie Rogers song. —Chris]
The Hillbilly Thomists never got back to us about the Classified Ad they said they wanted, but we’ll still note that this evening they will be performing at Saint Francis Hall in the Brookland neighborhood, the space where one Managing Editor had a wedding reception not too long ago.
April 23 | Skyhorse
Repellent: Philip Roth, #MeToo, and Me
by Blake Bailey
From the publisher: In 2012, the acclaimed biographer Blake Bailey persuaded Philip Roth—commonly known as “our greatest living novelist,” and famous for his staunchly guarded privacy—to give him complete and exclusive access to Roth’s friends, family, papers, and person. Their peculiar rapport evolved over the next six years, warm and contentious in turn, until Roth’s death in 2018.
Philip Roth: The Biography was published on April 6, 2021, and hailed as “a masterwork” by Cynthia Ozick on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. The 900-page book debuted at #12 on the Times Nonfiction Bestseller list.
But ominous forces were afoot: because of revelations in Bailey's biography, many were calling for Philip Roth and his work to be “canceled,” while others seemed to think Bailey had been overly sympathetic and even “complicitous” with his subject’s worst failings. Soon rumors exploded on the internet about Bailey’s own private life, and within days he himself was roundly canceled.
In Repellent, Bailey looks back at his fraught collaboration with Philip Roth, whose reputation as a misogynist, philanderer, and self-hating Jew—not to say one of the greatest novelists of the postwar era—left him obsessively preoccupied with his only authorized biography. Bailey also frankly describes his own wayward behavior, and reflects on the extent to which writers’ personal lives should affect the perception of their work.
Repellent is a provocative account of the private Philip Roth and his biographer, as well as a clear-eyed examination of the perils courted by any writer or artist—fallible human beings, after all—in the era of cancel culture.
[Speaking of Obama’s reading choices…I thought this was a joke when I first saw it, but it’s on the website and everything. You can read Nic’s review of the big biography from last summer here. —Chris]
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