Part I of a two-part look at style examines Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Henry James. Watch for Part II, ...And How To Get It in the coming days.
An old window with some panes frosted, some panes clear, and some panes broken.
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Almost the first thing a reader notices about a piece of writing is its style — unless the style is transparent. Transparent prose is prose that lets you see the object before you. It has often been referred to as a window, for the window in no way obstructs your view. Indeed, it serves the view, quite as if it were a humble attendant.

When we speak of style, then, we usually mean prose that obstructs the view. But of course, we do still see something of the object in our line of sight (i.e., the sense of the sentence). How, then, is the object — the view, the sense — obstructed? By details of the sentence that yank our attention away from the sense, if only momentarily. Puns, alliteration, syntactical flourishes, words that call our attention to themselves are some of the details that can do this. Such details are, of course, snappy, playful, poetic, even enlivening, and the reader who reads them, if that reader wishes to be a writer, is apt to think, I’m going to get me some of those!

And why not?

There is no reason why not. But the getting of them is harder than one might think.
More… “On Style…”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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I have been thinking about literary celebrity. Not the modest sort attached to living writers who get to have unflattering nostril shots on the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine but the extravagant sort attached to a select group of dead writers. Generally speaking, death is a big boost to literary celebrity (think Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton), despite a brief period in the 1980s when DWEMS (dead white European males) took a thrashing as emblems of exploitative patriarchy. But DWEMS have rebounded from their slump and are now being feted, along with a few DWEFs, on every possible occasion.

At the zenith of literary celebrity are Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Both are, as one editor I know put it, “best-selling brands.” The subjects of numerous adaptations and spin-offs, “Shakespeare” and “Austen” have replaced Shakespeare and Austen. They exist as memes in western culture — and in Eastern… More…

 

Kathryn Hughes recently wrote in the Guardian about biography overkill. For a while, the genre was so popular with successes like David McCullough’s John Adams that even the most insignificant of figures — heck, even the sisters of the most insignificant figures — were getting their own books. Every obvious choice for biography, from the founding fathers to the great writers and artists, has multiple volumes devoted to revealing every intimate detail of their lives. In “The Death of Life Writing,” Hughes explains:

The least imaginative response to this lack of good new subjects is simply to go back to the big lives and do them over — and over — again. You can justify this by an appeal to the idea that each decade (actually, every four years might be nearer) needs its own Dickens or Eleanor… More…

Once I met a man who did not travel. He lived in the Swiss city of Locarno, on Lago Maggiore — the city, famous now for its film festival, that Hemingway’s Frederic Henry rows across the Italian border to reach in A Farewell to Arms, making his sad separate peace with the Great War. It is a city of transit, a place to hide money, and probably my acquaintance knew about all that, for he was an investment counselor from an old family, a local pol, too, a man who looked as comfortable in a good suit as the rest of us do in jeans. But he did not travel. His wife might go to India or America, his children as well; he couldn’t even be bothered to cover the hour or so to Milan. Locarno had all the cultural and commercial amenities he needed, the lake was beautiful, and… More…