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It’s a difficult task, writing about a country that is yet to appear on many printed maps. This is compounded when you’re writing as a foreigner, representing a foreign perspective that sees the new country mainly in terms of conflict and uncertainty.

It can also be argued that an outsider mining a newly independent country for fiction is doing a disservice to the authors from that country, whose own voices should be primary. Yet, fiction remains one of the most accessible ways that most people will come to learn about the country’s culture. And one unfortunate reality of Anglophone publishing is, blockbuster authors like Stieg Larsson aside, much literature written in other languages isn’t translated into English, or is published only in small print runs.

More… “Write Outside”

Christine Ro’s writing about books, music, and other topics is collected at ChristineRo.com.
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We all have fears, dark premonitions about the future, troubling recollections of the past, anxieties about the present that weigh on our minds and ruffle our sleep. Have I been a loving parent? Was I to blame for my divorce? What possessed me to vote for a Republican? Is she faking her orgasms? It may be that my life is very far from being the model of responsible engagement that I like to imagine it is, but there’s one particular fear that haunts me above all the other slippages, insecurities, and moral failings that must be held to my account: I worry that I’m Cecil Vyse.

Cecil Vyse, for those unfamiliar with E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, is the priggish, snobbish, supercilious, sexless aesthete that Lucy Honeychurch almost makes the mistake of marrying in the 1908 novel. Even now, my Vysian tendencies betray me: “for those unfamiliar with E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View.“ Why should I assume, if only by implication, that anyone should be familiar with A Room with a View? Read it if you want to, don’t read it if you don’t. Ah, but things are rarely that simple for “artistic” spirits like Cecil and me. Against everything my education and reading have taught me, against everything I believe about respecting the subjectivity of all personal experience, I find it hard to avoid the conclusion I would like not to draw: I’m moved to rapture or wonder or fury by this or that artistic expression. You’re not. What’s wrong with you?

More… “I, Cecil Vyse”

Stephen Akey is the author of the memoirs College and Library and of a forthcoming collection of essays, Culture Fever.
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I am obsessed with books about people who, for unclear reasons, ruin their own lives. In Freudian terms, it’s Thanatos, the death drive. The classic example is that fear you feel on a rooftop or near the edge of a cliff, a fear not so much that you’ll fall but that you’ll throw yourself over, into the void. My own version of this fear: When I pull out my phone to take a photo of the vista from a bridge or a precipice, I’m afraid I’ll drop the phone and automatically go after it.

But this isn’t the death drive, not directly; it’s irrational fear of some latent suicidal tendency that may not exist. The characters I’m thinking of don’t throw themselves off literal cliffs. It’s slower, and stranger, like sleepwalking into the sea.

More… “The Self-Destruct Button”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L'Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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Every literary season deserves at least one unexpected pleasure. For the fall of 2016, this pleasure appeared with the discovery and publication of a long-lost novel by Claude McKay. Known as the “rebel sojourner” of the Harlem Renaissance, McKay enjoys more than his fair share of supporters and detractors. His sense of rebellion persisted throughout his unsettled life, as compulsive and widespread as his travels. The newly discovered novel, with the suitably prickly title of Amiable With Big Teeth, won’t likely alter or settle McKay’s reputation conclusively, but it will complicate it, and in a good sense. Most striking, perhaps, is that the book has a deft plot, rather unlike his earlier narratives (recall that Banjo is subtitled A Story Without a Plot). Some issues and concerns recur from the previous fictions, but they often appear to be over-shadowed by the political questions of race and color. Amiable certainly continues in that vein, but adds to it a smoother sense of conflict and development, complete with revelatory surprises and a range of tonal situations, from romantic innocence to farce to grim burlesque. More… “Amiable with Big Teeth”

Charles Molesworth has published a number of books on modern literature. His most recent book is The Capitalist and the Critic: J.P. Morgan, Roger Fry and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (U. of Texas).
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My hero is fearless, proud, resolute, farseeing, self-sacrificing, and profoundly engaged in the struggle against tyranny and oppression. He’s also several hundred feet tall (when he wants to be), does celestial cartwheels when flying between the earth and sun, can turn into a cormorant when occasion arises, and despite his onerous responsibilities as a leader of men, manages to be pretty good family man, though his spouse is Sin and his offspring is Death. He speaks some of the most beautiful English ever composed, even when just muttering to himself. He’s John Milton’s Satan. More… “My Hero, Satan”

Stephen Akey is the author of the memoirs College and Library and of a forthcoming collection of essays, Culture Fever.
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The Roberto Bolaño craze has been in full swing for a few years already. It is to the point that publishers are publishing anything they can find (Bolaño died at age 50 in 2003). Lost works are creeping out of their hiding places. First came Diorama and The Troubles of the Real Police Officer. Now there is a novel about a board game called The Third Reich. All this from the drawers of his desk — God knows what will be revealed should someone finally stumble into the man’s attic or basement.

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of… More…

People in Chicago were stunned by the announcement that their city was out of the running for the 2016 Olympics after just the first round of voting. Everyone had expected a positive result, particularly after Chicago son Barack Obama got involved. Was it Chicago’s reputation for corruption and strong-arm tactics? If Chicago had been announced as the victor, it may have looked as though the committee bowed to pressure. Or maybe it was the fact that the world does not seem to know what to make of modern-day Chicago. The Olympics were going to be Richard Daley’s legacy: the reintroduction of Chicago to the international community.

Chicago: A Biography by Dominic A. Pacyga. 472 pages. University of Chicago. $35.

Any recognizable narrative of Chicago ended around the second World War, when the population of the city started to drop. The industries… More…

If you’re not overly familiar with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary output, you might deduce that it’s perfectly natural for a Fitzgerald story to give rise to a positively Gump-ian movie like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Thanks to its box office haul, critical idolatry, and stash of Oscar nominations, the film has become one of those Fitzgerald touchstones that double as a kind of authorial typecasting when we think of his legacy.

 

People commonly view Fitzgerald through the myths that grew up around his life and work. Like The Great Gatsby, a book everyone reads in high school as The Great American Novel, in 10th-grade teacher speak; and maybe This Side of Paradise, which tends to get written up as the purest novelistic distillation of the college experience. Then there’s the biographical tales of drink and excess,… More…

Picture this: Several hundred people, many in Empire gowns, buttoned boots, and bonnets pirouetting in a stately line across a large ballroom. Women are partnering women for the most part, though here and there one sees a male specimen in knee breeches, long coat, and curled wig sashaying happily amid the beribboned throng.

The event is the Regency Ball of the Jane Austen Society of North America annual general meeting, held at the Westin Hotel in Chicago in October, culminating in two days of total immersion in Austeniana. Preceding the ball was a gala banquet and costume parade down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. When the dancing ended, interested parties retired for games of whist at the little tables set up for the purpose in the lobby of the Westin.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), and the annual meeting featured a full… More…

 

How Fiction Works isn’t actually about how fiction works. To be obsessed with the mechanics of words and sentences, to see literature as essentially an enclosed system with internal rules, is to be a formalist, and James Wood, for all his formality, isn’t a formalist. He admits as much. In the Preface to How Fiction Works Wood writes, “when I talk about free indirect style I am really talking about point of view, and when I am talking about point of view I am really talking about character, and when I am talking about character I am really talking about the real, which is at the bottom of my inquiries.” For James Wood, fiction is about the world, not about itself.

Wood calls his book How Fiction Works for two reasons. The first is that he’s a cocky… More…