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Literary critics and regular readers often have things to say about a writer’s voice. Many think that the most-read writers are those whose voice is so clear that it can be singled out from all the other authorial voices. Hemingway, with his hard-edged nouns and verbs, is often said to have a powerful voice. Katherine Anne Porter’s authorial voice might be described as precise, incisive, and aware. Joy Williams’s voice is somewhat quirky, but — as we say — in a serious way. Peter Balakian’s voice is strong and exhilarating. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s voice carries a certain wistfulness and a sense of regret. Thomas Hardy’s novels project compassion and sorrow; yes, a sorrowful voice. Jane Austen’s voice is crisp and witty. The voice of George Eliot, née Mary Anne Evans, the author of Middlemarch, often said to be the most intelligent book ever written, is psychologically acute and hard-nosed and definitive. More… “Voice Is Vision”

Kelly Cherry's new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.
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About halfway through his essay “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” George Orwell offers a startling explanation for Leo Tolstoy’s notorious antipathy towards Shakespeare: Tolstoy is “trying to rob others of a pleasure he does not share.” Further, “Tolstoy does not know, perhaps, just what he misses in Shakespeare, but he is aware that he misses something, and he is determined that others shall be deprived of it as well.” As criticism of criticisms go, this one is nothing if not blunt. Is it possible that the basis of much of what we consider rational, disinterested critical discourse is really just a willful schadenfreude? That idea, in truth, is not too far from what masses of ordinary people have always believed: that cultural criticism and personal criticism are essentially the same and that to engage in either is merely to inflict pain under the pretense of honesty or concern.

Surely an idea as reductive as this needs no refutation. When in his essay “Charles Dickens” Orwell writes that Dickens’s whole message reduces to one “enormous platitude: If men would behave decently the world would be decent,” he isn’t trying to stick it to Dickens lovers, is he? He isn’t, in short, doing to Dickens exactly what he accused Tolstoy of doing to Shakespeare? Certainly not. Unless he is. More… “Let Me Ruin This for You”

Stephen Akey is the author of the memoirs College and Library and of a forthcoming collection of essays, Culture Fever.
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Well then, a poet writes a line, or a fiction writer writes a sentence, but how do we judge the order of the words? This is not an easy question to answer. Let’s look at some well-known sentences. Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy includes this famous imperative: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!”

Suppose it were “Ye who enter here, abandon all hope!” If it were, we’d lose the iambic pentameter. It would also not be as shocking or as scary as it is in The Divine Comedy.

Another wonderful sentence comes from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “What light from yonder window breaks?” If the sentence were changed to “What light breaks from yonder window?” we would once again lose the iambic meter. In addition, we’d lose the suspense that the sentence creates and the lyricism of the line as a whole.

More… “Enjoy the Joy of Syntax”

Kelly Cherry's new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.
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Back in the alleged halcyon days when you could actually make a living making comic books (but had to hide your profession from everyone for fear of censure), one of the titles used in an attempt to mollify the sneering intelligentsia and bourgeoisie was Classics Illustrated, a lengthy series that by and large set about adapting classic literature — Shakespeare, Poe, Hawthorne, etc. — in the most mundane and unimaginative way possible.

As the medium’s status has risen over the past decade and a half, these kinds of adaptations have made a comeback of sorts. And while they might not bear the official Classics Illustrated moniker, they are, with few exceptions, plodding affairs, displaying little in the way of intelligence, wit, or imagination. Looking over the bulk of them, you might well wonder whether there are any cartoonists capable of adapting prose in a manner that avoids mere rote recapitulation of the original text.

More… Songy

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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Towards the end of Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a newly graduated magistrate is sent to a small Colombian town to investigate the circumstances surrounding the murder of the novel’s ill-fated protagonist, Santiago Nasar. 25 years after the murder, the narrator, conducting his own investigation, travels to the Palace of Justice in Riohacha to examine the magistrate’s report. Although the narrator can’t find the magistrate’s name on any of the surviving papers, “it was obvious that he was a man burning with the fever of literature. He had doubtless read the Spanish classics and a few Latin ones, and he was quite familiar with Nietzsche, who was the fashionable author among magistrates of his time . . . He was so perplexed by the enigma that fate had touched him with, that he kept falling into lyrical distractions that ran contrary to the rigor of his profession.”

More… “He’s Got the Fever”

Stephen Akey is the author of the memoirs College and Library and of a forthcoming collection of essays, Culture Fever.
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You have no choice. There is no way around it. “It” being the small stuff. And if you can learn to love it, you will be happier. Face it: the big stuff is surrounded by the small stuff, to all of which you must attend. You cannot back out. You cannot trust someone else to do it for you. It comes with the job. It is your job. Sad to say, copy editors make mistakes. Even sadder to say, almost no one now knows the difference between “lie” and “lay.” Television reporters have destroyed it. Even English professors get “lie” and “lay” wrong regularly. Moreover, if you want somebody to understand what you have written, you must employ commas. Saddest of all, a complete sentence is not an incomplete sentence. (Though I sometimes write is if it were.) Oh, it goes on and on, this ravaged language of ours, the discarded punctuation — “Hello John” is not an address because it lacks the comma of address, to wit, “Hello, John” — the misspelling, the objects of preposition, the elegance sacrificed, the logic washed away and languishing beside a rope of weed next to a dying pond. How have we arrived at this woebegone place, this place where nobody knows grammar, this wasteland, this last, best place before we drive off the map? STOP RIGHT HERE. GET OUT OF THE CAR. GET READY TO TAKE NOTES. Without grammar, you are lost. With it, and only with it, you will be able to continue. To get where you want to go.

More… “Absolutely Sweat the Small Stuff”

Kelly Cherry's new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.
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If you ask Google Images what a library is, you’ll get a very clear answer: books on shelves in a column-faced building.

Like Google, most of us think of the library as a storehouse for books. We can be forgiven for thinking so. Our word library comes from the Latin librarium, meaning bookcase. It’s the same for the Latin and Greek equivalents for library — bibliotheca and bibliothiki, respectively — which led to the word for library in most modern Indo-European languages. It’s also notable that the Latin word for book, liber, originally referred to the kind of bark that was used in book construction. All this is to say that, through and through, we have conceptualized the library in terms of physical objects. Bark, books, shelves, buildings.
More… “Lines of Spines”

Tim Gorichanaz is a PhD candidate in information studies at Drexel. His research explores the historical and philosophical aspects of libraries and information technology. His work appears in Straight Forward, Sinkhole and numerous academic journals. He enjoys running long distances and practicing classical guitar.
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For his 2007 translation of Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes, Robin Buss chooses to render the title as The Lost Estate, followed by Le Grand Meaulnes in parentheses. However, since reading it, I refer to it solely as Le Grand Meaulnes, because Buss’s note on the translation describes the French title as nearly untranslatable: “There are, in fact, more titles of this book in English than there are translations of it”! (Even the author’s name is not consistently “translated.” A pseudonym — he was born Henri-Alban Fournier — it appears on some editions as “Henri Alain-Fournier” and on others simply as “Alain-Fournier.”)

The novel, considered a coming-of-age classic in France on par with our The Catcher in the Rye, tells the story of Augustin Meaulnes, known as grand at school for both his height and his charisma, a dashing boy who escapes one day on an adventure. It’s a few days before Christmas, and one of his classmates has been chosen for the important task of picking up the schoolmaster’s parents at a nearby train station. In a fit of competitive jealousy, Meaulnes steals a horse and carriage and races off to beat him to the station, but he takes a wrong turn and gets lost. He stops to sleep and the horse runs away. Eventually, cold and exhausted, he stumbles upon a secluded estate where some kind of celebration — “a strange fête” — is taking place: There are children in costume, dancing, a great feast. (You can picture it, can’t you? Stone walls? Fairy lights in the trees?) It’s a wedding, and Meaulnes crashes it. He is assumed to be a guest, and when everyone leaves at the end of the weekend, he catches a ride back in the direction of his town. By the time he returns he has been missing several days and, when the horse turned up with an empty trap, feared dead. More… “Impossible Time”

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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painting of a woman reading a novel
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There’s a David Shields quote that I have encountered multiple times, first in his own book Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, and most recently in “Note to Self” by Elaine Blair, a review of the work (both written and editorial) of John D’Agata, subtitled “The lyric essay’s convenient fictions.” Both D’Agata and Shields are proponents of blurring the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. This is the quote (boldface mine):

Why do I so strenuously resist generic boundaries? Because when I’m constrained within a form, my mind shuts down, goes on a sit-down strike, saying, This is boring, so I refuse to try very hard. I find it very nearly impossible to read a contemporary novel that presents itself unselfconsciously as a novel, since it’s not clear to me how such a book could convey what it feels like to be alive right now.

More… “Why Read Novels?”

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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The world’s most famous consulting detective seems to be on everyone’s minds of late. Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey, Jr., Ian McKellan, and Jonny Lee Miller have all taken on the role of Sherlock Holmes in the last five years, and audiences keep coming. Read Paula Marantz Cohen on the character’s sustained appeal and Fred J. Abbate on how the most devoted fans are trying to learn to think like Sherlock. (philly.comThe Smart Set)

For many bookish library-dwellers, the pages of a book are sacred and the margins are a no trespassing zone. For others, doodling, scratching, and commenting — the art of marginalia — are an indispensable part of understanding a text. Read Dustin Illingworth on the intimacy and beauty of parallel text and Mike Miley on stepping into the mind of David Foster Wallace. (The MillionsThe Smart Set)

What one chooses to read speaks volumes about the reader. Books are often a political or ideological statement. Choose wisely. Read Rebecca Solnit on Esquire’s “Books Every Man Should Read” — and which ones women shouldn’t and Jessa Crispin on why nothing is a “must-read”. (Literary HubThe Smart Set) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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