When somebody mentions “literature,” what’s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
Do you read “literature” (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?
When I think of literature in that way I think of something high and untouchable- certainly not Shakepeare or Dickens who are two of the most accessible, inventive, funny, alive storytellers there ever were. Literature must drone on, it must live in heavy, musty tomes, I must feel when I read it that I could really only understand it if I were dead. James Fennimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans or Sir Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor come to mind. Oh yes, it would be nice if the writer had a Sir or Lady before his or her name, although he would likely be a man. He or she would need a properly dusty gravitas. Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain would also qualify if it weren't so damn good. Nothing I've ever been able to actually read would qualify as literature. It's literature before I have read it (Ulysses is for me now), but it becomes a great book if I finish it. That, or it's a book I should read, until I can't get through it, and then it becomes literature. A mountain, that's a great definition of literature - it should feel more like a mountain than a book. You can't get around it, you could never carry it with you, and you can't just take a nice walk on it - you need special shoes and grappling hooks.
Bookeywookey is the blog of Ted Altschuler whose NY life straddles the worlds of neuroscience, reading, theater, music, and compulsive book acquiring by any means necessary.
I do not get paid for what I write here, do not endorse products, services, or post advertising. I do the writing here, except in the comments, and I do not accept comments with commercial links. I'm happy to review a book but I will say exactly what I think and if I have been sent a free copy I will say so. Anything I write about books, acting, neuroscience, neuropsychology, or my other fascinations reflects my thoughts on the matter, not that of any institution I work for, and is certainly not meant as advice.
Ali Smith's Artful is art criticism but it's also a dialogue between a woman and her dead lover, and it was originally delivered as a series of lectures, which really means it is a dramatic dialogue. It is a masterpiece of integrity, Smith may be well read, but her take on Dicken's Oliver Twist or a Cezanne painting, or a Charlie Chaplin film, or a Wallace Stevens's poem, is never erudite. She doesn't mean to dazzle us with her greater knowledge of these subjects, she wants her listener to get inside of how art brings us experience. I challenge you to get to the last page of Artful and not dive for a copy of Oliver Twist, or immediately order a copy of Sylvia Plath's poems. Read my full rave here.
Bernard MacLaverty's Cal - 150 pages that are as densely packed with passion and tension as any I've read in Dostoyevsky or Hardy. The 19-year-old title character lives in Northern Ireland. A Roman Catholic, he is hounded and physically attacked by the Protestant Orangemen. His friends have joined the IRA in response to the violence with which they are threatened. Cal finds the violence too much for him. The struggles of nations would not be important if they didn't effect the lives of individual people. This book is about the converging of conflicts political and personal - the political and religious struggles of an oppressed people, a first great passionate love, and the dilemmas of a sensitive and thoughtful teenager as he makes the moral choices that are going to shape his whole life. I felt deeply the greatness of these struggles as I read. Read my full rave here.
This book has everything - love, suspense, moral conflict, social criticism, psychological acuity, and crack writing - but none of it is expected. It is pitch-perfect on the a fast-paced, ostentatious, brutal beauty of Rome. Lambert's writing is rich with observations both interior and exterior that imbue character and place with clarity and instantaneous complexity. This novel, though entertaining to read, is an unambiguous critique of the moral hypocrisy that infects the powerful and the nature of that crime, which combines an abuse of power with the dehumanization of innocent people. Read my full rave here.
Molly Fox is a celebrated actress - a woman who delves deep into what makes up a 'self.' It is her profession to create characters from that knowledge through the medium of her self. Yet, when it comes to letting others truly know her, she does not. 'Can we ever know another?', this novel asks. The Irish novelist Deirdre Madden fashions a deep and beautiful book on this potentially abstract musing that is redolent with the pain of the distance we have from all others - even those we love most - and simultaneously rich with the rewards of the communion we can make through long acquaintance. She is particularly good at using the processes of the actor and writer to reflect on the ways we can inhabit the inherent contradiction of knowing another, but the mechanisms are so integrated with the events of this narrative that it is difficult to reveal them without ruining your own reading of this book. This book is a powerful work of art with an undisturbable sense of wholeness. Read my full rave here.
The struggle to keep the champagne bubbling when it's gone flat is the action filling Evelyn Waugh's 1930 satire Vile Bodies. Stephen Fry's brilliant film adaptation, Bright Young Things released in 2003 captures the feel of one, breathless, manic party. Jim Broadbent, Stockard Channing, Peter O'Toole, Simon Callow, Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily Mortimer, James Mcavoy, Imelda Stuanton, and Fenella Woolgar are some of the beautifully cast actors who maintain an understated hysteria, if you can imagine understated hysteria. The love that director and cast have for these characters is what impresses me the most. It would be so easy to show us how vile these people are - how silly, how louche, how fey - but instead they love them to death. Raveworthy. Read my full rave here.
Human beings are messy and that's why Michel Gondry's film The Science of Sleep, with its hyperactive imagination, its beautiful cast and designers, reveals the inner life of its characters with such accuracy and tenderness. Utterly beautiful. Read my post.
Tell Me Everything by Sarah Salway . I opened this book last night and didn't stop reading it until I had finished it. The nearest voice I can think to compare Sarah Salway's to is Lorrie Moore's, and coming from me that is a big compliment. In it Molly experiences a few breaches of trust as a young woman that leave her seriously wounded. She closes down and protects herself by eating. When we meet her she has become one of life's castaways, seriously overweight without a job, a home, or any sense of herself. She meets five people - Mr. Roberts who gives her a job, Mrs. Roberts, Tim - a man of mystery, Liz - a librarian who recommends French authors, and Miranda, a hairdresser. With these relationships she begins to reclaim herself. The story is full of perfectly wrought descriptions, complex observations of human pain and fantasy, and cogent storytelling. Read my full rave here.
Read in '15
6. After Troy - Maxwell
5. Palace Walk - Mahfouz
4. Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh - Lahr
In-flo-res-cence - from the Latin inflorescere - to begin to blossom. 1. the producing of blossoms; flowering; 2. the arrangement of flowers on a stem or axis; 3. a flower cluster on a common axis; 4. flowers collectively; 5. a solitary flower, regarded as a reduced cluster.