Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027056, Sun, 12 Jun 2016 12:54:10 -0300

[sightings] Old Reviews (2014,2015),
Old Reviews, past VN "sightings" (underlined)

July 2014

It’s Tartt—But Is It Art? No one denies that Donna Tartt has written the
“It novel” of the year, a runaway best-seller that won her the Pulitzer
Prize. But some of the self-appointed high priests of literary criticism—at
The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, andThe Paris Review—are deeply
dismayed by "The Goldfinch" and its success.
By Evgenia Peretz.

"... in the literary world, there are those who profess to be higher brows
still than The New York Times—the secret rooms behind the first inner
sanctum, consisting, in part, of The New Yorker, The New York Review of
Books, and The Paris Review, three institutions that are considered, at
least among their readers, the last bastions of true discernment in a world
where book sales are king and real book reviewing has all but vanished." [
] Tartt's "The Goldfinch a “rapturous” symphony? Not so fast, they say. “Its
tone, language, and story belong in children’s literature,” wrote critic
James Wood, in The New Yorker. ... Days after she was awarded the Pulitzer,
Wood told Vanity Fair, “I think that the rapture with which this novel has
been received is further proof of the infantilization of our literary
culture: a world in which adults go around reading Harry Potter.” // In The
New York Review of Books, novelist and critic Francine Prose ... concluded,
“I found myself wondering, ‘Doesn’t anyone care how something is written
anymore?’ ” [ ] “A book like The Goldfinch doesn’t undo any clichés—it
deals in them,” says Lorin Stein, editor of The Paris Review, perhaps the
most prestigious literary journal in America. “It coats everything in a cozy
patina of ‘literary’ gentility.” [ ] ".No novel gets uniformly enthusiastic
reviews, but the polarized responses to "The Goldfinch" lead to the
long-debated questions: What makes a work literature, and who gets to
decide?// The questions are as old as fiction itself. The history of
literature is filled with books now considered masterpieces that were
thought hackwork in their time. Take Dickens, the greatest novelist of the
Victorian period, whose mantle writers from John Irving to Tom Wolfe to
Tartt have sought to inherit. Henry James called Dickens the greatest of
superficial novelists " [ ]
“It isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention,” The New York Times
pronounced concerning Nabokov’s "Lolita". “Kind of monotonous,” the same
paper said about Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. “He should’ve cut out a
lot about these jerks and all at that crumby school.” “An absurd story,”
announced The Saturday Review of F. Scott FitzgeraldÂ’s The Great Gatsby,
while the New York Herald Tribune declared it “a book of the season only.”
// That said, for all the snooty pans of books now considered classics,
there have been, conversely, plenty of authors who were once revered as
literary miracles and are now relegated to the trash heap.

June 30, 2015

The Art of Persuasion, an Interview with Critic James Wood
<http://electricliterature.com/author/steve-paulson/> Steve Paulson

There are book critics and bibliophiles – and then there’s James Wood.
Often called the best critic of his generation, he first made his name as
the young scourge at The Guardian while still in his twenties. In 1995, the
British-born Wood moved to America and built his reputation with his
lengthy, closely-argued reviews in The New Republic. Now a staff writer at
The New Yorker, as well as Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism
at Harvard, he presides over the literary scene like no other book critic
today. As a blogger at the Spectator put it, “Wood is arguably the most
celebrated, possibly the most impugned, and definitely the most envied,
literary journalist living...
Steve Paulson: You say the task of writers is to “seriously notice the
world.” Is it the critic’s job to seriously notice what’s in this fictional
James Wood: It would seem that thereÂ’s a virtuous loop here. I return again
and again to detail and to seriously noticing whatÂ’s in the world, for a
good reason. I donÂ’t think IÂ’m an especially observant person. Certainly
not visually... [ ]
SP: What youÂ’re describing is along the lines of Buddhist contemplatives who
talk about being fully in the present moment. Do you see any connections?...
JW: I do. I think mindfulness is pretty interesting. For instance, thereÂ’s
been quite a lot of Buddhist literary work on Virginia Woolf because her
fiction is very much about slowing down and preserving moments of time, and
examining them with great patience. She also seems to have a metaphysics
which is almost Buddhist. In “Mrs. Dalloway,” she talks about how the dead
return to us and are never separate from us. You can find something similar
in Saul BellowÂ’s work. For a while Bellow got very interested in
anthroposophy, which also talks about the community of the dead who are
around us. Vladimir Nabokov also talks about the democracy of the dead.
ThereÂ’s something about slowing down and seeing the world that does seem to
be one of our few modes of salvation if weÂ’re not orthodox believers.
SP: All of those writers you mentioned had a great knowledge of literature.
They didnÂ’t just care about the present moment. They were also communing
with dead writers and the history of literature.
JW: Absolutely. The three writers I just mentioned were profoundly
well-read. That may be harder to sustain in contemporary letters. ItÂ’s
amazing if you go back and look at something like the little primer that
Edith Wharton wrote on writing fiction. When someone like Edith Wharton was
writing about the novel, it was understood that you have the entire canon of
novelistic history at your disposal, in several languages. So for Wharton,
itÂ’s completely normal to talk about the French novel, having read it in
French, as well as the English novel. And for a long time that kind of
intimate, non-academic scholarship was kept alive by writers and to some
extent by literary journalists and critics who worked outside the academy.
But itÂ’s harder and harder to sustain. We seem to have less time to do the
reading that we have to do.[ ]


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