One of the reasons I no longer read literary criticism in major publications

Steve Donoghue discusses a recent article published at Slate written by Katie Roiphe.

Our old nemesis Katie Roiphe fires off a piece wailing about the dimming of John Updike’s literary reputation in the three years since his death – at least, I think that’s what she’s wailing about (the essay is more eager to push all the buttons than a kid in a department store elevator). She begins:

Exactly three years after his death, it’s sad to see that John Updike has subtly fallen out of fashion, that he is left off best novels lists like the Modern Library’s, and that a faint sense of disapproval clings to his reputation, even as his immense talent is recognized.

It’s obviously not a promising beginning (‘subtly’? ‘faint’?), and things only get worse – Roiphe spends her next two paragraphs demonstrating how a faint sense of disapproval has always clung to Updike’s work, mainly “harbored” by carping critics who are unnerved by just how exquisite that work is:

Critics and writers hold the fact that he writes beautiful sentences against him, as if his writing is too well crafted, too flamboyantly, extravagantly good.

There are a lot of great resources for insightful and intelligent literary criticism. It’s disappointing to see major publications publish things as awful as the piece by Roiphe. If there’s anything wrong with literary criticism, it is that major publications are publishing crappy literary criticism that completely misses the mark. The article by Roiphe isn’t insightful and it’s ridiculously laughable.

(via Conversational Reading)

American mapmaking’s most prestigious honor is the “Best of Show” award at the annual competition of the Cartography and Geographic Information Society. The five most recent winners were all maps designed by large, well-known institutions: National Geographic (three times), the Central Intelligence Agency Cartography Center, and the U.S. Census Bureau. But earlier this year, the 38th annual Best of Show award went to a map created by Imus Geographics—which is basically one dude named David Imus working in a farmhouse outside Eugene, Ore. (via)

You can order a copy of the map to hang on your wall.

Except that I received some of these for Christmas and used gift cards for the rest.


    It Chooses You by Miranda July
    Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
    Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
    Zazen by Vanessa Veselka
    American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell
    Shopgirl by Steve Martin
    Swamplandia by Karen Russell
    A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles
    Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan

Anyone with eyes open knows that the gangsterism of Wall Street — financial institutions generally — has caused severe damage to the people of the United States (and the world). And should also know that it has been doing so increasingly for over 30 years, as their power in the economy has radically increased, and with it their political power. That has set in motion a vicious cycle that has concentrated immense wealth, and with it political power, in a tiny sector of the population, a fraction of 1%, while the rest increasingly become what is sometimes called “a precariat” — seeking to survive in a precarious existence. They also carry out these ugly activities with almost complete impunity — not only too big to fail, but also “too big to jail.”

The courageous and honorable protests underway in Wall Street should serve to bring this calamity to public attention, and to lead to dedicated efforts to overcome it and set the society on a more healthy course.



DFW vs. Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, writing in response to Jonathan Franzen’s April Folio on American novelists, “Perchance to Dream,” claims that “Novelists are people who believe they can dampen their neuroses by writing make-believe. We will keep on doing that no matter what, while offering loftier explanations.” This makes Vonnegut look humble and lovable, but as a response to the stuff Franzen was talking about is total horseshit.  If Vonnegut’s sound bite were the whole truth, nobody at all would read novels – who would want to devote hours of brain work to something somebody had written just to dampen his own neuroses?

Good art is a kind of magic. It does magical things for both artist and audience. We can have long polysyllabic arguments about how to describe the way this magic works but the plain fact is that good art is magical and precious and cool. It’s hard to make good art, and it seems to me wholly reasonable that a good artist should be concerned with their work’s cultural reception. I thought it was brave of Franzen to offer not only “lofty explanations” but honest and intimate descriptions of how it feels to try to make good, serious art in a culture that doesn’t seem to value it much. And I was disappointed that the Harper’s Letters editor chose to run only sneery, disparaging letters about the essay. I’ve spoken with way too many readers and writers who admired Franzen’s piece to believe disparaging letters were all that Harper’s got. I suppose one reason it was brave of Franzen to publish his essay is that it made it easy for other writers to look humble and adorable at his expense.

David Foster Wallace in reply to a letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote w/r/t an article, “Perchance to dream,” Jonathan Franzen published in the April 1996 issue of Harper’s.

(via Printed & Bound)

The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen but, if one will, are to be lived.


This is the trailer for the documentary, Connected, which explores what it means be be connected in the 21st Century.

Have you ever faked a restroom trip to check your email? Slept with your laptop? Or become so overwhelmed that you just unplugged from it all? In this funny, eye-opening, and inspiring film, director Tiffany Shlain takes audiences on an exhilarating rollercoaster ride to discover what it means to be connected in the 21st century.

More food for thought: Interdependence and Declaration of Interdependence.

(via Laughing Squid)