Friday, August 28, 2009

From eternity to here

All this week, the Amateur Reader has been examining historical mysteries. Yesterday he made me a lifelong fan by cursing The Lemur by John Banville—one of the most overrated writers, especially in his own mind—as a “completely hollow novel.” Not that I was intending on reading it anyway.

Patrick Kurp advances the name of Joseph Mitchell for inclusion in the Library of America, since (along with A. J. Liebling) he “covered the waterfront and the rest of New York like nobody else.” And since Liebling has now been “certified as Literature by inclusion in the Library of America.”

To celebrate Forgotten Book Friday, Tim Davis wholeheartedly recommends Javier Sierra’s Secret Supper, which is about a fifteenth-century plot to subvert the Church of Rome.

Nige describes Keats and Chekhov as Menschen. Does the German word have the same connotation as the Yiddish mentshn? At all events, Nige says that “Chekhov is the only great writer who can unequivocally be called a good man.” What about James, who became a British subject to demonstrate solidarity with the United Kingdom during the Great War?

Kate Sutherland reports from Sweden, where she is “dashing about looking for English translations of Swedish crime writers whose books are difficult to come by in North America.”

In the Nation, James Longenbach praises Wallace Stevens’s “music of austerity,” and shows how it influenced later American poets.

Miriam Burstein gets deliciously lost in what she calls the “loops” of Zachary Mason’s novel The Lost Books of the Odyssey, which pretends to be a collection of fragments by the Homerids (the poetic descendants of Homer, who survived until the fourth century BCE), plus a “faux-scholarly” introduction to the false anthology. She makes it sound like a lot of fun.

Joseph Epstein decides that the “truth quotient” of Mark Helprin’s Digital Barbarism is “damnably high,” even after allowing for his “ripping tirades” and “penchant for amusing over-statement.”

A day after I reviewed it, Yvonne Zipp locates That Old Cape Magic in the Russo canon, describing Jack Griffin as a “less-accident-prone version of Hank Deveraux Jr.” (Straight Man) and concluding that Russo’s “wry compassion” ought to be enough to “carry fans past some of Griffin’s navel-gazing.”

Colleen Mondor seeks out Binnie Kirshenbaum’s Hester Among the Ruins, which blew her mind. The book’s idea, she explains, is “to look at the German generation who grew up in the shadow of WWII—knowing generally what happened, but not wanting to ask their families specifically what they did.” The result is “raw and sexy,” she concludes.

The Southern California Independent Booksellers Association has announced the nominees for its 2009 awards. In the fiction category the contenders are: Ron Carlson’s Signal, Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls, and T. C. Boyle’s Women.

Stephen Romei asks whether universities should provide a moral education. Are you kidding? Me? My colleagues?


Richard said...

Banville may or may not be overrated, but is your assessment based on anything other than The Sea? (I ask only because I got the sense from earlier posts that it was the only book of his you'd read, but I couldn't be sure.) That novel was rather disappointing. Naturally it won the Booker. But a few others of his are quite good, I think. Eclipse, The Untouchable, and the (very) loose trilogy of The Book of Evidence, Ghosts, and Athena are the best, in my opinion.

The Lemur, of course, is one of his "Benjamin Black" books, none of which I have read. My wife has read them all, and while loving the first two, said The Lemur was indeed pretty weak.

D. G. Myers said...

You are right, Richard—although I’ve added Banville’s critical remarks, and his behavior in the ruckus over McEwan’s Saturday, to my reaction.

I should be generous and give Banville another chance, I suppose. You think I should start with Eclipse?

Richard said...

I think it would be a good one to start with, yes.