Gogol, Hawthorne, Thurber, more

Nicholas Lezard celebrates Nikolai Gogol’s strange timelessness and occasional weirdness.

J. Bottum, Books & Arts editor of the Weekly Standard, opines in Christianity Today that Gogol’s Taras Bulba is “perhaps the greatest historical novel ever written”:

To the world of ‘The Diary of a Madman,’ ‘The Overcoat,’ and ‘The Nose’ —- the comic and wrenching world of the modern urban Russia he saw before him, with its hyper-selfconsciousness, resentment, hypocrisy, weakening Orthodox faith, and unrootedness —- Taras Bulba is Gogol’s answer.

(Chistianity Today link via Arts & Letters Daily.)

The text of the Gogol work is available online.

Mel Gussow suggests that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twenty Days With Julian & Little Bunny by Papa humanizes the author:

The diary offers a portrait of Hawthorne in a lighter mode, delighted — although sometimes quietly exasperated — by the constant demands of the boy, but a generous family man with infinite patience and a deep appreciation of nature.

In The New York Times Book Review, Terry Teachout has a convincing essay about the correspondence of James Thurber, a short story writer, essayist and cartoonist perhaps best known for his The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The Catbird Seat. Teachout sums up his reaction to the letters as follows:

while I do not mean to suggest that ‘The Thurber Letters’ is without interest, there is not a letter in it that I would put into the balance with any of a hundred of his drawings. It is there, not here, that the ‘wit’ and ‘wisdom’ advertised in the shy-making subtitle of ‘The Thurber Letters’ are truly to be found.

Last week in Slate, Judith Shulevitz and Christopher Caldwell had a little back-and-forth about Evelyn Waugh. For Canada’s National Post, Matthew Price remembers Waugh in the year of the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth. Price disagrees in part with Christopher Hitchens’ recent assertion in The Atlantic Monthly that “Waugh wrote as brilliantly as he did precisely because he loathed the modern world.” (National Post link via Arts Journal.)

In a diatribe about contemporary poetry, Joan Houlihan ridicules “post-post poets” — i.e.,, those who publish their work in journals like Fence, Slope, and 3rd Bed, to name a few. Houlihan says:

These avant-garde-establishment journals contain a poetry and an implied or stated editorial aesthetic that posits itself as a rejection of the “mainstream” poetry ethic, that is, of the poetry that existed from last year all the way back to Beowulf, the kind of poetry that favors parsable syntax, drama and story, tension and resolution, epiphany and symbolism, connected imagery, strong, recognizable voice or narration, and some impact of either an itellectual[sic] or emotional nature.

….what drives these poems seems less a need to communicate than a need to afflict. Like the almost-dead in the film “28 Days Later” these poems are poised to bite any reader who ventures too close, hoping to infect them with the same virulent strain of avant-gardism inflicted on them by their maker who has doomed them to a life of aimless, disembodied wandering through people-less landscapes. Who has loosed these babbling and afflicted beings into our public byways, and why?

(Via Arts & Letters Daily.)

Moorish Girl reports that “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has made the 2003 O. Henry awards for her story ‘The American Embassy,’ which appeared in the Canadian journal Prism International. You can read an excerpt of the story here.”

Also via Moorish Girl: Maryanne Stahl’s The Opposite Shore is out. Excerpt here.


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