This headline in the Guardian is technically inaccurate, but not exactly misleading: “I was swallowed by a hippo.”
Some trivia to fit this weekend’s theme: The word “mother” is an ultraconserved one, meaning it is about 15,000 years old. Speaking of Mum’s day, here is a lovely photo gallery of grandmothers around the world, and the meals they’ve made for their grandkids.
So I suppose this is where I should come clean and admit that while I enjoyed reading both The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises, I’ve also long thought that Fitzgerald and Hemingway take up a much bigger space in the canon than the actual literary merit of those two books should permit. I might not go quite so far as to call either of those American modernist novels “a sort of aesthetic Ponzi scheme,” as Jared Bland wrote in the Globe and Mail about The Great Gatsby earlier this week. The movie, however, looks like it will be a spectacular celebration of the empty glamour Bland finds in the novel. I mean, did you see those Tiffany tie-in jewels?
“DON’T: Tweet zero times a day. Because then you’re no better than the animals!”
“I sat in a suite at the Savoy hotel, in privilege, resenting the woeful ratbag I once was who, for all his problems, had drugs.” This one’s from earlier this year, but I only happened on Russell Brand describing the pains and joys of sobrietyafter years of addiction this week. Hat tip to Hazlitt’s own Jowita Bydlowska, who knows a thing or two about all this herself.
At home with Claire Messud and James Wood, and their dachshund Myshkin, who for some reason didn’t make into the lead photo for this intimate profile of the “First Couple of American Fiction.”
Kim Gordon prefers to listen to rap music when she’s feeling traumatized, as she (and possibly all of Generation X) did when her marriage to Thurston Moore broke down. Also, she’s still totally rad. Even eternal rebel girl Kathleen Hanna thinks Gordon is the queen of the neighbourhood: “Fucking Kim Gordon thought I was on the right track, haters be damned. It made the bullshit easier to take, knowing she was in my corner.” Speaking of Bikini Kill, I wonder if anyone’ll be keeping track of all the explicitly feminist ponytails being worn by the audiences for The Punk Singerat Toronto’s Hot Docs festival. (Documentaries, by the way, are very much a thing right now.)
The young people are making new words slash old words do new things, and it’s cool. Language, man!
While we at Hazlitt devoted this past week to failure, the rest of the world continued to fail just as reliably as it always does. Both CNN and the New York Post, to name a few, failed to let the actual facts cohere before reporting on Monday’s horrific bombing in Boston.
Here at home, John Barber failed to accurately depict Sheila Heti’s experience of working as a Canadian artist. Luckily, Heti wrote her response to his notion of just how much Canadian literary society has or hasn’t failed her, both before and after her most recent novel met with some American success.
In the wake of the Orange Prize becoming the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the subsequent release of the list of this year’s nominees, there have been a few tweets and columns asking why we even need a women-only literary prize. I’m of a few minds on this—do women-only prizes really address a potentially gender-segregated readership, do they pave a path for female authors to be taken more seriously by reviewers, do they encourage a wider awareness of women’s work? Or do sex-specific prizes simply console us a little, we may not get treated with the respect we deserve from, say, the Times or our publisher, but hey, maybe we’ll win this prize. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do know that the prize has historically been awarded to some great books. This incredible and transparent piece from Deborah Copaken Kogan in the Nation doesn’t convince me of anything so much as the need for serious change in publishing—from the agent through to editor, book designer, publicist, reviewer and prize jury.
Renata Adler, interviewed by The Believer, on contemporary literary criticism: “More like a race to join the herd of received ideas and agreement.” And Sheila Heti, interviewed in Numero Cinq, on contemporary literary criticism: “It’s fun to see that stuff going on in America. In Canada, nobody was talking about the book in that way, so it’s cool to see it being used as a prop in peoples’ arguments.” Okay, and Michael Lista, in epistolary conversation in Poetry, on contemporary (especially Canadian) literary criticism: “Conservatism is the worst thing with which a critic can be charged; it implies that you’re inured to the only faculty that makes you worth reading—the ability to be surprised by the authentically new and have your mind changed by it.”
What? John Jeremiah Sullivan's got a new essay in Lapham's Quarterly about kitties? I mean, puppies? I mean, about how the hivemind is made of animals, but whether or not they in their hives and broods and packs have minds of their own? … While the final answer to the tricky question of animal minds may not be in that piece, it's a good read nonetheless. Clarice Lispector, in A Breath of Life, had this to say: “The dog is a mysterious animal because he almost thinks, not to mention that he feels everything except the notion of the future.” Then again, perhaps dogs are another thing all together—think about Virginia Woolf's novel from the perspective of a dog, Flush. If dogs don't have minds, how could the woman who managed to explore cognition so artfully have written that book? Or, one of my favourites, J.R. Ackerley's My Dog Tulip—while that particular pup is not so nearly-thoughtful as Lispector's fictional pet Ulysses, it speaks to something that we can feel so connected to animals, whose consciousnesses are by design very different from our own.
The weirdest book title of the year prize has been awarded. It’s no Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice, but it’s still pretty weird.
Maud Newton is in top form in her riff from this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, about Jews and Christians and Christians who fetishize Jews and the complexity interfaith dialogs—and perhaps, in some cases “theft” or at least “misappropriation” are better words than “dialog” to describe what’s going on.
The New York Review of Books blog is dealing in the night these days, with its series on dreams. Can you resist the sleepy logic of some of the world’s most talented writers and thinkers contending with the scenes that come unbidden to their minds at rest? Or is the point that for the mind, to dream is the opposite of rest? Pico Iyer kicks it off: “Perhaps we impute too much to dreams precisely because we cannot control them; we infer that they come to us from some larger or at least external place that knows things that we don’t.”
It's a big, big week for re-releases. Renata Adler's Speedboat and Pitchdark are finally, finally in print again, thanks to the peerless publishers at NYRB Classics. Of course, you probably already know, given that Adler was on the cover of Bookforum, occasioned wonderful, readerly essays for the New Yorker's Page-Turner blog and the Paris Review Daily, and that her novels have been glowingly, thrillingly given notice and unabashedly loving reviews in the Guardian, the Tribune, and the Times. Normally, I would be incredibly resistant to the charms of a pair of works so widely and loudly championed, but here I'm at a loss; Adler's fiction—and, actually, her writing in general—demands reading and rereading. And if that won't convince you, allow me to quote Choire Sicha and so close the matter: “She literally is like, evil. In a way that people just don’t do anymore.”
Lord Bryon: monstrous as a man, sure. But was he or was he not a vampire? An important question, not precisely answered in this piece from Carrie Frye over at The Awl.
Sam Anderson, one of my favourite professional noticers, profiled Anne Carson in the New York Times Magazine this weekend. Here at home, National Post poetry critic Michael Lista had not much nice to say about her highly anticipated latest, Red Doc>, though they both agree it's not precisely poetry. Here's Anderson: “The book is subtitled 'A Novel in Verse,' but — as usual with Carson — neither 'novel' nor 'verse' quite seems to apply.”
You might remember a while back when Pixar released their pat formula for story telling? Richard Brody has some notes on their notes—it's a great piece of thinking, with a good takeaway: “The story is the equivalent of a musical melody or an architectural framework: a basis, not a goal; an element that may either be charmingly memorable or ingeniously conceived, but that is merely a starting point for a significant work, not a result.”
I didn’t watch the CBC biopic of Jack Layton last night (I will soon, I just wasn’t up for letting my eyes get all misty), but I did really enjoy this long and personal essay from Hazlitt’s own Sook-Yin Lee on getting into character as Olivia Chow.
A handful of recommendations for short stories that make sense for in between reading, on your commute, on your phone.
Okay, so apparently no one told me about Emoji Dick, which is what you think it is if you’re a Melville fan, and not what you think it is if no one ever calls you Ishmael. Anyhow, Emoji Dick has a Library of Congress number, so it’s legit. Also Verge has a great interview with the man who invented emoji, and the piece is designed really well too. What more can you ask for? ¯\(ツ)/¯
Don’t miss: The history and semantics of “Shiksa.”
Here's a really good short history of the Charles Taylor Prize for nonfiction.
According to the Globe and Mail (and other places), Jonah Lehrer's third book, How We Decide, has been pulled from the shelves by its publisher, Houghton Miffler Harcourt, for “errors.” Meanwhile, Margret Wente wrote Saturday's front page story for the Globe and Mail.