The Golem and the Jinni

In Helene Wecker’s first novel - The Golem and the Jinni (Harper) -, two more than usually disoriented foreigners emerge onto the streets of 1899 New York. One is a golem, a clay woman fashioned near Danzig, then shipped across the ocean as the wife of a man who inconveniently dies on the voyage. The other is a jinni from the Syrian desert, trapped inside a copper flask until a hapless tinsmith sets him free during a routine repair. nyt.


Saul Bellow's Heart

Saul Bellow's Heart è il titolo del libro che il figlio di Saul Bellow, Greg Bellow, ha scritto su suo padre. Che non è stato un padre facile.
"Ultimately, much of the book revolves around a perceived opposition between “young Saul,” the politically radical, amorously multitasking free spirit who raised him, and “old Saul,” the reactionary, race-baiting friend of authority and Allan Bloom who occupied his father’s body for its final 40 years. ..." Richard Kreitner, tablet.


Nevada Gothic

Battleborn (Riverhead), the astonishingly wise début story collection by Claire Vaye Watkins (nella foto), takes its title from the tattoo-worthy nickname of her home state, Nevada; the stories are set in the beautiful, treacherous territory of the desert, and are populated by characters drawn to its dry washes, their psychotic delusions or lucky-strike fantasies hazily glimmering before them. Raw, fearless, and often very funny, these are stories remarkable for the risky dynamism of their language, the scope of their field of vision. newyorker.


Again on the Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is lurid, shallow, glamorous, trashy, tasteless, seductive, sentimental, aloof, and artificial. It’s an excellent adaptation, in other words, of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s melodramatic American classic. Luhrmann, as expected, has turned “Gatsby” into a theme-park ride. But he’s done it in exactly the right way. He hasn’t tried to make the novel more respectable, intellectual, or realistic. Instead, he’s taken “The Great Gatsby” very seriously just as it is. ...

Gatsby isn’t like other great American books. It’s not a social novel, like “Sister Carrie,” or a novel of manners, like “The House of Mirth,” or a novel about our national destiny, like “American Pastoral.” “Gatsby” is weirder than all those books; it’s more like Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio.” It’s about a spiritual atmosphere, and about the inner life that gives rise to that atmosphere. It’s popular because we still live in that atmosphere today. Fitzgerald’s novel is cool, sexy, stylized, and abstract; there’s a dreamlike falseness, a hollowness, an unreality to it, and that apparent superficiality is part of what makes it fascinating. It’s modernist and European without being arty. The best moments in the novel have the devious, carnal sophistication of high fashion; the characters seem unreal, but are also unforgettable. And, for all its strangeness, it also possesses a glamorous, crowd-pleasing commercialism. newyorker.


Reading It Wrong

Sempre acute le osservazioni di Tim Parks sulla traduzione. 
"But if a writer should come up with some perplexing idea, or, worse still, some declaration running contrary to received wisdom or political correctness, then anxiety sets in; ... In many cases, especially if the novelty is expressed subtly, students, but also practiced translators, will end up reducing the text to something more conventional.
This tic can take the form of introducing words a translator thought should be there but aren’t. Take this fairly innocuous example: In Lawrence’s Women in Love Ursula reflects that she’s not even tempted to get married. Her sister Gudrun agrees and carries on, “Isn’t it an amazing thing … how strong the temptation is, not to!” Lawrence comments: “They both laughed, looking at each other. In their hearts they were frightened.” A recent Italian edition of the book offers something that, translated back into English, would give, “They both burst out laughing, looking at each other. But deep in their hearts they were afraid.”
Experimenting over the years I’ve realized that if I ask a class of students to translate this into Italian approximately half will introduce that “but.” It appears to be received wisdom that one doesn’t laugh if one is afraid; hence when Lawrence puts the two things together, translators feel a “but” is required to acknowledge the unusualness of this state of affairs. Lawrence on the other hand suggests that nothing is more common than laughing and being afraid; one laughs because afraid, in order to deny fear". nybooks.


City Serendipity

capita a ny. 
"I was sitting at the bar of the Odeon recently, talking with my friend John about a mutual friend, Betsy, who lived in the neighborhood, when Betsy herself appeared beside us, all dressed up. She had “escaped,” she exclaimed (she has an eleven-year-old), and looked at me in that “what are you doing here?” mode of happy surprise, because she had visited me in New Orleans a few weeks earlier. My two-day visit to New York was drawing to a close. Bumping into Betsy at the Odeon was one of those moments of city serendipity that attend comings and goings". Thomas Beller, newyorker.


Haruki Murakami sulla maratona di Boston

Haruki Murakami è un appassionato della corsa e ha partecipato a molte maratone nella sua vita (v. il suo bel libro, L'arte di correre, Einaudi). Ha anche fatto per ben sei volte la maratona di Boston, che, dice, è la sua preferita. Ne parla in un bell'articolo: "Surely the best-known section of the Boston Marathon is Heartbreak Hill, one in a series of slopes that lasts for four miles near the end of the race. It’s on Heartbreak Hill that runners ostensibly feel the most exhausted. In the hundred-and-seventeen-year history of the race, all sorts of legends have grown up around this hill. But, when you actually run it, you realize that it’s not as harsh and unforgiving as people have made it out to be. Most runners make it up Heartbreak Hill more easily than they expected to. “Hey,” they tell themselves, “that wasn’t so bad after all.” Mentally prepare yourself for the long slope that is waiting for you near the end, save up enough energy to tackle it, and somehow you’re able to get past it.
The real pain begins only after you’ve conquered Heartbreak Hill, run downhill, and arrived at the flat part of the course, in the city streets. You’re through the worst, and you can head straight for the finish line—and suddenly your body starts to scream. Your muscles cramp, and your legs feel like lead. At least that’s what I’ve experienced every time I’ve run the Boston Marathon.
Emotional scars may be similar. In a sense, the real pain begins only after some time has passed, after you’ve overcome the initial shock and things have begun to settle". newyorker.


The Woman Upstairs

The Woman Upstairs è il titolo del nuovo romanzo di Claire Messud (Knopf), e il riferimento alla "madwoman in the attic", la Bertha Mason di Jane Eyre, è intenzionale. "“We’re not the madwomen in the attic,” argues her “reliable,” “organized” protagonist, a teacher named Nora Eldridge, referring to unmarried women like herself, “numerous” in their 20s and 30s, “positively legion” in their 40s and 50s. “We’re the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway, whose trash is always tidy, who smiles brightly in the stairwell.” Outwardly they may seem “benignant” (to use a Brontëan word), but inwardly, Nora declares, they seethe. “People don’t want to worry about the Woman Upstairs,” she reflects. “Not a soul registers that we are furious. We’re completely invisible.” In time, she will resolve to “use that invisibility, to make it burn.” nyt.


How does a book end up reviewed in the New York Times

How does a book end up reviewed in both the New York Times Book Review and the newspaper’s Arts section, while the the book’s author is writing essays for the paper (and sometimes even being profiled for it)? New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan explains how Times fiefdoms divide their assignments: “The Times’s three staff book critics—Michiko Kakutani, Janet Maslin and Dwight Garner—make their own decisions about what to review. They do so without regard to, or knowledge of, what the editors of the Sunday Book Review, a separate entity, may have assigned or have planned.” nyt.


Grad School, 3

"No, it’s not a waste of time to get a literature Ph.D. It teaches you to commit to your ideas". Questo lo dice Katie Roiphe. "One could say my Ph.D. in English and American literature has garnered me exactly nothing in terms of practical, worldly rewards. I am not the distinguished poetry professor I dreamt of being when I was 20. And yet, there hasn’t been a moment in my career when I haven’t used it, when that very particular disciplined training, the hours spent reading Milton or John Berryman’s Dream Songs while leaning against the sunny library, with blooming undergraduates flirting on the grass, hasn’t helped me". slate.