Italo Calvino opens up his masterpiece, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (HBJ, 260 pages), in the second person, addressing and engaging the reader in a very direct way; a powerful, uncompromising way: Here you are – the reader; and here I am – the protagonist; the author is somewhere else, as impertinent to the story as is his publisher. It is what it is, and you, the reader, are here with me, sucked into the depths of my mind, where you’ll trip over threads that are seemingly random, unrelated and without ends, yet serve a purpose that you may or may not grasp unless you persist until the closing lines fade away as you turn the last page over and walk away, pensive, wondering whether you can make any sense of this work at all. Continue reading
The Most Distant Way (Holland House Books, 200 pages) is the vibrant first novel of Ewan Gault, a young Scottish writer. His story is set in Kenya, home of the world’s best competitive runners, where two young Scots, Mike and Kirsten, are training at the high-altitude running center in the Rift Valley. Their private neuroses, presumably acquired in the West, and the novel’s pervasive concern with their physical bodies reflect the single-minded drive required of runners; the anxious self-involvement of the two Westerners; and the social chaos in the Kenyan locations of Eldoret, Mount Elgon, and Mombasa. Continue reading
Warning: This review is long, has an excessive amount of quotes, and does not reach much of a conclusion. If you have a short attention span, this may not be for you. However, if you appreciate Henry Miller, one of the finest writers America has produced in the last century, I encourage you to read on.
When his name comes up, most readers associate Miller with sex, scandals, pornography. This is mostly due to the press attention given to his two books, The Tropic of Cancer, and The Tropic of Capricorn. Continue reading
You pass adolescence and enter the world of adult literature. At first, you read anything and everything that found its way to your hands; then, slowly you begin discovering your own, unique literary taste, and you become selective. The more you read, the more selective you become. Your list of favorite authors and genres grows; you find literary voices that speak directly to your soul. By now, you have reached mid age, and you have over two decades of serious reading under your belt. Any new book that you open, any new author that you discover is judged against your favorites, against the voices that stimulated your mind over the years. Words and phrases are judged against those that provided comfort when you felt down; ideas and executions are compared against the benchmarks established over the years. You think you know what you like; you think you know what to expect. Well, perhaps you do. New books come along, and some attempt to quietly sneak in to your consciousness, while others attempt to shatter your world. Most, if not all, pale with your favorites, do not fit with your ideas, or leave you cold. Continue reading
Coetzee’s novel of Dostoevsky (The Master of Petersburg, Penguin Books, 250 pages) is a mysterious portrait of the artist surrounding his The Possessed. Suppose a preliminary to Dostoevsky’s demons story could extend it via a narrative featuring the great author himself. Coetzee’s portrayal is that novel. Dostoevsky becomes a half-fiction in this role, somewhat real and somewhat false. Does that matter? It’s not easy to answer. As protagonist-novelist, Dostoevsky’s most important function for Coetzee might be as guide and exemplar, somewhat disheveled and brooding into our own age. Continue reading
There’s a long tradition of writing about sport that tries to be more than writing about sport. Journalism, it seems, is not enough. The events of a game and the constraints of its rules become raw materials for allegory. Much fuss has been made in recent years about the rise of nonfiction and its power over the popular imagination—but when it comes to sport, the lure of myth remains strong. Continue reading
Now is the month of holidays, from the Jewish New Year through the Feast of Tabernacles and ending with Celebration of Torah. My (Orthodox) friend of forty years came to visit. I showed her a page from Witz (Dalkey Archive Press, 817 pages). She closed the book, fast. “There’s a lot in there I wouldn’t approve of,” she said.
Yes, O WickedWitz. Continue reading