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Archive of posts filed under the Literature category.

Fiction as a window into other cultures

tl;dr: more on Updike. In our recent discussion of reviews of John Updike books, John Bullock pointed us to this essay by Claire Lowdon, who begins: In the opening scene of Rabbit, Run (1960), John Updike’s second published novel, the twenty-six-year-old Harry Angstrom – aka Rabbit – joins some children playing basketball around a telephone […]

Quino y Mafalda

Obit by Harrison Smith, full of stories: She was a wise and idealistic young girl, a cartoon kid with a ball of black frizz for hair, a passionate hatred of soup and a name, Mafalda, inspired by a failed home appliance brand. Although her creator, a cartoonist known as Quino, drew her regularly for just […]

“Pictures represent facts, stories represent acts, and models represent concepts.”

I really like the above quote from noted aphorist Thomas Basbøll. He expands: Simplifying somewhat, pictures represent facts, stories represent acts, and models represent concepts. . . . Pictures are simplified representations of facts and to use this to draw a hard and fast line between pictures and stories and models is itself a simplified […]

“this large reduction in response rats”

Spell check doesn’t catch all the typos.

Bill James is back

I checked Bill James Online the other day and it’s full of baseball articles! I guess now that he’s retired from the Red Sox, he’s free to share his baseball thoughts to all. Cool! He has 8 posts in the past week or so, which is pretty impressive given that each post has some mixture […]

Coronavirus dreams

I had a dream last night that I was at a conference, then I was going to the basement of the conference building to the supermarket, then I was at my mother’s house and she told me I needed more ingredients for dinner, so I went back to the basement, but the stairs didn’t go […]

Where are the collaborative novels?

Someone asked me the other day whether a corporation could run for president. I said no. The closest to that would be The Space Merchants. And that that made me think . . . where are the collaborative novels? I’m not talking about ghostwriters, or about that book by James Patterson and Bill Clinton (which […]

Who was the first literary schlub?

We were talking about Ted Heller / Sam Lipsyte (also here), whose books feature a similar lovable-loser character, someone who’s basically a good person but has some larceny and lust in his heart and can’t always be relied on to do the right thing. More of a Jerry Seinfeld than a Philip Marlowe or Humphrey […]

“No one is going to force you to write badly. In the long run, you won’t even be rewarded for it. But, unfortunately, it is true that they’ll often let you get away with it.”

Basbøll says it well. Relatedly, see here. Writing is hard.

Nooooooooooooo!

When I get magazines in the mail, I put them in a pile so that later I can read them in order. I’m a few months behind on the London Review of Books so I just happened to read this article by August Kleinzahler which informs us that Donald Trump is invincible. I have no […]

“The Intellectuals and the Masses”

I just read “The Intellectuals and the Masses,” a book from 1992 by the literary critic and English professor John Carey. I really liked the book, and after finishing it I decided to get some further perspective by reading some reviews. I found two excellent reviews online, a negative review in the London Independent by […]

What are the best scientific papers ever written?

When I say “best,” I mean coolest, funnest to read, most thought-provoking, etc. Not necessarily the most path-breaking. For example, did Andrew Wiles write a paper with the proof of Fermat’s last theorem? If so, I can’t imagine this would be readable. So, sure, it’s a great accomplishment but it’s not what I’m talking about. […]

“Young Lions: How Jewish Authors Reinvented the American War Novel”

I read this book by Leah Garrett and I liked it a lot. Solid insights on Joseph Heller, Saul Bellow, and Norman Mailer, of course, but also the now-forgotten Irwin Shaw (see here and here) and Herman Wouk. Garrett’s discussion of The Caine Mutiny was good: she takes it seriously, enough to point out its […]

“Then the flaming sheet, with the whirr of a liberated phoenix, would fly up the chimney to join the stars.”

I’ve been reading a couple of old books of book reviews by Anthony Burgess. Lots of great stuff. He’s a sort of Chesterton with a conscience, for example in this appreciation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: As for Tom’s forgiving Christianity—‘O, Mas’r! don’t bring this great sin on your soul! It will hurt you more than […]

“In any case, we have a headline optimizer that A/B tests different headlines . . .”

The above line is not a joke. It’s from Buzzfeed. Really. Stephanie Lee interviewed a bunch of people, including me, for this Buzzfeed article, “Two Big Studies Say There Are Way More Coronavirus Infections Than We Think. Scientists Think They’re Wrong.” I liked the article. My favorite part is a quote (not from me) that […]

Coming in 6 months or so

I just wrote a post on George V. Higgins. Just wanted to let you know that life goes on. Also we keep bumping things to October to make room for the coronavirus posts that are running now. You can check out this list to keep track of what you’re missing.

The Fall Guy, by James Lasdun

I just finished this book. I’d write something about it, but I did a search and found this review by John Lennon from a couple of years ago. I have nothing to add.

Upholding the patriarchy, one blog post at a time

A white male writes: Your recent post reminded me: partly because of your previous posts, I spent a fair amount of the last two years reading Updike, whom I’d never read before. It was time well spent. Thank you for mentioning him in your blog from time to time. I find early Updike to be […]

Model building is Lego, not Playmobil. (toward understanding statistical workflow)

John Seabrook writes: Socrates . . . called writing “visible speech” . . . A more contemporary definition, developed by the linguist Linda Flower and the psychologist John Hayes, is “cognitive rhetoric”—thinking in words. In 1981, Flower and Hayes devised a theoretical model for the brain as it is engaged in writing, which they called […]

The New Yorker fiction podcast: how it’s great and how it could be improved

I was having some difficulty with radio reception on my bike a few years ago so I switched to prerecorded music and podcasts. This American Life is the best, but if I’m going a lot of places I can exhaust the supply of recent episodes. For awhile I was listening to Wait Wait which is […]