“The Scourge of Relatability.”

In the wake of Ira Glass’ “Shakespeare sucks” tweets, Rebecca Mead bemoans the phenomenon of “relatability” in art: To appreciate “King Lear”—or even “The Catcher in the Rye” or “The Fault in Our Stars”—only to the extent that the work functions as one’s mirror would make for a hopelessly reductive experience. But to reject any work […]

Blackfish and Moby Dick.

Last week, my wife and I saw the documentary Blackfish, the attempted exposé of SeaWorld. In particular, Blackfish focused on the plight of one orca, Tilikum, who has been involved in three deaths, including the 2010 killing of his trainer, Dawn Brancheau. Originally caught in the wild, Tilikum is an overly large orca who has […]

Favorite First Lines.

More prime link bait for me: The Atlantic asked 21 writers to name their favorite opening lines. There are some obvious selections (“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan…”, “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”) and some sneaky good picks (“I have never seen anything like it: two little discs of glass suspended in front […]

What Makes Literature Great?

At the Kenyon Review, Amit Majmudar explores the idea of what makes fiction become “great literature.” One of the reasons, Majmudar contends, is how much audiences react to its “excess”: The magic of excess is not to be underestimated. It is the key to permanence. I would nominate Moby-Dick as the consummate work of Excess: Everything […]

Update re: the 47 Endings of “A Farewell to Arms.”

In a previous post I linked a New York Times piece mentioning a new edition of A Farewell To Arms, which included all of Papa’s additional, but scrubbed, endings. (Perhaps scrubbed out at Hemingway’s standing desk?) Out now, there is a nice piece over at the Millions about the endings, focusing more on the literary ephemera […]

Charles Olson and “The Art of Fielding”

The scholar’s dream: the finding of a rare text that illuminates an author or a period of history, or that allows us to reconsider something we otherwise thought well-established. Chad Harbach’s novel The Art of Fielding, which I recently reviewed, contains such an event—an event, as it turns out, that was probably based on a real […]