Sunday, September 06, 2009

Paul Auster on Samuel Beckett

Paul Auster on Samuel Beckett & literary mentorship:

"We weren't friends at all," he says. "I mean, you can't call it friendship, it was hardly even an acquaintanceship, but there was some feeling of solidarity, I felt, from him towards me, and I appreciated it very much. And I think now that I'm an old fellow and I see young writers, you know, there is always this feeling of tenderness and fear that you have for them.

For the rest of the Auster profile in the Irish Times from whence this snippet comes, click here.

Symposium on Book Blogging

There's a very thought-provoking symposium under way on "The Function of Book Blogging at the Present Time," conceived and hosted by D.G. Myers of A Commonplace Blog and Patrick Kurp of Anecdotal Evidence. Myers & Kurp have put a series of questions designed to provoke reflection on "the past, present, and future of this youngest of literary genres" to a number of book bloggers. Six responses have now been posted, and I understand that there are more to come.

You can find Myers' introduction to the symposium here, and the first six responses from participating bloggers at the links below:

Miriam Burstein (The Little Professor);
Frank Wilson (Books, Inq.);
Benjamin Stein (Turmsegler);
Michael Gilleland (Laudator Temporis Acti);
Mark Athitakis (American Fiction Notes); and,
Walter Aske (Elberry’s Ghost).

The symposium has me mulling afresh over some of the big questions of book blogging and has also exposed me to some bloggers of whom I hadn't previously been aware and whose blogs I'm now keen to read. If you haven't already, I encourage you to stop by A Commonplace Blog and Anecdotal Evidence to read the contributions of the participants and to chime in with your own views in the comments sections.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Art of Selective Subtraction

Will Ferguson on the distinction between fiction and travel writing:

I've always said that fiction and travel writing are comparable to two types of sculpturing. Fiction is like working with clay; you build something up from a single character, an image, a scent. It's the art of addition. Nonfiction, and travel writing in particular, is like working in stone, cutting away everything that doesn't fit. You start big and pare down, reducing the mass of possibilities, trying to decide what matters, what doesn't. Any destination might conjure up a number of vastly different books, even from the same author. Focus on one through-line instead of another and the book – like the journey – will suddenly veer off, leading you in startlingly new directions. Or over the edge of a cliff. Travel writing is the art of selective subtraction.

Click here to read the rest.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Neil Gaiman's Library

Click here to check out Neil Gaiman's bookshelves at shelfari. I am overwhelmed with envy and admiration. I wouldn't dare put my books in the basement for fear of the damp, but I want just such a library somewhere in my house!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

The first book listed by Nancy Pearl in her recent NPR feature on Mysteries You Might Have Missed Along the Way is Jedediah Berry's The Manual of Detection. I didn't miss that one⎯it was one of my favourite reads of the year so far. But I did miss telling you about it, so I'm going to piggyback on Pearl's recommendation to do so belatedly now. Pearl beautifully sums up this very difficult to sum up book as follows:

Jedediah Berry's The Manual of Detection is the sort of novel that is impossible to characterize with any accuracy. An amalgamation of literary fiction, fantasy and mystery, it echoes with tributes to the writing of Borges, Calvino, Auster and Kafka. But for all that it may resemble, The Manual of Detection is entirely original. Set in a building known only as The Agency in an unknown, somewhat eerie city, the novel features Charles Unwin, a finicky, routine-driven clerk who works for a famous detective named Sivart.

One day, everything in Unwin's ordered life is thrown into disarray when Sivart's boss is murdered, Sivart disappears and Unwin is unwillingly promoted to detective from his lowly position as a clerk (a job he looks forward to every day). The only way Unwin can get his beloved clerkship back is to find Sivart, but while trying to do so, he uncovers the existence of a dastardly plot to take over the world by an organization bent on infiltrating people's dreams.

It sounds promising, does it not? And that promise is fully realized in the novel. Here's a list of overlapping reasons why I loved The Manual of Detection:

1. The plot is crazily inventive. There were moments when it was all so surreal that I just let myself drift (dreamlike) and didn't even try to follow the thread of the plot. But then some connection would spark for me and I'd be fiercely puzzling it all out again. The latter mode of reading was a cerebral pleasure, and the former, just a pleasure.

2. The novel is marvelously atmospheric. The universe that Berry has created here is one that I relished inhabiting. I didn't want to leave it at the end. (For a taste of it, click over to the book's website which somehow conjures up the same mood.)

3. The novel both is The Manual of Detection and is about The Manual Detection. I'm a sucker for books within books, and this one is framed very cleverly and with a deeply satisfying attention to detail. For example, early on one of the characters makes reference to page 96 of the Manual. I immediately turned to page 96 of the novel and was pleased by what I found there.

4. It is full of arresting images that have stuck with me weeks afterward, chief among them, our reluctant hero Charles Unwin bicycling in the rain under an umbrella ingeniously hooked to his handlebars.

I can't wait to see what fabulous book next emerges from the fertile brain of Jedediah Berry. In the meantime, I'll likely reread this one a time or two.