Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Raymond Chandler on Literature

Raymond Chandler on literature:

When a book, any sort of book reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of control over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has over the ball. Every page throws the hook for the next. I call this a kind of genius.

(From a letter by Raymond Chandler to Earl Stanley Gardner.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Immersing Myself in Muriel Spark's Life and Work

I read Muriel Spark: The Biography by Martin Stannard over the course of the last couple of weeks with much pleasure.

It's not a great biography. Stannard's tendency to skip back and forth in time and to shift between first and last names when referring to the vast cast of characters made it difficult at times to figure out what exactly happened between who when. And he had theories about Spark that he sometimes presented as fact. I've got no objection to biographers putting forth theories⎯that's part of what makes biographies interesting to me⎯but I do object to those theories being presented as fact.

But as the first full biography of Spark it is a must-read for fans of her work, and it is an impressive work of scholarship that is packed full of interesting detail, much of it new to me despite having read most of Spark's books and followed her career with interest for decades. Most importantly, Spark's writing, both process and product, is the central focus of the biography throughout. Stannard's thorough and thoughtful commentary on Spark's novels and stories did for me just what a good literary biography ought to do⎯send the reader back to the work itself.

I've begun a grand re/read with the intention of working my way through all 22 of Spark's novels in the order in which they were published, and finishing up with the collected stories. Stay tuned for many Spark-inspired posts along the way.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Working at the Speed of E-mail

John Freeman on how e-mail has changed our working lives:

Working at the speed of e-mail is like trying to gain a topographic understanding of our daily landscape from a speeding train--and the consequences for us as workers are profound. Interrupted every thirty seconds or so, our attention spans are fractured into a thousand tiny fragments. The mind is denied the experience of deep flow, when creative ideas flourish and complicated thinking occurs. We become task-oriented, tetchy, terrible at listening as we try to keep up with the computer. The e-mail inbox turns our mental to-do list into a palimpsest--there's always something new and even more urgent erasing what we originally thought was the day's priority. Incoming mail arrives on several different channels--via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, instant message--and in this era of backup we're sure that we should keep records of our participation in all these conversations. The result is that at the end of the day we have a few hundred or even a few thousand e-mails still sitting in our inbox.

From John Freeman, The Tyranny of E-Mail: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox (2009).

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Virgina Woolf Speaking on the Radio

I borrowed this marvelous clip from Condalmo. It's Virginia Woolf speaking on a 1937 BBC radio program.