Success by Martin Amis

One of the appeals of the English novel to Americans is its preoccupation with class distinctions. To an American, class distinctions are quite alien—no matter how real they may be subterraneously. Dickens depicted class with cartoonish humanity. C.S. Lewis depicted class with pious vulgarity. As the political and economic spectrum changed in England, the class system, as it happened everywhere, grew a bit

Rilke as Writer of Self-Help Books

The back end to my edition of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet is a list by the editor of other proto self-help books that the reader might enjoy. This is rather scandalous, I might say. It already feels sinfully voyeuristic enough to browse through the cannibalized bits of juicy correspondence between men and women who never had any intention of others reading it. Not every artistic career can 

Other People by Martin Amis

Other People is Amis at his most puzzle-like with structure. The book opens with a girl being told that she’s on her own now and to take care. She doesn’t remember anything before that. She names herself Mary in order to

Musical Musings

Novelist and musician Rick Moody’s On Celestial Music is admirable for at least trying to engage with the world of contemporary music of the past fifty years in a way that doesn’t betray the writer’s need to approach subjects with a fresh, cultural scrutiny while keeping the old-man youth-hate grumblings to a minimum.

First Sentences #1

This begins a new series on this site called First Sentences about—as you’d imagine—the first sentence of particular books. With all kinds of lists out today—The Top 100 Best First Sentences, The Top 10, The Most Overlooked and all the like—I thought it would be just as fun to explore a few first sentences of well-known books at a time in order to figure out what makes good first sentences to good books good, or, what makes bad first sentences to relatively good books bad.

Notes From The Tunnel: Conversations With William H. Gass

Gass doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, he once told Michael Silverblatt. Everything he does is ‘totally intuitive.’

He has Rilke, his favorite writer, to blame for this. Rilke waited years for some inspiration for the Duino Elegies to arrive, ready to fit into the pre-conceived structure he had in mind. Similar in its conception, Gass completed The Tunnel after thirty years of work—A book about a fat guy writing an introduction to a book called Guilt and Innocence in Hitler’s Germany, who instead ends up writing the novel wilst digging a tunnel from his basement and who, admittedly, farts a lot. Why so long, critics kept asking? ‘I write slowly because I write badly,’ he said. ‘I have to rewrite everything many, many times just to achieve mediocrity.’

The Best of Both Burgess's-- a look at Conversations With Anthony Burgess

The ‘Conversations With’ series has published a number of insightful, witty and sometimes disappointingly normal interviews with extraordinary figures. While some editions feel weighted with the worry of editors having threshed the fields of journo-sensationalism far and wide for just a dozen or less articles on a very non or anti-public figure, I’m sure they made a brief sigh of relief when they saw the huge catalogue of articles, interviews and TV spots to which John Wilson contributed throughout his career. But surely this relief was interrupted when the said editors furrowed their brows, wiped their sweaty foreheads and hyperventilated in the face of some deadline requiring them to pick only the very best of Burgess—hardly a throw-away afternoon task.

Silent Interviews with Samuel R. Delany

Many writers have preferred the written interview to the face-to-face interview. If we’re to take Nabokov at his word when he says, ‘I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child,’ then one couldn’t blame him too much for preferring the former. William Gaddis seldom gave interviews and requested that they be written, and often, no longer than ten questions, which would eliminate such winning nuggets of curiosity as, ‘on which side of the paper do you write?’ or ‘how hard to you press your pen on the paper?’

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe

Goethe was young when he wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther. He said famously of his title character’s suicide in the end, ‘I shot Werther to save myself.’ With this said, it should come as no surprise that the novel is largely autobiographical, even up to the preservation of his beloved’s real name—Charlotte. The widespread controversy that surrounded the book is well known.