↑ Grab this Headline Animator

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Books, Essays, Reviews

Judged by the popular stereotype of writers — bitter, blocked, alcoholic and angry— Joyce Carol Oates does not measure up. The author of more than 50 works of fiction, an indefatigable reviewer, a creator of essays, plays, diaries and, under two pseudonyms, psychological thrillers, Oates not only defies such stereotypes, she disdains them, as she tacitly acknowledged when she hurled Freud’s ironic term of praise, “pathography,” against biographies of writers that revel in dysfunction. But dysfunction is the subject of her hilarious and harrowing new collection, “Wild Nights!” With a title borrowed from Emily Dickinson’s fiery poem of longing (“Wild Nights — Wild Nights! / Were I with thee / Wild Nights should be / Our luxury!”), these stories ingeniously imagine the last documented days (or nights) of Dickinson and four other writers: Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Henry James and Ernest Hemingway. It’s a gem of a book — a pathography, in fact — about creativity and age and the complicated, anxiety-ridden relationship between the two. (“Mornings when work does not come are long mornings,” Oates’s Hemingway declares on the day of his death.) The Dying of the Light - Brenda Wineapple

Bear Stearns had just imploded when I found myself chatting with a surprisingly merry investment banker. While his clients panicked over their “risk exposure” in this time of $100 oil, evaporating credit markets and melting ice caps, he thought much could be gained. In fact, all the real titans he knew were doubling down. His clients faced a choice. Did they want to be dinosaurs or cockroaches? Did they want to do nothing while the world crumbled, or did they want to scuttle and flit, gobbling up the morsels of growth that bubble up even in bad times? For a certain brand of writer, a third possibility is eminently more appealing, one in which the ecological devastation of American-style capitalism sets off The Crisis that will at last devour titans, dinosaurs and cockroaches alike. While our immediate crises always have a way of looking like The Crisis, they have until now petered out. In light of the present crisis (as of now, still small “c”), however, two eco-millenarian novels — an old one called “Ecotopia,” by Ernest Callenbach, and a new one, WORLD MADE BY HAND (Atlantic Monthly, $24), by James Howard Kunstler — are worth a look, particularly if you are considering doubling down once more before the end times. Recipes for Disaster - Paul Greenberg

No figure looms so large in American poetry over the past 50 years as John Ashbery. Yet he has never been easy to place. Each of his first 12 books, from “Some Trees” in 1956 to “A Wave” in 1984, was in some way different from what other poets were doing and from whatever Ashbery himself had just done. Critics celebrated him. But they all celebrated a different poet. Was he a romantic in the tradition of John Keats and Wallace Stevens, or an experimentalist like Gertrude Stein? A distinctively gay poet, or a writer who avoids autobiographical reference? A connoisseur of moods, or an abstract thinker concerned with identity and the nature of art?

There was evidence for all these views (and others) in the first half of Ashbery’s career, put on view in his “Selected Poems” in 1985. Since that time Ashbery has published the massive book-length poem “Flow Chart” (1991), another book-length poem called “Girls on the Run” (1999) and many new volumes of shorter poems, each coming fast on the heels of the last and posing its particular challenges to the reader. Now “Notes From the Air: Selected Later Poems” gives us a chance to stand back and see what Ashbery has been up to for the past 20 years. ‘But I Digress’ - Langdon Hammer

It is not just that, as an evangelical, he (Wright) believes forcefully in the authority of scripture and the historical truth of the Gos pels. Nor is it that, like most on that conservative wing of the Church, he is strongly opposed to gay priests. The Right Reverend Wright believes in the literal truth of the Resurrection. The day will come, he says, when Christ will come to join the heavens and the earth in a new creation and the dead will rise. All those who think of heaven as the endpoint are wrong, especially if they're thinking about "sitting on clouds playing harps". According to him, heaven is less a location, more a state: a kind of first-class transit lounge whereby our physical bodies sleep while the "real person" continues in the presence of Christ. What we will be waiting for is what he calls "life after life after death": the Second Coming and the Day of Judgement, when we will be not only physically re-embodied but transformed, on a new version of this earth with plenty of room for everyone. "It is actually what the New Testament is about," says Wright in his emollient, Radio 4-friendly tones as we sit in the spring sun outside his cottage in Alnmouth, Northumberland, a family refuge away from the grandeur of his official residence, Auckland Castle. "An awful lot of western Christians have just accepted that when they say 'the resurrection of the body' they think, 'You don't really mean body. That's just the way they put it in olden days.' They don't realise it is actually the key thing. We are talking about a good physical world which is to be remade, not a bad physical world which is going to be trashed in favour of a purely spiritual spheres. ''Jesus will appear again as judge of the world and the dead will be raised'' Sholto Byrnes


Post a Comment

<< Home