In the brief interval between Polar Vortex I and Polar Vortex II, I somehow I managed to get in a leisurely amble through Queens with Gary Shteyngart.
We met at the Solomon Schechter School of Queens in Flushing and wandered through his old school playground before circling back to his family’s first apartment in Kew Garden Hills. Eventually we made our way to Main Street Cinemas, site of a certain memorable screening of Emmanuelle: The Joys of a Woman.
He told me many more hilarious stories than I could possibly include in this radio segment. But I did my best. Take a listen to A Literary Walkabout in Gary Shteyngart’s Queens and enjoy the slideshow of the author posing in front of his key childhood landmarks. Then go read his memoir, Little Failure.
With more than 100 world-class writers in dozens events spanning a week, this year’s PEN World Voices Festival line-up is pretty daunting. I did manage to carve out time to make it out for a few things– and I blogged about an event earlier this week for Words Without Borders. The topic was “The Critic’s Global Voice,” and the panel featured Jean-Euphèle Milcé, Ursula Krechel, and Mikhail Shishkin (with Bookforum editor Albert Mobilio moderating):
Reports of the death of American literary culture have been, well, at least a little exaggerated. There’s no other way to explain the steady stream of lively essays bemoaning the health of book reviews, book critics, and literature itself. “Like hazing, reviewing is inflicted by the old and popular on the young and weak,” Elizabeth Gumport wrote, dismissing the genre in n+1. Literary culture is in the midst of a “long slide, reflecting not just a hard market but the manners of a bygone world,” as Michael Wolff recently put it in a churlish column predicting the demise of the New York Times Book Review. At any rate, “most contemporary literary fiction is terrible,” J. Robert Lennon griped in Salon.
But what of the rest of the world? Are we to believe that such assessments hold true for the public dialogue about books—and the role of “professional” readers—in other languages, other markets, other cultures? Bookforum editor Albert Mobilio put the question of the role of criticism to writers from Russia (Mikhail Shishkin), Haiti (Jean-Euphèle Milcé), and Germany (Ursula Krechel) in a Wednesday night PEN festival discussion of “The Critic’s Global Voice.”
From a lovestruck bird-chasing ecologist to the forgotten Gothic literature of 20th cent Russia: This week’s reviews are up. Read more at Newsweek / The Daily Beast.
For Newsweek/The Daily Beast, I reviewed A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois:
Jennifer DuBois’s debut novel opens with an epigraph from Vladimir Nabakov: “We are all doomed, but some of us are more doomed than others.” Perhaps an equally appropriate selection for this tender but sharp-edged book would have been the refrain of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art”: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” This is a story about learning to face loss and failure—if not with grace or composure, then at least with personal integrity.
The full review is here. (Also, here’s what Gary Shteyngart had to say about this book: “Hilarious and heartbreaking and a triumph of the imagination. Jennifer duBois is too young to be this talented. I wish I were her.”)