Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Smorgasbord of Books

Some interesting reading in the Sunday NY Times Book Review today. First, there is the essay by Joseph Finder in which he mourns the loss of characters with ambition in literary fiction. Finder himself writes popular fiction and declares characters with ambition are alive and well there. He speculates that literary fiction no longer takes on ambition because

literary fiction is defined, in part, by its distance from popular fiction. And a crucial aspect of our whole high-low cultural system is that high culture mustn't be created for worldly gain. Which is an especially touchy subject when it comes to the novel. Like old Goriot's upwardly mobile daughters, literary fiction has had to turn its back on its miserable origins. Long ago, the novel was condescended to as mere entertainment, and could only envy the cultural status that forms like lyric poetry and verse drama enjoyed. Literary fiction only fully emerged as a self-conscious genre in the later decades of the 19th century, and the gap between it and popular fiction widened in the first decade or so of the 20th.
I can't say that I've thought about or even noticed the things Finder is talking about. Have you? And if so, is rit eally missing from literary fiction? I can't bring to mind any books I've read lately in which ambition is the force that drives a character. Huh. Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky is reviewed. I just read a bit about the book the other day that my Bookman brought home. The publisher is managing to work up a bit of a buzz about it. I have to admit, it certainly has an exciting true life story to go along with the novel which is making it a tempting read. But because I am afraid I want to read it due to the buzz, not because it's a good book, I am, for now resisting. I am hoping another blogger or two will take the plunge first and report its merits. A book I will not need anyone else to look into first, is José Saramago's new book, Seeing. It is a sort of sequel to Blindness, taking place four years later and in the same city. I loved Blindness and am rather excited by the prospects of this new one. I also have a few birthday related new book stragglers that I am excited about:
  • Written Lives by Javier Marías. It is a book of "mini biographies" of twenty writers. Among the writers are Turgenev, Rilke, Isak Dineson, and Djuna Barnes.
  • If This Be Treason: Translation and its Dyscontents by Gregory Rabassa. It is a memoir, but in it he discusses his theories of translation.
  • A Plea for Eros: Essays by Siri Hustvedt. It's an eclectic mix which includes pieces on Dickens, Fitzgerald, and Henry James, as well as essays on what it's like to wear a corset, and what it was like when she pretended to be a man. She also grew up in Minnesota but she went and married Paul Auster and moved to the big city of Brooklyn, NY.
Must go read now.