To mark the publication of J. Peder Zane's new book, "Off the Books: On Literature and Culture," we'll be posting an essay from it each day.
By J. Peder Zane
When it comes to books, my only question is: What's next?
So much spine-tingling greatness, so little time. So many gaps—"The Man Without Qualities," "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," "Eloise." So much guilt.
Despite the onward march, old books are like old friends. Those we encounter in youth stand out more than the rest, crystallized by feeling memory. I met Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) in college. After devouring "Hunger," I quickly moved to his other psychological masterpieces, "Mysteries" and "Pan," then "Growth of the Soil," "Victoria," "Rosa," "Under the Autumn Stars" and "Dreamers." Rationally, I knew many other writers were at least the Norwegian's equal. But Hamsun became my spirited answer to: "Who's your favorite writer?" Each new girlfriend received a crisp copy, followed by a measuring discussion.
I valued him so, made him mine, because he didn't seem to belong to anyone else. "Knut who?" others would say—to my delight—of the man who had won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920. Elitism, snobbery, call it what you will, but my love of Hamsun told me something about myself at that young age that was forcefully affirming. Read more ...
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This week’s New York Times Book Review offers a Top Ten two-fer as Tom Perrotta reviews Kate Akinson’s new novel, A God in Ruins. (Although our contributors gather often for spirits at the Top Ten Country Club and share days at sea on the Top Ten Yacht (the S.S. Doorstopper), Kate and Tom have never done so together, so there is no conflict of interest.)
“Jonathan Lethem’s extraordinary career is a reminder of the not-so-distant past when working novelists published their new creations regularly and with a seemingly free-flowing hand,” Michael Greenberg writes in the New York Times Book Review. “If one book wasn’t up to snuff, there would be another to redeem it a year or two later. It was all part of the ebb and flow of a lifetime of work.
“During her long and distinguished career, Joyce Carol Oates never has shied away from the controversy that can come with using celebrities and tabloid news stories as the inspiration for her fiction,” Jon Michaud observes in the Washington Post.