I’ve been so overwhelmed by winter (last night’s storm was another big one, but at least the 6 inches of fresh snow was of the light, powdery variety rather than the ice-encrusted kind!) that I almost forgot to give a shout-out to the new issue of Open Letters Monthly, which went up almost a week ago. I hope you have already checked it out. But if you haven’t, here are some teasers that I hope will entice you on over:
My brilliant colleague Alice Brittan writes on Norwegian phenomenon Karl Ove Knausgaard. I love reading Alice’s pieces: she wears her erudition so gracefully, yet there’s an intellectual severity that also keeps us on our toes: “When reviewers praise Knausgaard for liberating the novel — as though it were a rigid and relatively parochial form like a haiku or a villanelle— all I see is evidence of amnesia.”
Regular contributor and now, happily for us, our newest editor Robert Minto writes one of my favorite kinds of essays: a smart and heartfelt appreciation of a cherished classic, in his case John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress: “in my irreligious adulthood, the book remains one possession from my childhood secure against retrospective distaste.”
Fox Frazier-Foley writes about the “kitchen witchery” she learned from her remarkable grandmother, and about the ways women have always passed down much more than recipes as they shared their wisdom — and their sometimes scary, sometimes funny, ways of using food to get what they want, whether it’s revenge (beware the “Punish and Banish a Bully” brownies!) or love (“Engagement Chicken”!). I could use some “Let’s Be Friends Cobbler” right about now, actually.
There’s much more, as always, including 19th-century photography, a new series featuring literature from and about China, translations of Anna Karenina, and new poetry. Go take a look — and while you’re there, notice some of the renovations we are undertaking, including a new widget that shows related reading at the end of every new piece. We have a rich archive, and this is one way we hope to keep more of it in sight!
You may notice that once again there is nothing by me in the main Table of Contents. That’s not really by design: it’s more a matter of how I’ve been ordering my writing priorities, as well as a few external writing obligations I’ve had, including the forthcoming review for Belphegor that I mentioned here, the essay on Winifred Holtby and Virginia Woolf that ran in 3:AM Magazine, and, appearing just today, a small but, I hope, not trivial “listicle” on Vera Brittain for the website For Books’ Sake, for their regular “10 Reasons to Love” feature. I’ve also been trying to step up the pace of blogging here, as I had been missing the energy I get from writing exactly what I want, without worrying about guidelines or audiences or whatever else.
I’ve also, just by the way, written nearly 16,000 words of my book chapter. It is still very much in the shitty first draft phase, but 16,000 words that need a lot more work sure seems like progress over no words, even if my faith in the whole project wavers daily (sometimes hourly). I am so glad I signed up for Jo Van Every’s Meeting With Your Writing sessions: you wouldn’t think something so simple would make such a difference, but not only is the scheduled “meeting” a great motivator, but her prompts are pitched just right to help you get moving without feeling harrassed.
My Open Letters silence will be broken next month, however, as I will be reviewing Diana Souhami’s new novel Gwendolen. “Souhami has breathed fresh life into a classic in ways that will appeal to readers entirely unfamiliar with Eliot’s fiction,” promises (or threatens?) the blurb. But what about readers who are familiar with it? Let’s just say that so far this reader is … skeptical. It hasn’t helped that Souhami seems to have gone to the Brenda Maddox school of how to write about George Eliot, who appears, god help us, as a character in Gwendolen — but no more about that now! you’ll have to wait for my review. In the meantime, happy February reading!
You have been busy! And I had no idea Shirley Williams was Vera Brittain’s daughter.
I agree. You’ve been having a very busy sabbatical. Lots of writing. Lots of reading. Hopefully, it’s all been fun.