We did it again! A rich new issue of Open Letters Monthly is up, with something in it for every interest and taste. This month’s seems particularly good to me, and I don’t say that just because it includes four pieces for which I was the lead editor. A few highlights:
Victoria Olsen reports from the Romance Writers of American convention in NYC:
There are a lot of sexist assumptions behind the devaluation of the genre and its community . . . but here I’m most interested in the fact that these readers know all this already, they’ve heard it all before, and their pens are primed with rebuttals. The RWA convention made their self-awareness visible and explicit. These are women who know exactly what they are doing, who mean what they say, and who are willing and able to defend themselves.
Levi Stahl introduces us to Anthony Powell’s lesser-known novel Venusberg:
this is prose that is beginning to move like thought, to wend back in on itself and make discoveries along the way, an approach that will reach its apotheosis in the watchful narrative musings of Nick Jenkins in Dance. It also helps us begin to understand Powell’s protagonist, Lushington, revealing how observant he is, the first step toward helping us see him as something different from, and more thoughtful than, his giddier peers.
Alice Brittan examines Elena Ferrante’s phenomenally successful Neapolitan novels
I can think of many novelists whose prose is more startling or beautiful than Ferrante’s, whose plots and structures are more ingenious, whose anger at the systemic abuse of women and the poor is as explosive, whose depiction of motherhood is as unsentimental, and whose exposure of the hidden threads that turn the individual into the puppet of the state is as rigorous. But I don’t love most of their books like I love Ferrante’s, because they don’t make me feel what she does, which is that I am in the presence of “a bare and throbbing heart.”
Dorian Stuber adds to his growing body of work for us on Holocaust writing with his review of Jim Shephard’s The Book of Aron:
Children are always trying to decode a world that exceeds their understanding. Children in the Holocaust experienced this imperative in particularly powerful and perverse form. Where normal children wonder about life — where do babies come from? — these children wondered about death — what is happening to my world? Shepard suggests that a child’s point of view both incites and stymies readers’ ability to comprehend an overwhelming, traumatic event like the Holocaust. Children offer a powerful metaphor for the bewilderment and fear that adults too — both then and now — experience in the face of something like the Ghetto.
And that’s definitely not all: James Ross looks critically at the TV adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire; Stephen Akey thinks back on the book that transformed his idea of what it meant to be a reader; Steve Donoghue reviews a history of the world’s most famous chessmen; Dan Green reviews a book on the strange art of literary biography; and that is still not all — so go on over and explore for yourself.
I have a writing deadline that may keep things a bit quiet around Novel Readings for the next little while. But I’m also reading Maus, and hope to have a chance to put some thoughts together about it after that, and classes start for me at the end of next week, so the new season of “This Week In My Classes” will also be kicking into gear.