Critical Reads July 6, 2012: The Separate But Similar Edition
- Best of List
“All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
This week there were a handful of excellent web reads about all that is separate but similar, such as the new Vulture Books that resemble Penguin books, the short stories of Alice Munro, and the Great American Novel, whose definition has changed even while the term has remained the same. A love story to that grammatical unit dedicated to separate but similar ideas, the semicolon, appeared in the New York Times, and finally, the Guardian UK noted that a Big Brother slightly different than the one George Orwell imagined has emerged: the e-reader.
The Great American Novel (Slate)
It seems that Americans are always searching for the next Great American Novel. But what is that exactly? Maria Konnikova traces the term from its roots to its complication to its satirizing, concluding that the term is shape-shifting, much like America itself.
Semicolons: A Love Story (NY Times)
As a young guy, Ben Dolnick found himself drinking Kurt Vonnegut's grammatical coolaide: "Do not use semi-colons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college." Then William James came along and ousted Vonnegut's advice. Since then Dolnick's switched to Team Semicolon in a big way, believing that the semicolon's function of demarcating ideas that are similar but not quite separate fulfills an important role in mimicking the psychology of the writer and trusting the reader to juggle thoughts. His semicolon cheerleading is contagious; my enthusiasm for the semicolon is renewed.
A Beginner's Guide to Alice Munro (The Millions)
Alice Munro has that combination of a knack for stylistic coherence and a huge body of work that can make it difficult knowing where the hell to begin. Deceptively austere prose veils a complex treatment of time and epiphanies turn upside down the expectations of readers. Then she does it again and again. Yet Munro's stories do vary, and this guide from The Millions offers several starting points for the Munro neophyte.
Big E-Reader Is Watching (Guardian UK)
E-readers get their share of fearful opposition, but far from the worn out Luddite argument, this Guardian UK article raises questions about what happens when e-readers collect data about the reader's reading habits. Companies like Kobo are now gathering data about how long readers read, where they stop in a given text, and which passages they highlight. Some authors, like China Melville, worry that this will change publishing- and writing- into a game of pandering much like some traffic-chasing blogs.
Can You Identify the Fictional Origins of These Non-Fiction Books? (io9)
Vulture Books is the newest enterprise from Daniel Gray, and it publishes redesigned non-fiction titles that smack of the uncanny. Sure, there's a little bird in a circle motif a la Penguin, but these books are mostly dark (think: Handbook for the Recently Deceased.) Wonderful books-as-objects, the Vulture books are Penguin fraternal twins that appeal to the aesthetic creep in all of us.
** Part of our Critical Reads series.
Books Feature By Tracy O’Neill
“We are kinky mommies.”>>
Books News By Tracy O’Neill
“Life is a goddamn cutup">>