Critical Reads June 22, 2012: The Titans Edition
- Best of List
"Jimmy was saving the true sleaze for letters to his wife."
This week titans were the talk of the town, with Oprah Winfrey bringing back the Oprah Book Club and the release of literary titan Thomas Pynchon's books being publicized through a mysterious scavenger hunt. Literary titans were brought back to earth as Melville House looked back at the self-promotion of canon writers and Vice was ever-so-Vice in a retrospective of famous author's sexual peculiarities. Finally, Naomi Stead made the case for a new form of criticism, focused less on the "authority" of the critic and more a progressive form of the literary salon.
What's Missing From Oprah's Book Club 2.0 (The Atlantic)
In the days before OWN, Oprah's book club drove book sales and Jonathan Franzen crazy. Now it's back in a new web format, and book number one is Cheryl Strayed's Wild. Over at The Atlantic, Sarah Fay argues that OBC 2.0 doesn't help people become better readers, so much as it helps book sales. I don't remember Oprah exactly promising to bring the explication de texte to middle America, but what I do know is that OBC authors everywhere should be thankful to see their books actually sell.
Literary Titans are Super Freaks (Vice)
Like the population at large, the world of famous writers has its share of socially-unsanctioned hanky panky. Case in point: Franz Kafka subscribed to a graphic animal porn publication. Even titans have their pet fetishes.
A New Belle-Lettrism and the Future of Criticism (Design Observer)
In this thoughtful essay, Naomi Stead presents the possibility of a new belle-lettrism. Stead notes the tension between old school "expert" criticism and the more populist criticism of new media. Team old school has Georgie Williamson in its corner, calling online criticism "ridiculously cheap," while Rebecca Starford argues, "traditional forms of literary criticism are failing in this country not because critical authority is lacking, but because this critical authority is increasingly high-minded and ostentatious; it is criticism that does not reflect the diversity and richness of our national literature." Stead draws an analogy between the critical forum the internet offers and the salons of yesteryear, offering the hope of a community for intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals alike.
The good, the bad, the ugly: infamous book promotions over the years (Melville House)
It's been tempting for many to roll their eyes at the publicity stunts of authors like Tao Lin and Jennifer Belle, the latter being the author who gained media attention for paying actresses to read her book aloud on the subway and at NYC landmarks. Yet Melville House, the publisher of five Tao Lin titles, astutely observes that shameless self-promotion is nothing new. Just take Walt Whitman, who wrote and published reviews of Leaves of Grass, such as this one: "An American bard at last! Large, proud, affectionate, eating, drinking and breeding, his costume manly and free, his face sunburnt and bearded." I suppose this is just one facet of what Whitman meant when he wrote, "I celebrate myself, and sing myself."
Secret codes, the Trystero: A Mysterious Thomas Pynchon Hunt (LA Times)
Besides being one of the most provocative and skilled writers of the last century, Thomas Pynchon is known as one of the most private writers alive. With rumors circulating around his very whereabouts, it seems rather apropos that Penguin Press has initiated a mysterious publicity stunt of a scavenger game, in which Pynchon fans search for the Trystero symbol from his book The Crying of Lot 49 in 200 locations nationwide. The reason for this literary Easter egg hunt is somewhat less opaque: all of Pynchon's titles are soon to be released as e-books.
** Part of our Critical Reads series.