By every metric that we use to measure literary greatness—including overall achievement, scope and variety of subject matter, striking and fully realized style, duration of career, originality and formal innovation, widespread influence here and abroad, production of masterpieces, consistency of excellence, pertinence of themes, density of critical commentary, and dignity in the conduct of a literary career—Don DeLillo, now eighty-three, scores in the highest possible percentile.
I am one of the newest members of Conrad Bakker’s Untitled Project: Robert Smithson Library and Book Club. My copy of the Wake is the 14th printing (June 1973) of the Viking Compass edition of 1959. As you can see, the cover details are a little different from the one that Smithson owned.
What Bakker’s carved and painted replica lacks in readability, it beats my book for durability. The binding is badly cracked, and I’m not sure that it would hold up to a second reading (I made it all the way through in the summer of 1986).
Rick Wright isn’t so sure that blame for the swarms of Sturnus vulgaris that plague the New World can be laid at the feet of a well-meaning 19th-century drug magnate:
Is there any documentation, from [Eugene] Schieffelin or his contemporaries, that the release of starlings in Central Park in 1890 was inspired by a line in Henry IV? I’d be happy to know about it.
Holy Fox! Alice Munro will receive the Nobel Prize in Literature!
In a statement from Penguin Random House, her publisher, Ms. Munro said that she was “amazed, and very grateful.”
She added, “I’m particularly glad that winning this award will please so many Canadians,” she said. “I’m happy, too, that this will bring more attention to Canadian writing.”
I’m inclined to agree with Sara Mosle, who writes in favor of upcoming curriculum changes for high school students. The Common Core State Standards, adopted widely but not yet by Virginia, specify reading requirements that are lighter on the fiction, heavier on the non.
It occurs to me that almost all of my expository writing assignments in high school consisted of analysis of prose fiction; why was I never tasked with writing an explanation of how a fuel injector works, or describing the mechanic down the block who serviced them? And correspondingly, we were given few reading assignments in narrative nonfiction.
What schools really need isn’t more nonfiction but better nonfiction, especially that which provides good models for student writing. Most students could use greater familiarity with what newspaper, magazine and book editors call “narrative nonfiction”: writing that tells a factual story, sometimes even a personal one, but also makes an argument and conveys information in vivid, effective ways.
In my day, students got a good whack of mediocre historical fiction in an attempt to make the work more palatable: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, Julius Caesar instead of the good Shakespeare.
What, instead, to read? Robert Atwan offers his list of the best ten essays since 1950: James Baldwin, Susan Sontag, John McPhee, Annie Dillard, David Foster Wallace.