Critical Notes

First Roundup of 2009

By Jane Ciabattari

Former NBCC President John Freeman spoke of his pleasure at discovering the work of Polish journalist Ryszard Kapucinski in Granta in 1996 at the party celebrating his new post as Granta’s US Editor. Granta publisher Sigrid Rausing, managing director David Graham, and new Granta editor Alex Clark were on hand. Among the guests: Salman Rushdie, Judith Thurman, A.M. Homes, PW editor Sara Nelson, Grove Atlantic’s Morgan Entrekin,Overlook Press’s Peter Meyer, Norton’s Jill Bialosky and Robert Weil (whose “The Hemingses of Monticello” won the National Book Award in November). Alex Clark’s first issue is just out. The theme: “Fathers:The Men Who Made Us.” Among the tempting bits: Allison Bechdel, Jonathan Lethem, Joseph O’Neill and Ali Smith writing about photographs of their fathers; Siri Hustvedt on the anxiety of influence, and David Goldblatt on facing up to his father’s violent death.

New US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan to the Paris Review interviewer, when asked “Many critics compare you to Dickinson. Do you think you’re like Dickinson?” shot back, “That question is like asking, Do you think you’re much like God? That’s not interesting to me. It might be interesting for others, but I feel like it makes me do the work that other people ought to do. Besides, how would you like to be compared to God?”

Eric Banks on the elimination of the AP Italian Language program (and Elsa Morante) at Brainstorm.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf on Patrick Tyler’s timely new book, “A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East—from the Cold War to the War on Terror.”

NBCC board member Rebecca Skloot blogging now at Culture Dish

Ron Tanner on preserving the storytelling tradition of the Marshall islands, in the new issue of Guernica.

Rachel Kushner on Littoral, the blog of the Key West Literary Seminar, will be in Key West next week to talk about her National Book Award-nominated “Telex From Cuba,” the chaos of Fidel Castro’s victory 50 years ago, and what fiction can teach us about the past.

Joe Peschel on Jayne Anne Phillips’s stunning new novel, “Lark and Termite.”