Welly, welly, welly, welly, welly, welly, well.

imgres.jpgRemember when you took Modern European History in school and the textbook barely made it up to WWI? I remember thinking it was pretty stupid since, at that time, WWII was still in all the papers or was recent enough to still shape modern history.

The same thing happened when I studied Modern Literature at the university (although I think we got a lot closer to WWII in Lit) but still, the whole world was reading Grace Metalious and we were studying J. Alfred Prufrock. I remember being told that it was too dangerous to study an author that was still alive: they might write another book and blow your whole thesis.

Interesting, it is also too dangerous for an author to use something from popular contemporary culture as a subject for fiction lest the story might turn into an embarrassing farce laughed at by many readers.

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Theft At the Tin House

M65-PGThe new Tin House Magazine arrived yesterday and I have been lost in its pages ever since. Look at that cover art: how can you resist looking inside.

Actually this excellent journal (#65) is given the highly evocative title of Theft. The editor introduces the volume:

“Talent borrows, genius steals” is usually attributed to Oscar Wilde, and occasionally Pablo Picasso. There is, however, no record of either one actually saying or writing this. T. S. Eliot, on the other hand, wrote, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” Theft and appropriation have always been artistic engines. In this issue, Kevin Young—poet, essayist, and anthologist—looks at how thievery is done well (Bob Dylan) and not so well (Jonah Lehrer). Mary Ruefle and Erika Meitner demonstrate the art of erasure, turning extant texts into ready-made poetry. Victor LaValle remembers the time he played at being a teen runaway in Times Square. Pulitzer Prize winner Adam Johnson returns to our pages, and to Korea, with his story “Fortune Smiles,” in which North Korean expat grifters try to navigate the laws and mores of Seoul. We sent out a call for short essays about memorable thefts, and it is an honor to have the call answered by the doyen of crime writers, Mary Higgins Clark, alongside Alissa Nutting, George Singleton, and Laura Lippman. Clark reminds us that, in Shakespeare’s words, “The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief.” Enjoy.

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APRIL is the cruellest month

The New York Times Book Review has a regular feature where two, usually very different, authors respond to a question like: is there too much violence in graphic novels; or, which Ayn Rand novel did you find most ridiculous; or even, what pop-up books do you remember from your childhood. This week the question was

Which Books From Your Past Do You Read Now With Ambivalence?

EliotFirst up was Adam Kirsch who contended that “The Waste Land, with its showy references and sexual dread, seems like a kind of young person’s performance.” Kirsch in a side note also appeared to agree with me in suggesting that The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was juvenile fluff but valuable to use when introducing poetry to the young and dumb (well, maybe he didn’t go that far but then again, I did say it was a suggestion and not a firm statement).

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