V.S. Naipaul on Young People These Days

He’s been everywhere the last week or so. V.S. Naipaul has a book to sell and he seems to think he will do it by going on the radio to talk about how literary culture is dying; how the novel is finished, repetitive, in terminal decline. His curmudgeonly outburst on the BBC’s Today programme coincides with rumblings from the United States about the condition of newspaper book reviewing (bad) and the consequences for publishing of Google’s book scanning antics (bad for business). This may well be the age of the grumpy old man, but that doesn’t mean we have to listen to them. I read a comment somewhere today in relation to ‘cyber-bullying’ arguing that countries are run by people nearing retirement age who have absolutely no idea how under 30s live their lives and who confirm their ignorance by adding e- or cyber- to everything. Zoe Williams at The Guardian seems quite annoyed by Naipaul’s latest too. She says:

At one point, he starts off about Cambridge criticism. You lean in, thinking he might be about to say something of meaning about the poets and independent publishing houses working in Cambridge right now and for the past two decades – and it turns out he’s talking about FR sodding Leavis! Overall, it is just a shame. Bits of his new book might be inflammatory, but mainly he is too pompous to inflame anyone, and even his harshest attacks are too dated and meaningless to stick …

F.R. sodding Leavis indeed. In all of this Naipaul does have one good idea: sack all literature academics and make them work on the buses. But maybe limit it to one day a week, on license from the lecture theatre. And make Nobel Prize for Literature winners work as traffic wardens at the same time.

Posted by Chris Routledge

The Booker Prize: Those Readability Stats in Full

Over at One-Minute Book Reviews Janice Harayda has been having fun with Microsoft Word’s readability stats feature. Sadly this amusing feature wasn’t enough to keep me using Word when I fell out of love with it some time around the turn of the century, so I can’t try this for myself, but Harayda’s experiment on the Booker Prize shortlist is a little shocking. Of Lloyd Jones’s Mister Pip she writes:

There are two huge problems with the novel, narrated by a black female university graduate who looks back on the life-changing effect of hearing a white man read Great Expectations when she was 13 and living on a guerrilla-war–ravaged Pacific island. The first is that Mister Pip is written at a third-grade (roughly 8-year-old) reading level, the same as Mitch Albom’s For One More Day. (A list of U.S. grades and their corresponding ages appears at the end of this review.)

How do I know? I once edited books for a test-prep company and, after finishing Mister Pip, realized that its reading level was much lower that of many books I had edited for elementary-school students. So I entered a page of Jones’s text into my computer, ran the Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics that are part of the spell-checker on Microsoft Word …

Read the rest of Harayda’s post here.

Posted by Chris Routledge Powered by Qumana

Reading and Readers Through the Ages

In celebrity and not-so-celebrity interviews in Sunday newspapers one of the most common questions is a variation on “what books are by your bedside?” It seems we are fascinated by what people read. The Reading Experience Database takes this further, exploring the tastes, attitudes, and experiences of readers between 1450 and 1945. Researcher Shafquat Towheed has been in touch to announce that the previously closed database is now freely available:

Have you ever wanted to know who read Byron in the nineteenth century? Or what first time readers of “Jane Eyre” made of the novel? Or what kind of books servants preferred to read? The Reading Experience Database, the world’s largest archive of the experiences of reading in the British Isles (or by British subjects abroad) from 1450 to 1945, is now available to everyone.

… At present, RED contains nearly 10,000 entries describing the reading habits, tastes and practices of British subjects at home and abroad from 1450 to 1945. The majority of this number have been edited and released for public searching and viewing. During the next year, visitors to RED will be able to conduct general keyword searches across all the fields in the database and will also be able to refine their searches by the century of experience, by the name and gender of the reader, listener or reading group, and by the author and title of the text being read. Searches in a single field or in a combination of these fields will yield significant, interesting and even surprising results!

The project seems to be in constant development and is well worth a bookmark, but it will also improve as the number of participants grows. If you come across written evidence of someone reading, whether in a diary entry, a letter, or any other kind of text, why not record it in the database? The Reading Experience Database can be found here. More information about the project can be found here.

Continung Education: Journey to the Centre of the Book

Amanda Boston writes to remind us of her Continuing Education course ‘Journey to the Centre of the Book’ which will run over five monthly meetings starting Wed 10th October from 2 – 4 p.m at the University of Liverpool. Amanda says:

We’ll explore the significance of place, both real and imaginary, in five wonderful novels spanning a century. Each two hour session will focus on reading, discussing and enjoying a number of selected passages. Jane Austen’s 1816 masterpiece Emma will be our departure point and personally I can’t wait to journey to Highbury and to reacquainte myself, in your company, with Emma Woodhouse, Mr. Knightley and friends.  It would be great if you can read Emma before the first meeting but don’t worry if you can’t manage – copies of the passages, and various other goodies, will be provided.

In subsequent months we’ll be reading Hardy’s Return of the Native, Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, George Eliot’s Middlemarch and finally visiting Joyce’s Dublin in his short story collection The Dubliners.

I am really excited about teaching this course as some of my most vivid reading experiences have been with C. E. classes both as teacher and initially as a student.  looking forward to meeting you.

Here’s the link to Continuing Education at Liverpool. The closing date for signing up is Monday 1 October.

Links We Liked for 21 September 2007

Here are some of our favourite articles and links from across the web in the last week or two:

A quick mention for The Library Project and the book swap taking place at mello mello on Slater Street Liverpool today from 7pm to 9pm.

Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself spending more time reading and researching online, using ‘gated’ services such as JStor but also the excellent Google Books and Google Scholar as well as online newspapers, library catalogues and other sources. One of the problems with that is keeping track of the material. This week I came across Zotero, an addon for the Firefox web browser which not only allows you to store material for reading later but will generate bibliographies, link between research materials and even link with documents elsewhere on your computer. I’m going to be reviewing Zotero over the next few weeks, but in the mean time here’s the link to the website. I recommend taking a look at the tour. You will need to be using Firefox, but but Zotero runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows computers.

I’ve been a fan of Clive James ever since I stumbled across his essay on Raymond Chandler, ‘The Country Behind the Hill’ in the school library circa. 1981. The Times Literary Supplement has a review of his most recent collection of essays Cultural Amnesia that sums up James for me. Despite his broad brush strokes, which can be so frustrating, James, in the words of reviewer Adam Bresnick is an ‘excellent, passionate reader’.

On the subject of detective fiction this week saw a flurry of reviews of Andrew Lycett’s biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This review by Philip Hoare in the Telegraph highlights the paradoxes of Conan Doyle: his creation of an archetypal rational detective versus his spiritualism; his sympathies for groups opposed to Jewish immigration from Germany before World War 1 and for humanitarian causes. It is also a little sniffy:

Holmes was also a Bohemian drug addict and melancholic who sometimes resembles an invention of Oscar Wilde. Indeed, in another of his telling anecdotes, Lycett describes how it was shortly after meeting Wilde that Conan Doyle wrote The Sign of Four – his second Holmes adventure, with its own specifically Wildean character – whilst Wilde went off and wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray.

And finally The Guardian is today running an article on writers’ rooms that is well worth a look, if only to see how diverse writers’ workplaces need to be.

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Paul Muldoon: New Yorker Poetry Editor

The New York Times reports that the New Yorker magazine has appointed Irish poet Paul Muldoon as its poetry editor. The New Yorker is an important magazine for poets, printing work by established and new writers and presenting it to an exacting and influential audience. Muldoon aims to be “absolutely open to the poem that one simply did not expect to have made its way into the world and somehow suddenly falls on one’s desk”. The selection procedure can not have been as easy as David Remnick makes it sound:

“It’s not just a matter of picking the best poet you can think of,” said David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. “It’s also somebody who would know how to be in touch with an enormous range of poets, and that narrows it down a little bit more. And also somebody who’s not in Alaska.”

Mr. Remnick added that the selection of Mr. Muldoon, who had his first poem published when he was just 16, did not represent “some sort of radical aesthetic or theoretical shift.”

He added, “It’s not as if we went from a structuralist to a post-structuralist or a Beat to a conservative.”

Here’s the link to the New York Times article in full.

Cold Pastoral: The Security of Nouns

An item on the radio this morning was discussing the security situation in Iraq and describing the ferocity and ruthlessness of the security services as they struggle with insurgents, snipers, and roadside bombs. Nothing unusual there you might think. Except that there was an insight into the language used by security personnel which was revealing of how deep Iraq’s crisis has become and what it means for us in our comfortable lives. Apparently security personnel are allotted ‘nouns’ to defend, by which they mean ‘people, places, and things’, an elementary school definition from years ago. Of course linguists no longer limit their definition of ‘noun’ to these three items. Are the security services no longer defending ‘freedom’ or ‘democracy’? What about ‘beauty’ or ‘truth’?

This seems a withdrawal of sorts and a sign of desperation. Or perhaps our appointed forces are simply not able to comprehend–through stupidity or lack of education or both–the complexities of what they are really protecting. Either way this is a frightening tell-tale. When you are reduced to defending people and property alone you have reached the back of the cave and there is no way out. Though he could not have anticipated the horrors of twenty-first century guerilla warfare, Keats knew a thing or two about how limited this world-view is and what its human consequences might be:

Ode On a Grecian Urn

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thou express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunt about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal – yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

1819

Posted by Chris Routledge

Reader Editor Guest Blogging

In the run-up to the publication of his book on Bernard Malamud Reader editor Philip Davis has been blogging for More Intelligent Life. Here’s a roundup of his provocative and interesting posts over the last few days:

In which I am bored by otherness. A post that will strike a chord with many academics for whom conferences involve sitting through papers that seem to be driven by a need to insert the current buzz-words rather than discussing the real issues.

God’s blog. Reflecting on the unfinished and unpolished and the need to record the glittering fragments that shine through.

I Was Brodsky’s Minder. A highly amusing post about the visit of poet Joseph Brodsky to Liverpool.

Out Loud. On the joy to be had from reading aloud.

Bootstrapping. In his fifth post Philip Davis reflects on the role of the artist and the True Gospel of Otherness.

Posted by Chris Routledge

 

Sylvia Plath Reads ‘Daddy’

This astonishing short film in which Sylvia Plath reads her poem ‘Daddy’ comes as quite a surprise. Not only does she sound quite unlike I imagined–she could have stepped right out of The Philadelphia Story–but her delivery of the poem is remarkably accomplished. Poets are not always the best readers of their work, but Plath’s own reading is tremendously complex and fragile, for all its force and coldness:

Cheltenham Literature Festival 2007

The Reader is going to this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival to bring you news from the festival direct to this blog. The focus of this year’s festival is ‘What does change mean to us?’ and there will be reports on the dynamic debates, critical conversations and inspiring ideas that the festival guests have to offer. The festival is up on our calendar and I’ll add specific events as tickets are confirmed. Hopefully I’ll be able to interview some of the speakers formally (although I look forward with great anticipation to ‘bumping’ into them more informally), to get a unique insight into their experiences of the festival and ask how important books and reading are to their lives. I’ll be jumping at every opportunity to ask the literary folk in Cheltenham for their book recommendations, top tips on who to keep an eye on and will report it all back via The Reader Online. The best way to get updates is to subscribe our RSS feed.

By Jen Tomkins