Musings on books and the book business by an opinionated, somewhat cynical, yet optimistic bookseller.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Call for Elizabeth Hardwick Information
Elizabeth Hardwick, the doyen of the New York Review of Books, died earlier this month at the age of 91. Her literary legacy was vast, but she was best known as a critic and essayist. She descried the failings of book reviews in the late 1950s, and as a reaction to it and a newspaper strike that had knocked The New York Times Book Review out of circulation, co-founded The New York Review of Books with her husband, the poet Robert Lowell, and others.
Her marriage to Lowell was famously troubled. He was beset by manic depression, in an age when there weren't great treatment options, and he frequently took off with other women during his manic bouts. The relationship reached its low point when Lowell published The Dolphin, a collection that set many of Hardwick's anguished letters and phone calls in sonnet form.
In addition to four volumes of essays, Hardwick also published several novels, including the autobiographical Sleepless Nights in 1979. She was a common participant in literary prize juries for decades. Most notably, she championed Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow as a member of the 1974 Pulitzer fiction committee; the choice was rejected by the Pulitzer board, and no prize was given that year.
What most impresses me about Hardwick is the variety of topics that she was able to write about with great intelligence, originality and wit. She was from Kentucky, and that aspect of her personality never seems to have gotten lost, despite her time in New York. In researching this entry, I came across a wonderful article she wrote for The New York Review of Books late in her life about horse racing in Kentucky, titled Celebrities. It was the last thing I expected to find, but it all made sense given her background as a Kentucky belle.
My former college professor, advisor and mentor, Sonya Jones, who is now at the University of Kentucky, is beginning the arduous and hopefully exhilarating task of writing a biography of Hardwick. I believe that Sonya, a poet herself, is the perfect person for this task. Sonya's literary sensibilities and her shared Kentucky background with Hardwick bode well. I can hardly wait for the publication.
Alas, there is much to be done. Sonya is gathering information, and asked for my help in spreading the word. She would like to hear from writers, editors and publishers who knew Hardwick or had contact with her or Robert Lowell. Sonya Jones can be contacted at email@example.com.
Top 10 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. 2000. White Teeth by Zadie Smith. 2000. Atonement by Ian McEwan. 2002. Any Human Heart by William Boyd. 2003. The Known World by Edward P. Jones. 2003. Snow by Orhan Pamuk. 2004. On Beauty by Zadie Smith. 2005. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. 2006. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. 2007. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. 2007.
Other Favorites The Inventory by Gila Lustiger. 2000. The Human Stain by Philip Roth. 2000. Erasure by Percival Everett. 2001. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. 2001. Spies by Michael Frayn. 2002. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. 2002. Nowhere Man by Aleksandar Hemon. 2002. Roscoe by William Kennedy. 2002. American Woman by Susan Choi. 2003 The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. 2003. Sabbath Creek by Judson Mitcham. 2004. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. 2004. The In Between World of Vikram Lall by M.G. Vassanji. 2004. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud. 2006. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. 2006. After This by Alice McDermott. 2006. Echo Maker by Richard Powers. 2006. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. 2007. Peace by Richard Bausch. 2008. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. 2008. Border Songs by Jim Lynch. 2009. Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. 2009. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. 2009. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. 2009. All Other Nights by Dara Horn. 2009.
My Favorite New Books
My Abandonment by Peter Rock. A girl and her father live off the land in Portland's Forest Park in this novel that is based on a true story. Told through the eyes of the young girl, it's a poetic work revealing our connection to the natural world. True Confections by Katharine Weber. Zip's Candy is the setting for this outstanding satire. Alice, who turns out to be an unreliable narrator, details the company's history and her own place in its scandalous past. New World Monkeys by Nancy Mauro. The death of a boar, a pervert trying to perfect his craft, and the unearthing of the bones of a murder victim are just a few of the plot elements in this comic debut.
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. Shortly after World War II, a young Irish girl is forced by her family to emigrate to Brooklyn. Cut off from all that she knows she finds love at Dodgers games and Coney Island in this subtle but suspenseful novel.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Phillippe Petit's remarkable 1974 tight-rope walk between the World Trade Center towers is the jumping off point (pun intended) of this novel of love, loss and beautiful convergences in a gritty New York City.
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. Nothing is as it seems in this brilliant bizarre novel set in an almost recognizable New York City. The revelations at the end left me reeling although I knew that surprises were lurking. Another novel with shades of Saul Bellow. Border Songs by Jim Lynch. Hilarious novel about a strange border agent on the Canadian border. Lynch effortlessly tells the story from several points of view including the criminal, the cops and everyone in between.
The Signal by Ron Carlson. An adventure and a love story set in the pristine mountains of Wyoming. A sense of both hope and foreboding hangs over the sparse narrative.
Wanting by Richard Flanagan. This historical novel featuring both Charles Dickens and the explorer John Franklin is really a meditation on desire and what was thought to separate the civilized from the barbarians.
Woodsburner by John Pipkin. Henry David Thoreau burned down the Concord Woods before he wrote Walden. This novel explores that incident from several different perspectives, including a bookseller who is forced to sell porn to stay in business.
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. A British Bellow with a West Indian cricket fiend cast as a Chicago University Professor. Humboldt plays cricket. Chicagoby Alaa Al Aswany. Egyptian students and their professors try to navigate America in this magnificent novel set in the heart of contemporary Chicago.
Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont. A haunting novel about the seductive power of friendship.
Wifeshoppingby Steven Wingate. Thirteen great short stories of men sabotaging their relationships.