Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Books On the Web

Perhaps the biggest news I've come across recently in the book world is Dmitry Nabokov's decision to go against his father's wishes and preserve The Original of Laura, the great novelist's last unfinished novel. The novel is currently in "138 handwritten index cards" and nowhere near the level of precision that Nabokov demanded of his own prose. I've always been of two minds about the issue because there is something to be said for respecting someone's dying wishes. At the same time, as long as readers and reviewers maintain an appropriate perspective on the text (and probably even if they don't), there isn't much chance that any damage will come to Nabokov's status as one of the great writers of the twentieth century.

Kurt Vonnegut was one of the important writers in my intellectual development. In my early teens, his works led me to a level of curiosity and criticism I had not encountered in my other reading and he demonstrated that one could be intelligent and funny at the same time. His death will begin the process of evaluating his place in American literature and this article about Cat's Cradle by Benjamin Kunkel, author of Indecision, is a good start.

Finally, (for today) Peter Matthiessen author of Far Tortuga, has released a one volume "recension," to use Michael Dirda's phrase from his article "Epic of the Everglades" included in the New York Review of Books RSS feed on this blog, of his three linked novels Killing Mr. Watson, Lost Man's River, and Bone by Bone. It is called Shadow Country: A New Rendering of the Watson Legend. It's a strange activity to me, to take a work that you've already finished, hack it up and represent it as a new (and 40 dollar in hardcover) work, but the passages that Dirda quotes in his article are so brilliant as to dispel any debate in my head about the legitimacy of the project.

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