The following question seems like an appropriate one for these strange and depressing times: How should we read Kafka? “Let’s start with one overwhelming impression that we get from him: Kafka always seems excessively reasonable. However odd his subject matter may be, everything is carefully explained, with great attention to detail.”

Dan Chiasson praises Max Ritvo’s “enduring lyricism.” I think Ritvo’s work is a bit overhyped because of his early death, but it’s still worth reading: “A poet whose début appears after his death inhabits time in a loopy way. We now have two new volumes of Ritvo’s work, fresh pranks played at time’s expense, prepared by two of his beloved friends and teachers. The Final Voicemails (Milkweed), edited by Louise Glück, includes a selection of astonishing new poems and a version of Ritvo’s undergraduate thesis, Mammals. And Sarah Ruhl, a playwright and Pulitzer Prize nominee, has compiled Letters from Max: A Book of Friendship (Milkweed), a strange and beautiful volume made up of Ruhl’s correspondence with Ritvo, including poems they inspired in each other. Together, these books suggest that Ritvo’s legacy, like Emily Dickinson’s, will resemble not a solemn monument but a vibrant workshop, left open for readers to explore.”

In praise of literature’s insignificant characters: “I enjoy Barbara Pym’s extra, excellent women; I relax as Judith Hearne slides into alcoholism and despair; I grumble along with the Underground Man; I follow Bernanos’s country priest as he struggles to minister to a parish that really would rather he didn’t. Even in more sweepingly ambitious novels, there’s usually one or two mediocrities flitting about, sad and self-conscious, and I attach myself to them. Madame Bovary, Gustav Flaubert’s novel of a beautiful, restless woman who marries a dull but good man and slowly destroys both of them, is itself a kind of tribute to insignificance.”

Buy a copy of Oscar Wilde’s manuscripts of The Picture of Dorian Gray for only $250.

The Danish Tolstoy: “Henrik Pontoppidan rules over the province of Danish letters with a grey-bearded authority akin to Leo Tolstoy’s or Henry James’s. The author of three sweeping epics, Det Fortjættede Land (The Promised Land, 1891–1895), Lykke-Per (A Fortunate Man, 1898–1904), and De Dødes Rige (The Kingdom of the Dead, 1912­–1916), he was awarded the 1917 Nobel Prize for Literature, an honor he shared with his exact contemporary, the now little-read Karl Gjellerup. Ernst Bloch admired him, and Georg Lukács likened his novelistic achievement to Flaubert’s. On the occasion of his seventieth birthday in 1927, Pontoppidan was lauded by Thomas Mann in an open letter to the Danish newspaper Politiken, describing him as ‘a full-blooded storyteller who scrutinizes our lives and society so intensely that he ranks within the highest class of European writers.’ In August, a cinematic adaption of Lykke-Per by the Academy-Award winning director Billie August opened in Danish theaters. And yet, Pontoppidan’s writing has remained almost entirely unavailable to English-language readers.”

Essay of the Day:

Andrew Ferguson reads all the bestsellers featuring Donald Trump so you don’t have to. It's kind of like watching cable news:

“I seldom look at the New York Times bestseller list, and when I glanced at it a couple of months ago I remembered why. Aside from a pop-science book by the astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, there wasn’t anything on it I would want to read, ever. I paged through the top 10 on the bestseller shelf at my local Barnes & Noble. There was a memoir by a writer in her thirties about her long struggle to do something worth writing a memoir about; a plump sermon on national piety called, of course, The Soul of America; a book about opioids. And six books about Donald Trump. Evidently Trump has swallowed up the book-publishing industry the way he has swallowed up everything else. I bought all six, along with another by Ann Coulter, whose new book about Trump has failed to make the list. I like Ann and she looked lonely.

“Once upon a time, it was common for TV shows, their plots and stories, to be spun off from books. Today books are just as likely to be spun off from TV shows. This is particularly true of political books, which follow the protocols laid down by the chat’n’grunt fare of cable news. The book buyers are mainly TV watchers, and the books they buy are meant to be rewarding in the way they must find cable news rewarding: They’re fast-paced, personal, one-sided, exaggerated, confident, dubious. They are well suited for an era superintended by a man who is both the chief consumer and most notable creation of MSNBC, CNN, and, preeminently, Fox.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Bubble Nebula

Poem: Phillis Levin, “Duel of Roses”

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