“You’re not going to be graded on the language, I don’t care if you comment in emoticons or Harry Potter rebus, Mugglespeak or whatever, just offer some evidence of engagement,” says Cicero Lookins, the fictional “triple token” (“gay, black, and overweight”) of rural Maine’s Baginstock College, a Comp Lit professor doling out guidelines as to how his students ought to write in his seminar, “Disgust and Proximity.” “Put your fingerprints on the thing,” he commands them, demanding substance over style, politics over poetry—engagement.
In his latest novel, Jonathan Lethem—like Cicero—seems less interested in form than in content. Dissident Gardens (Doubleday, 384 pages, $27.95) spans decades, tracks a handful of protagonists, and stands as Mr. Lethem’s most substantive attempt at social realism. Gone here are the Philip K. Dickian fantastical elements and formal experimentations of his earlier novels’ softcore sci-fi. For his debut as a more straightforward realist, Mr. Lethem—still one of our “young writers,” having turned 49 in February—has chosen an appropriately mature theme: ideas, or more accurately, ideology itself.
Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn and a newly published essay collection, The Ecstasy of Influence, granted an interview with Bloomberg News. Asked to comment on his native borough from his new home in sunny California, Mr. Lethem gave the following response:
It’s been made blander, a little more accessible and it’s taken over the world.
Occupy The People's Library
“They’re the precursor of this kind of synthesis of extrainstitutional intellectualism, native to the Internet, native to the city dweller,” said the author of Chronic City, referring to a group of hyper-literate N+1 types running The New Inquiry in an article for The New York Times. Oy.
Under a makeshift metal-and-bamboo arch at Zuccotti Park this week, The Transom spotted a sign proclaiming “The People’s Library” tacked onto a bulletin board below a table fashioned from plastic book bins. Written in sloppy, black Sharpie another pushpin note read: “Jonathan Lethem 11/7 3:30.”
If Jonathan Lethem had gotten his way, his new book, The Ecstasy of Influence (Doubleday, 464 pages, $27.95), would be subtitled “Advertisements for Norman Mailer.” Both titles are borrowed from other writers: The Ecstasy of Influence is a play on literary critic Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence, while the subtitle is lifted from Norman Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself. Mr. Lethem’s editor nixed the Mailer-inspired subtitle in favor of “Nonfictions, etc.,” which is more straightforward, but perhaps not as descriptive of this bursting-at-the-seams collection of essays, profiles, reviews, fictions and juvenilia. As its title suggests, the book explores Mr. Lethem’s many influences, literary and otherwise, but it does so in such a free-wheeling, frank and boisterous fashion that a nod to Mailer seems appropriate. At the very least, the collaged aspect of having one riffed-upon title jammed up against another would have hinted at the cut-and-paste extravaganza inside.
Can a work of art be described as a religious experience at a time when, if not dead, God has at the very least ceded sole proprietorship over that sprawling diocese of human language that for centuries was used to necessarily invoke him?
Painted between 1971 and 1974, the three panels of Simon Dinnerstein’s The Read More
Jonathan Lethem has shipped off to the West Coast but New York magazine recently caught up with the author and pried from his brain this juicy bit of gossip: A musical based on his novel The Fortress of Solitude, with music by Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’s Michael Friedman, has a “hot chance” Read More
A helpful Jonathan Lethem—acting “less like the author himself than the man auditioning to be Jonathan Lethem’s literary executor”—took The Guardian‘s Gaby Wood on a jaunt through Brooklyn, which she chronicled in this Sunday’s paper.
Naturally, gentrification (”’a Nixon word,’ as his parents saw it”) is the theme du jour. But in Read More
If the eerie aerial photograph of Manhattan that graces the cover of Jonathan Lethem’s new novel Chronic City reminds you of something when Doubleday publishes it this October, do not second-guess yourself. It is indeed the same shot that was used on the cover of the first issue of Condé Nast’s Portfolio when that magazine—now Read More
Fall is coming.
In publishing, this signals the start of a season that many believe has the best chance of any in recent memory to redeem the industry after one of its darkest years, and to show that, even in 2009, big, beautiful hit books are still possible.
Many publishers are saying their fall catalogs Read More