The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Tinkers’

Award-Winning Novels; Fighting Procrastination

November 5, 2010 | by

I was having this argument with my friend recently about award-winning novels. I find them stodgy and inaccessible. She thinks I’m not applying myself to the pages long enough to get it. In defense, I invoked a literary heavyweight—Martin Amis. He was quoted a few weeks ago as saying, “There was a great fashion in the last century, and it’s still with us, of the unenjoyable novel. And these are the novels which win prizes, because the committee thinks, ‘Well it’s not at all enjoyable, and it isn’t funny, therefore it must be very serious.’” She tried to tell me that Amis has sour grapes from his Booker Prize near-miss in the early nineties. We need someone to settle this. —Paul Hawkins

It may have been sour grapes, but don’t you think Amis is right? The worst is when the judges of literary prizes try to legislate from the bench—flexing their “muscle” by giving a prize to some book that nobody’s ever heard of, or passing over a popular favorite because it’s “too obvious” or “doesn’t need it.” As I wrote the other week, when it comes to literary merit (or sex appeal) there is no such thing as too obvious. And most unfun novels are not much good. My heart sinks when I see a list of unknowns as finalists for a prize I care about. It is usually a case of committee work or telling people what they ought to like (and already know they don’t).Then there are wonderful exceptions, like Tinkers, a fine novel rescued from obscurity by the Pulitzer Prize. Or—a very different case—the most recent recipient of the Nobel, Mario Vargas Llosa, a writer who has been accused of many things, but never of being hard to read.

Read More »


A Week in Culture: Jesse Moss, Filmmaker

September 8, 2010 | by

DAY ONE, Solomon Islands

I’m on a flight from Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, to Brisbane, going home after a week long shoot for the World Health Organization. I’m finishing James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, which my mother gave me just before I left. It’s a surprisingly good companion, and I return to it every night in my hotel room. On the nightstand next to me is an industrial sized can of Raid bug-spray that comes complimentary with every room in the hotel. They’ve just had elections here, and downstairs by the hotel pool, local pols are as plentiful as the bugs, drinking SolBeer and plotting the political future of the country.

A storm came through the night before, and when I stepped out on my balcony in the morning, I could see, for the first time, an island in the distance. It’s Tulaghi. And the body of water that separates us is called Iron Bottom Sound. It’s the gravesite of a huge number of American and Japanese warships. My wife’s grandfather was in the First Marine Division when they fought here, on Guadalcanal, in 1943. So I feel a strange and distant personal connection to the place.

Filming in the jungle, I see a man with a machete on a forty-foot pole. Jesus Christ. He’s cutting Betel Nut, and chewing it. He smiles at me, a mouthful of stained red teeth. I’m reminded of Michener’s Bloody Mary. I stand under the tree with my camera and pray a betel nut doesn’t fall on my head.

Michener’s book was the basis for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which I’ve never seen. I ask my colleague Elsie, a native islander, where Bali H’ai is and she gives me a blank look. I feel like a fool for asking. I stare at the map of the island chain in her office, hoping it will materialize magically, like Tulaghi, while a mechanic tries to repair our rental car. Later, while photographing the boat harbor in Honiara, I suppress a strong urge to book one-way passage on a local freighter to the remote islands of the Western Province. Read More »


Staff Picks: Sinner Semester, Tony Judt

August 20, 2010 | by

Raced through a great book this week, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose. He took a semester off from Brown and went undercover at Falwell's Liberty University. The portrait he paints of the place is nuanced and fascinating. —Caitlin Roper

I was amazed to learn, from the strangers at Wolfram Research, that the best hangman word is not “syzygy” but “jazz.” And by the inimitable Jed Perl on Salvador Dali and his “cosmic junkyards,” and what one presumes will be Tony Judt’s last published essay. And, finally, anyone caught up in the resurgent moralistic fuss over steroids and baseball should read Eric Walker’s definitive and dismissive “Steroids, Other ‘Drugs,’ and Baseball.” —David Wallace-Wells

The Burdens of Manliness,” an article in the summer 2010 Harvard Journal of Law and Gender. John M. Klang makes an amusing disclaimer: “I am sure to provoke disbelieving groans from some of the thoughtful readers of this Journal … I should add at the outset, however, that mine is neither a contrived joke borne of some middle-aged fraternity dare nor a stale plea left over from the sensitive troglodyte yearnings of the 1980s Men’s Movement.” —Daisy Atterbury

Seeing as Tom McCarthy's new novel, C, is coming out in a few weeks, I thought it might be worth re-reading his last, Remainder. It was. In contrast to many recent "novels of ideas," McCarthy doesn't discuss concepts and theories: he sets them in motion, in a way only the narrative arts can—leaving the discussion for his readers. A beautifully rendered work. —Mark de Silva

Finally picked up Paul Harding's Tinkers, the tiny book from Bellevue Literary Press that won the Pulitzer last year. I recommend it. —Thessaly La Force

I've been slowly making my way through The Magic Mountain. For the length of an entire subway ride, I can escape to a European sanatorium, where six-course meals are served by dwarves, young ladies whistle with their nitrogen-inflated lungs, and naps on reclining deck chairs are mandatory. —Miranda Popkey

Rereading The Beautiful and Damned. Why? Because there it was at St. Mark's Books, and there I was late for a haircut with nothing to read—and because, really, what could be better? —Lorin Stein