For the last few years, The Paris Review has cohosted The Norwegian-American Literary Festival, gathering a small group of American and Norwegian writers and critics for a series of informal lectures, interviews, discussions, and music. We’re proud to announce this year’s festival itinerary: coming to New York for three nights this month, May 19, 20, and 21. All the events below are free and open to the public. We hope to see you there! And yes—that guy in the picture (Torgny Amdam of the Fun Stuff, featuring James Wood on drums) will be performing, too. Read More
- In which James Wood discusses “smarty-pants tone,” his revised opinion on David Foster Wallace, and erasing the distinction between pleasure and analysis: “At exactly the moment that I wanted really to write, and started writing poems and then trying to write bad fiction, I was reading with a view to learning stuff. I was reading poetry. How did Auden do his stanza forms? And I was trying to copy those. What’s a successful poem, what’s an unsuccessful poem? … What’s a good sentence? I don’t think I’ve changed. I am as sincerely interested in novels that fail as I am in novels that succeed. I just want to work them out. It’s a pleasure for me actually.”
- Who doesn’t love a good moral panic? In today’s advanced society, hardly a decade can pass without the populace whipping itself into a righteous lather over something or other—the eighties’ day-care abuse scandals stand as an especially potent reminder of our ability to delude ourselves, and the consequences of this delusion. Richard Beck’s We Believe the Children remembers the madness: “Jennifer went to regular one-on-one meetings with a therapist named Miriam, who also saw other children who had been allegedly abused at the day care. Miriam used dolls to demonstrate sex acts and then asked Jennifer to affirm that these things had happened to her. ‘I remember getting massive headaches,’ Jennifer said. ‘And I remember Miriam saying, “Say this happened to you, it did, it did”—repeatedly—“it did, didn’t it?”’ Over and over again.”
- The Japanese poet Sagawa Chika died, in 1936, before she’d even turned twenty-five—and before a long period of cultural upheaval in which her work quickly fell out of favor. “But over the past decade, her work has enjoyed a revival among contemporary Japanese poets, and it has begun to appear in English … Sagawa used free verse to explore her interiority through imagery: rather than relying on traditional forms, she expressed an individual relationship with the world and with nature … the body frequently becomes alien, distant, and threatening.”
- The Welsh poet R. S. Thomas, on the other hand, fled modernity in all its guises, embracing instead a thorough, religious misanthropy: “He despised modern consumer culture—talking of ‘the machine’ with its ‘cold brain,’ the yearning for the latest white goods to plug up the spiritual emptiness … He did not want to see an unspoilt spot carpeted in caravan parks and hated that the road to the saints on Bardsey had become ‘a thoroughfare for ice-cream vendors.’ He was enraged to bump into a ‘creature in a bikini’ on a birding trip.”
- Why did Jeff Bezos choose the name Amazon, anyway, all those years ago? “Bezos’s Amazon was not, it turns out, named for a woman warrior, but for the mighty river … Apparently Bezos didn’t take his research that far, or even so far as to consider some relationship between the greatest river in the world and a mythical tribe of female fighters. He began, rather, with the name Cadabra … When his lawyer misheard the word as Cadaver, Bezos was prompted to change the name. He went for the river because of the implication of large scale and because website listings at the time were mostly alphabetical. The A and Z in Amazon didn’t hurt, since it allowed the logo designer to join them with a little yellow arrow, suggesting a place that sells everything from A to Z and also leaves its customers smiling.”
In The Parent Trap—and the German book, Das doppelte Lottchen, on which it’s based—two strangers arrive at a girls’ summer camp only to discover they are identical. “The nerve of her! Coming here with your face!” exclaims one roommate in the 1961 film. Of course, in The Parent Trap, they’re actually twin sisters. But as anyone who’s been compared to someone else knows, just the accident of resemblance is enough to cause an instinctive enmity.
I used to work at a store where this one customer would always remark on how much I looked like some friend of hers. She talked about it every time she came in. The friend was named Jen something. She was a potter. She lived in the Hudson Valley. The customer even brought in another woman to attest to this miraculous phenomenon.
“You may think you’re a unique person walking around in the world,” said the customer one day. (I guess I had thought that.) “But you’re not—you’re a copy of Jen.”
Obviously I had no alternative but to hate this Jen person. I imagine she felt the same way. Read More
I also bought a teach-yourself drums book, carved two sticks, placed some books around me in a circle on the floor, the one on the left was the hi-hat, the one next to it the snare drum, and the three books above the tomtoms. —My Struggle, Book 3
Reporting on a Karl Ove Knausgaard reading last summer, The Baffler wrote that “two young men kept comparing the event to a rock concert and complaining that they should have brought 40s … Knausgaard has become a rock star.” The writer himself has told of a German journalist “who compared me to a rock band. He said, the books don’t really have any focus, it’s just loose, it’s like just having some songs about drinking and they don’t have anything else … he saw pictures of me, he said, ‘You pose like a rock star.’ ”
But all this is soon to leave the realm of mere comparison. On Wednesday and Friday, as part of the Norwegian-American Literary Festival, Knausgaard will play the drums with his reunited college band, Lemen, thus sundering the flimsy membrane that separates him from full-on rock stardom. For this is what rock musicians have done throughout history: sundered membranes. Read More
Next week, we’re delighted to cohost the latest Norwegian-American Literary Festival, a series of readings, conversations, and musical performances coming to New York for three nights. As the events approach, we’ll be telling you more about what’s in store.
On Thursday, May 21, at Chelsea’s 192 Books, James Wood will appear in discussion with four of Norway’s most promising young writers—we’re eager to introduce them to a new audience.
Gunnhild Øyehaug has published poetry, essays, and novels, but she’s perhaps best known for her short collection Knots; “Every story [is] a formal surprise, smart and droll,” Lydia Davis wrote of her stories in the Times Literary Supplement. Her novel Wait, Blink was made into the acclaimed film Women in Oversized Men’s Shirts. She has also worked as a coeditor of the literary journals Vagant and Kraftsentrum. Øyehaug lives in Bergen, where she teaches creative writing.
Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold, from Oslo, is the author of four novels and a collection of poetry; her work have been published in more than twenty languages. An English translation of her novel Monsterhuman will appear from Dalkey Archive Press. Bold, witty, and deeply existential, Monsterhuman is a bildungsroman that turns the story of a young woman’s chronic fatigue syndrome into an intellectual journey, at once grave and comic.
Lars Petter Sveen’s third book, the novel Children of God, made him a household name in Norway. Due in English from Graywolf Press, Children of God is set in the Bethlehem of Biblical times, where multiple narrators who have crossed paths with Jesus tell their stories. Sveen counts Cormac McCarthy among his influences, and his often violent stories present themselves as alternative gospels.
Carl Frode Tiller has written three novels and three plays; he lives in Trondheim and plays in the rock band Kong Ler. His three-volume novel Encirclement tells the story of David, who suffers from memory loss—but also of the nine people who write letters to him trying to remind him who he was, simultaneously questioning and celebrating the act of storytelling.
Again, these writers will appear in conversation with James Wood at 192 Books next Thursday, May 21. The event begins at seven P.M.; it’s free and open to the public. See you there!