Posted by: zhiv | January 25, 2009

Catching Up On Different Strands

I’m happily watching President Obama get started on the new job and seeing the gears of government shift and move.  Work seems to be in an early-part-of-the-year flurry, engaging and stressful.  I was mildly surprised to see Revolutionary Road suffer a cruel snub from the Academy, but that’s the way it goes sometimes, and you have to admit that it’s par for the Richard Yates course.  From the literary point of view, the movie did its job, putting RevRoad and Yates on the bestseller list for the first time, and generating massive growth in awareness.  The only “loser” in the snub is probably Sam Mendes.  None of us needs to worry about Kate and Leo or Scott Rudin.  The studio will lose millions of dollars, as the release pattern was timed towards receiving Oscar nominations and perhaps winning awards, so that’s a disaster, but it’s just investment money and a very solid library title that will hang around for a long time–and the millions in production and marketing spending will do their job in raising Yates awareness, and they’re a drop in the bucket in the overall economic picture, when we’re reading about Merrill Lynch handing out 4 billion in bonuses and then taking vast amounts of TARP money to gain solvency.  Bailout funds for filming devastating literary dramas–that’s what we need.  I had been hoping to finish reading Yates before the Oscars–this is after not making it through by the end of the year, but I didn’t start on Yates until March–but I’ll get to it in good time, and we’ll just wait out this next phase and let things settle.

I didn’t make it through Sundquist’s book on Dr. King over the historic long weekend, and now it feels like that book might be holding me back this week.  But writing this I can’t be sure–it’s still perched tenuously at the top of the stack.  Some new acquisitions this week–I really should write about my little library here at some point–three handsome Janet Malcolm books, nice copies of Freud Archives and Reading Chekhov, along with The Silent Woman, which I haven’t read.  I want to reread Freud Archives, over 20 years later, and I’m using Reading Chekhov as a study guide, but I dipped into Silent Woman and I can already tell that it’s a compelling study of biography.  But the new book I’m most excited about is a copy of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, $20 in very good condition on, a beefy tome that will anchor the Af-AmerLit shelf for a long time.

I want to chat about Chekhov in a moment, but I’ll first mention the happy discovery of a treasure trove that should put me back into the Leslie Stephen business.  On one of my first days back at work a couple of weeks ago I stumbled onto a file box which happened to contain a few thick folders holding all of the xeroxed 300+ lives that Stephen wrote for the DNB.  I thought I might have recycled them, and I was ecstatic to discover that I was wrong.  If you read my initial post on getting started on the LS biography project, you might remember that I was on a short ration with a collection of 10 lives, and I went from Carlyle and feeling good about the project to stalling out on Milton.  Now I’ve got a very broad selection and I’m hoping to get started with some short, fun and engaging examples to try to build up a head of steam.  As always, we’ll just have to see how that goes.

And I also did a quick bit of Louis Menand research, and this seems like a good place to discuss it.  I found another “treasure trove” (is there any kind of trove that doesn’t have treasure?) at

The Essential Menand:

It’s a great bit of culling–the profiles of the three guys who set it up are rather striking, part of the rising generation that Reads and Cares–and puts good stuff up online.  As they say over at one of the political blogs I read, FireDogLake (emptywheel is zhiv’s #1 favorite blogger):  more, please.  It was interesting to see that I had read at least a few essays from the lengthy list of Menand’s New Yorker articles, without knowing that I was reading Menand.  Now I need a copy of American Studies, but not until I finish reading The Metaphysical Club (TMC), which got bumped by King’s Dream.  And I’ll take another look at the Kerouac article to refresh my memory.  But the main thing is that the answer is yes, Menand is writing a book about “the art and thought of the Cold War from 1945 to 1965,” emerging from a course he has taught at Harvard.  This is something to look forward to, and I’m almost more curious about Menand’s book tour and promotional efforts, the Pulitzer winner getting out there as a public intellectual.  I have to look at the Essential list to see if there are other post-war (cold war or post war? zeitgeist or Weltanshauung–now that I know how to spell it I never want to stop) essays that might be part of the upcoming book–there should be lots of material.  And since we know about Kerouac and Mailer, I wonder how Mary McCarthy, Truman Capote and Richard Yates might factor in, along with others.  I still want to post my Warhol and Capote essay, which I didn’t do last week.   It would have been interesting to see Menand take the Yates assignment, rather than James Wood, but it would be best to have both of them.  Another question is how the Essential list doesn’t go much before 2000, although there are ways to find more work in it.  And Menand’s TS Eliot book–not something I feel like rushing out to read, but it’s probably excellent–was published in 1987.  I like how he is a Boston kid who came out here to California to go to Pomona College:  well played.  Getting his PhD from Columbia in 1980, 1980-90 is kind of a blank in what I’ve figured out so far, but it seems to cover the period when he was building his academic career, starting with teaching at Princeton.  And it looks as if he wrote for The New Republic before going to the New Yorker.  I also see that his father, MIT Political Science Professor Louis Menand III, died early last year, so he has our sympathies.  And I’ll finish by noting that the first article I read, not surprisingly, was

this one about Hollywood and Blockbusters.  It’s a good in-depth view of the business, still mostly true though it could be updated:  things change fast around here.

I said that I was going to chat about Chekhov.  I think that’s because I’m a little nervous about writing about Chekhov.  Not much new to be said about the Master, but sometimes we bloggers just have to rush fearlessy into the virtual breach and do our best.  I’m reading stories mentioned in Janet Malcolm’s book (I made my list), in no particular order, and also trying to read about Alexei Suvorin.  I read “Gooseberries” and a couple of Chekhov letters to Suvorin earlier in the week, and then had the happy accident of reading “The Man in the Case” next, which has the same framing characters as Gooseberries, and Case prompted a reflection from my own little sunny but gray world, which should give me some traction for getting started.


  1. It apears this zhiving thing has reached its first birthday. Born January 26, 2008, happy birthday Zhiv!

  2. I love the idea of using Malcolm’s book (which I just recently acquired!) as a study guide, reading the stories as she mentions them. (Similar to what I’m doing with Woolf and Julia Briggs’s book.) And if bloggers had to be original in what they said, I’d be in trouble! Fortunately a lot of the time I have no idea what others have said, so I don’t know if I’m repeating them. That’s what’s fun about writing outside my area of expertise.

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