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In response to my 11/27 post, a concerned reader writes:  “And yet a little historical perspective is in order. Making a living as a writer of fiction was extremely rare up until the 19th century. Then a combination of factors resulted in a huge market for reading material. This whole fiction thing is just a […]

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Winston Churchill once characterized Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” What would he have made of Vladimir Nabokov? A great prose stylist, but what did he mean by it all? In interviews, when asked about the meaning of his work, he would vehemently deny any meaning at all. He claimed […]

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1949 seems to have been the crucial year.  I’m still reading Windblown World, and it has been fascinating to watch the development of Kerouac’s thinking and writing.  In ’49, in the midst of getting The Town and the City ready for publication, the writer whom we know as Jack Kerouac is emerging from his chrysalis.  […]

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A reader (who defined herself as ‘a young 83’) wrote to me last week to let me she was enjoying The Great American Desert, and when I asked her what it was about it that she enjoyed she replied as follows: Mostly I love the book because it is  ‘clean’. Call me old fashioned but […]

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Possibly the most astonishing thing, for me anyway, about Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano is that it has managed to fly under my radar for so long.  I’ve been obsessed with it this past week, and have been doing some research, and have found, among other things, that it is rated as the 11th best […]

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Virginia Woolf, as near as I can tell, never finished what is widely considered one of the greatest novels ever written.  Tom Eliot had been praising it to the skies, and maybe, she says, that is why she admittedly approached Ulysses with a chip on her shoulder.  Then she had trouble getting into it, and […]

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Jack Kerouac’s motto is supposed to have been “first thought = best thought.”  I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that he thought up a lot of other mottos before settling on that zippy little nugget of wisdom.  Kerouac was even more of a liar than is usual with writers; he even lied about his methods […]

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My extended tour of early 20th century English writing continues to be both amusing and instructive.  I don’t know of any other time and place in which writers were thinking and talking and writing so extensively about writing.  In London you had the Bloomsberries and the anti-Bloomsberries duking it out in magazines, newspapers, lecture halls, […]

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