As a longtime Zadie Smith fan, I began my journey into Swing Time, her latest novel, with a certain degree of expectation. I anticipated to be entertained, that there would be points where I laughed and, as a testament to the complexity of her writing, for there also to be moments in the book when I cried. I did not however, expect to feel intense irritation, almost to the point of hatred. The plot of Swing Time is effectively split into two. The first revolves around the childhood friendship of two girls tied together by their similar skin tones and mutual love of dance.
The day following Donald Trump’s election, protests broke out on college campuses across the country and Cornell was no exception. Students came together across campus to showcase their collective rage, terror and sadness. These sentiments are just; I shared all of them and questioned our country’s future alongside my classmates. Yet another question continued to nag at my mind: how detached from reality are we? Little effort is needed to recognize the political correctness on college campuses.
My mother has a way of using gifts to assign required reading. She marks the inside sleeve with the month and year in which the task was handed down, and a little note reminding me who gave it. There’s a small mountain of these books out there, if you can find them. It’s really not an unreasonable tactic, and certainly not one that I resent. Coercion is, after all, the most direct thruway to the part of my brain with buttons and levers for doing things.
I sat in a cafe on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. My copy of The Goldfinch rested on the table next to a steaming pot of Genmaicha tea. A bookshelf spanned one of the walls of the cafe, putting on show the well-worn books with tattered covers and dog-eared pages. Looking up, plants and exposed lightbulbs hung from the ceiling. In this little space, I could escape from the frigid December air and hectic noise of the city and forget about everything except for the book in front of me.
And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead is a documentary about the American Beat poet Bob Kaufman, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Billy Woodberry. It was first released in Portugal last fall, but it will start showing at the MoMA this Friday. Although I haven’t seen it, what I can glean from reviews is that it is an honest attempt to make a substantial, non-fictional account of Kaufman’s life — which was a tough one in many ways. This profound aspect of the film is enough to merit approval, or at the very least, foster significant interest. Bob Kaufman’s poems are unique.
Blake Butler’s 300,000,000 will churn stomachs, induce headaches and inspire bewilderment and consternation. For the diligent reader who pushes past its exhaustive 455 page span, it will provoke such a range of emotional responses that one would not be wrong to think it able to cull the entire spectrum of conceivable sensations. In fact, this is exactly what the novel intends to do with nearly every sort of living experience packed into its grafting language and phantasmagoric plot. After finishing the book, the usual questions ran through my mind: What did Butler try to accomplish here? Was he successful?
Jacopo della Quercia’s recently released novel License to Quill places literary legends William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe in a narrative derived from contemporary spy thrillers such as the James Bond series. When William Shakespeare is approached by Guy Fawkes to help in the infamous Gunpowder Plot, the playwright is forced to work undercover with the group of conspirators, infiltrating their plans until the treasonous act ultimately fails. Christopher Marlowe deals with the foreign implications of the Gunpowder Plot in Italy. The story, outlandish to the novel’s 17th Century setting, serves to provide an interesting glimpse of the two writers’ personalities and eccentricities as understood through historical sources and their own works. The narrative begins on a stormy night in London around May 30, 1593 — the reported date of Christopher Marlowe’s untimely death.
There’s nothing that compares to the sensation of opening a beautiful novel, of occupying an alternate world for 240 pages, of feeling depressingly connected to people who don’t even exist, of spending entire nights reading because you can’t bear to leave your characters in the night. This week, fellow columnist and former editor, Sean Doolittle ’16 wrote about the limited scope of the Arts section, citing music as our go-to topic. As this is my final column of the semester, I wanted nothing more than to speak about something else, to reflect my personal love of literature, and re-assert Sean’s opinion that art, in all forms, conventional or not, easy or demanding, should be appreciated. After an exhausting and mentally tasking day, most people just want to de-stress. This is where shitty TV comes in — it’s engaging enough to keep you watching, but it kind of feels like eating a bag of Doritos: simultaneously satisfying and sickening.
Would-be writers are a dime a dozen: every other English major, it seems, wants to be the next Faulkner. Those with talent may find themselves in an MFA program, and the lucky few will have a story published here and there in a small journal. But success like that enjoyed by Tea Bajraktarevic grad, who recently sold the rights to her first novel The Tiger’s Daughter to Dial Press (to be published next year), is rare indeed. Tea, who writes under the name Tea Obreht and whose first publication will be a story in The Atlantic Monthly’s summer fiction issue, sat down with The Sun to discuss death in the Balkans, the merits of MFAs and being stoked about success.
The Sun: When did you start writing?
Yesterday The Washington Post printed the last edition of its eminent Book World, the weekly insert that stood as one of the country’s best book reviews. The story is what we’ve come to expect from print media today: plummeting subscription, faltering ad revenue, disappearing profits. Considered alongside the recent deaths of the Los Angeles Times’ and Chicago Tribune’s print book reviews, this seems to be the death knell for the form.