quinta-feira, 31 de maio de 2012

Angel Time by Anne Rice Book review From Mike Sullivan


Angel Time by Anne Rice
Book review From Mike Sullivan

 

The Bottom Line

If only she had given it more time. Anne Rice, renowned mistress of the modern vampire and accomplished author, tackles another fantastic realm in Angel Time. A distraught assassin is asked by one from the realms of the heavens to join the other side. He does. And then they go back via "angel time" to shape another's history. This could have been an intriguing origin to a potential new series. Instead, it reveals glimpses of better stories, but the main storyline doesn't excite like the speed of light.

Pros

  • Rice writes with a strong attention to detail.
  • The two stories told in retrospect (Toby's and Fluria's) are haunting and moving.
  • There's potential here...

Cons

  • ...but Rice needs a new storytelling approach to make this read as dynamic and mysterious as needed.
  • There's not enough menace or action to warrant an angel needing an assassin for the mission.
  • Rice should have studied a real thriller's pacing & dialogue to make this thriller crackle.

Description

  • 'Angel Time' by Anne Rice was published in October 2009.
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • 268 pages

Guide Review - 'Angel Time' by Anne Rice - Book Review

The first half of Angel Time deals with Toby O'Dare's first-person confessions of atheism and assassination until an angel drops in and forces his beliefs to change through a revelatory travel down memory lane. This takes the first 130 pages or so. The other 135 pages deal with Toby's mission for the good side as the angel goes on a different travel with him back in time to help a Jewish family from being killed during the Dark Ages.
The angel's recollection of Toby O'Dare's fall from faith and into hired killer is a good read. So is the Jewish Fluria's confession of how she had twin girls with a man who became a Christian. These stories are both told in retrospect, and they showcase Rice's strong ability to tell a good tale. Why she didn't focus more on these stories may be the fault of her editor or a lack of time. Rice has the potential for two novels worth of sin and redemption in the stories of Toby and Fluria. The strong characters, symbolism and well-earned empathy would have been a pleasure to sit with longer and ponder, like the angels who reflect on these things.
Instead, we get the shortened versions with the forced ""angel time" storytelling device to connect the tales. In the end, it all feels a bit shallow. Toby's first-person narrative feels too fake, too often including weak emotional leaps and trite dialogue.

http://bestsellers.about.com/od/fictionreviews/gr/angel_time.htm

Love in the Time of Cholera Movie Review A ‘Love’ Story That's Hard to Like By Rebecca Murray


Love in the Time of Cholera Movie Review
A ‘Love’ Story That's Hard to Like

By Rebecca Murray, About.com Guide

Directed by Mike Newell (Mona Lisa Smile) and adapted from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel by Ronald Harwood (Being Julia), Love in the Time of is a surprisingly passionless love story. Flitting back and forth between five decades and littered with supporting players who come and go with little explanation, Love in the Time of Cholera takes what appears to be a very simple plot and twists it into a convoluted tale focused on characters that simply aren’t that interesting.

The Story
A man never stops loving one woman for five decades, although he shows his undying loyalty to his unrequited love by bedding 600 others in her stead. During those same five decades, the object of his desire weds a distinguished doctor noted for taking care of cholera patients. She has one, maybe two – or it could be three or four – children, but never achieves happiness in life. After dozens of years she figures out she might have been better off with the young man whose proposal she accepted and then rejected. The end. Stretch that story over two hours and 15 minutes and you’ve got the clunky, confusing yet sporadically entertaining Love in the Time of Cholera.

The Cast
Javier Bardem stars as Florentino, the man whose unfailing love leaves him in emotional turmoil as well as feeling physically ill at times. Falling in love with Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) the instant he sets eyes on her, Florentino spends his entire adult life mooning over the woman who spurned his advances. As the lovesick Florentino, Bardem’s expressive face suits his character’s forlorn demeanor. Bardem brings the film to life in fits and starts as he wiles away the years by filling his bed – and diary – with a succession of intriguing women of various ages, attractiveness, and social classes with whom he connects but never loves.

Mezzogiorno is a fine actress however she doesn’t seem to fit the part of a woman so magnetic, so engaging, two men would fall immediately under her spell. Mezzogiorno’s Fermina is stand-offish and disconnected. That sparkle isn’t there leaving one to puzzle out what these men see in a woman who shows no more than a passing interest in romance or love. Fermina’s cousin, played by Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace), comes across as much more likely to have won over the hearts of strangers after just a quick meeting. When the two share scenes, it’s Moreno your eyes are drawn to and it’s Moreno’s character that has a real energy to her.
Benjamin Bratt completes the love triangle as the handsome Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Much is made of his reputation with cholera patients, however not much to do with the disease is included in the film. Bratt’s not given much to work with as his character is nothing more than a caricature of a snappily dressed, successful doctor. Who he really is, how he came to be so passionate about his work, or why he so suddenly and inexplicably fell for Fermina is never spelled out, and Bratt doesn’t exactly take the little we know about this good doctor and run with it.
Although he doesn’t portray Florentino as a young adult (that job's smoothly handled by Unax Ugalde, who can easily pass as Bardem’s younger brother), Bardem is required to age up to his 70s and he very convincingly plays a senior citizen still hungry for love and life. Mezzogiorno is handed the task of playing Fermina from her young 20s into old age although, through no fault of her own, she doesn’t really show signs of aging until she’s supposed to be way up in years. In fact, all three main characters – Bardem, Mezzogiorno, and Bratt – appear to age at different rates. It’s annoying, and it takes you out of the film as you try and figure out whether events are occurring simultaneously or the scenes are meant to be flashing forward or skipping backward in time. The lead players' ages don't match up at times, and trying to keep track of the time line becomes a complicated task.

The Bottom Line
Having sat through Love in the Time of Cholera without the benefit of having read the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel that inspired the film, I’m left feeling lost and a little empty. There must have been a lot more meat on the bones of the story in Marquez’ popular novel for that work to have been so well-received and widely acclaimed. Love in the Time of Cholera, the big screen version, assumes its audience will be willing and able to read between the lines and fill in story gabs and flesh out characters. However there’s not enough on the screen to interest us into putting that much extra thought into the film.
Because we’re shown a glimpse of the story’s final act in the films first few minutes, there’s nothing to look forward to and wonder about as the plot moves sluggishly forward. There's also a problem with continuity in that Fermina and the good doctor are shown as the proud parents of a newborn. Said child then disappears for the length of the film, only to reappear - along with a batch of siblings - toward the end of the movie.
Love in the Time of Cholera is much more of a comedy than you’d assume from the synopsis, however a lot of the humor comes from very uncomfortable situations (I have a problem laughing at a man forced into sex, even if it's shown later he enjoyed the experience). The film changes tone often and there’s no cohesiveness to the story. Ultimately, Love in the Time of Cholera is a romantic film without any real heart.

http://movies.about.com/od/loveinthetimeofcholera/fr/cholera111507.htm

Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories by Tobias Wolff - Book Review From Mike Sullivan


Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories by Tobias Wolff
 - Book Review From Mike Sullivan


The Bottom Line

Our Story Begins says it all. Tobias Wolff captures our stories with his clear distinct voice. With his focused direction, a short story never says so much.
Here is the master of the genre blessing us once again with an incredible collection of stories. Twenty-one, the perfect hand, are formerly published favorites he has decided to revisit again; the 10 others are new, near perfect, captures of people in relation and conflict.

Pros

  • Anything new from Wolff is an addition to our literary cannon
  • Every word is sharp, every emotion blossomed, every sentence sincere
  • This collection belongs with the works of Chekhov and Hemingway

Cons

  • Some people just refuse to read short stories; Wolff can change that perspective.

Description

  • Published by Knopf - March 2008
  • 400 Pages
  • 31 short stories in a masterwork collection: 21 classic works, 10 new stories
  • Wolff probes universal subjects including love, passions, loss, family ties, marriage, identity, cultural divides, etc.
  • Wolff captures people including single mothers, stranded sons, wounded friends, striving marriages, distant neighbors

Guide Review - 'Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories' by Tobias Wolff - Book Review

Since I can't review all 31 stories in this three paragraph space, I'll cop out and just tell you to either buy this collection at your nearest book store or at least reserve it now at your nearest library. This is one of the top books of 2008.
Tobias Wolff is worthy to be mentioned among the greats of short story writing. Like Hemingway, his stories often begin in action, immediately capturing the attention. Like Chekhov, his endings break the flow of life and cast a reflection on our own weaknesses and strength. He has a fluid style and voice embedded in the rhythms of 21st American life. He's unobtrusive, yet knowing. He's streamlined in capturing every detail.
In reflecting on why he chose to revisit the first 21 stories in this collection, Wolff addresses the question of whether a story should be revised by an author later in life (he did tweak some of his most revered stories in this collection). Proud and humble, he says "...truth is that I have never regarded my stories as sacred texts." When his work is finished, there will be many who will.

http://bestsellers.about.com/od/fictionreviews/gr/story_begins.htm

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - Book Review By Erin Collazo Miller


Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Book Review By Erin Collazo Miller, About.com Guide


The Bottom Line

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is described as "a novel in stories." Each story is moving and well-written on its own. Taken together, it is clear why this book won Elizabeth Strout the Pulitzer Prize.

Pros

  • Well written, but not a difficult read.
  • Strout produces empathy for characters and situations that are usually judged harshly.
  • Each story is good on its own, but all together the book is very satisfying.

Cons

  • The overall tone of the book is sad.

Description

  • 'Olive Kitteridge' by Elizabeth Strout was published in 2007.
  • Publisher: Random House
  • 288 Pages

Guide Review - 'Olive Kitteridge' by Elizabeth Strout

Most of the thirteen stories in Olive Kitteridge are told in different voices, although Olive shows up as narrator more than once. In some stories, Olive Kitteridge is the main character. In others, she just makes a cameo. By the end of the novel, though, you will have walked through many years of Olive's life, and be intimately acquainted with Olive and the town of Crosby, Maine.
The beautiful thing about Olive Kitteridge is the way it touches on deep truths about life and love through stories about everyday events. The overall tone of the book is melancholy, and Olive is a deeply flawed and not entirely likable character. That Strout got me to feel sympathy for Olive even though I am sure I would not want to meet her shows what a skilled writer she is. Indeed, Strout deals with the disappointments and trade offs people make in life; however, this compilation of sad stories is not without hope.
I recommend Olive Kitteridge for book clubs or individuals looking for a good read. It is literary without being cumbersome. It is also satisfying, as a busy reader, to be able to finish a story in one sitting while knowing I'll get more of the characters next time around.

http://bestsellers.about.com/od/shortstorycollections/gr/olive_kitteridge.htm

The Innocent Man by John Grisham - Book Review By Erin Collazo Miller


The Innocent Man by John Grisham
- Book Review By Erin Collazo Miller, About.com Guide

 

The Bottom Line

The Innocent Man, John Grisham's first nonfiction book, is the story of Ron Williamson's wrongful murder conviction and twelve years on death row. Although The Innocent Man has been hailed as a real life legal thriller, it is far from thrilling. While Williamson's story is sad and certainly a miscarriage of justice, Grisham  does not do a good job building suspense. In fact, I found The Innocent Man boring and had a tough time finishing it. Grisham recounts details well in this book, but has not produced the sort of page turner that his fans have come to love.

Pros

  • The Innocent Man is informative, presenting a harsh look at the realities of the justice system.
  • The Innocent Man tells a true story that deserves to be told.

Cons

  • Grisham provides a lot of details, but does not keep the story moving.
  • Grisham provides strong anti-death penalty examples without being explicit about his agenda.

Description

  • In the major league draft of 1971, Ron Williamson signed with the Oakland A's and said good-bye to Ada, Oklahoma.
  • A bad arm, addictions and mental health issues destroyed Williamson's dream and sent him back to Ada.
  • In 1982, a 21-year-old cocktail waitress named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered in Ada. The case was cold for 5 years.
  • In 1987, Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were charged with the murder despite no physical evidence linking them to the crime.
  • Ron Williamson was convicted and spent 12 years on death row. He was eventually exonerated on DNA evidence.

Guide Review - The Innocent Man by John Grisham - Book Review

When I heard John Grisham was writing nonfiction, I was excited to see the result. I imagined that he would apply his skill for writing page turning legal suspense to a true story, captivating readers with a tale too amazing to be fiction. Within the first 100 pages of The Innocent Man, I knew my expectations would not be met.
Grisham's challenge was to build suspense despite readers knowing the outcome of the story from the beginning. Truman Capote mastered this in his classic, In Cold Blood. Grisham doesn't even come close.
I feel bad saying The Innocent Man is boring since it is a true and awful story. If you are expecting typical Grisham, though, you will be bored. The writing is detailed, but dry. It is a very straightforward account with no dialogue or suspense.
Putting aside my opinion about the slow pace of the book, I will say that The Innocent Man is a powerful story. The details Grisham provides about incorrect convictions, shoddy police work and poor prosecution certainly make a case for some sort of judicial reform. Perhaps even more compelling is the story of Williamson's mental decline and society's inability to deal with his mental illness. In many ways, Williamson's story before and after his imprisonment is just as tragic as the time he spent on death row.
The Innocent Man will give you issues to think about and discuss with friends. Just don't expect to be entertained.

http://bestsellers.about.com/od/nonfictionreviews/gr/innocent_man.htm

Ford County by John Grisham - Book Review By Erin Collazo Miller


Ford County by John Grisham
- Book Review By Erin Collazo Miller

The Bottom Line

Ford County is John Grisham's first collection of short stories. Grisham returns to Ford County, Mississippi, the setting of A Time to Kill, and brings readers seven stories of life in this small, Southern setting. Grisham has previously tried to branch out from legal thrillers with books like Bleachers and Playing for Pizza. Ford County is a better read than either of those, combining his skill at writing page turners with his observant eye for small town life and moral ambiguity.

Pros

  • The stories are easy to get into, lessening the start up costs of having to learn new characters.
  • Grisham covers a variety of topics, but they are all well written & engaging.
  • Grisham gives us a taste of the legal thrillers he's known for in some of the stories.

Cons

  • Outcomes are not always realistic.

Description

  • 'Ford County' by John Grisham was published in November 2009.
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • 320 Pages

 

Guide Review - 'Ford County' by John Grisham - Book Review

I'm always a little bit hesitant about collections of short stories. I wonder if there will be enough meat to justify having to learn new characters and situations every 50 pages or so. Starting a new book is always a little risky, and I wonder if I will have to endure those same start up costs seven times in one collection.
Fortunately, Grisham makes reading easy. His books are popular because they are immediately entertaining, but don't shy away from moral dilemmas and complex characters. Each story in Ford County was easy to enter and satisfying throughout in its own way. In fact, I appreciated being able to start and finish a whole story in one evening, giving me the freedom to take the book at my own pace without losing track of important plot threads.
If you want to get a feel for Ford County, Grisham has made one of the stories, “Fetching  Raymond,” available for free on his Web site. "Fetching Raymond" shows how Grisham's ability to tell a bigger story through one snapshot of some characters' lives.
Some of the other stories I particularly enjoyed were "Michael's Room" and "Quiet Haven." "Michael's Room" feels like one of Grisham's legal thrillers, and by the end makes readers question what justice would actually look like. "Quiet Haven" also blurs the lines between good and evil -- is a con man who brings to light horrible conditions in a nursing home better or worse than the people who don't profit but perpetuate a system that ignores the needs of those who can't speak for themselves?
Overall, I recommend Ford County. It is a must read for Grisham fans, and would be satisfying for anyone who wants beach or airport reading that is substantial without being too heavy.
http://bestsellers.about.com/od/shortstorycollections/gr/ford_county.htm

Refiguring Huckleberry Finn By Esther Lombardi


Refiguring Huckleberry Finn
By  Esther Lombardi, About.com Guide

In Refiguring Huckleberry Finn, Carl Wieck tackles Huck's famous story with a passion, saying: "The following pages have furnished me with the princely privilege of skipping along for a space with the sprightly Mark Twain, and I am grateful to him for sharing so much with us all."
Wieck offers a discussion of how Mark Twain was influenced by the Declaration of Independence, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and others. He then goes further to a chapter on death and the floating house, a discussion of the importance of numbers in the novel, a look at lying, race relations, knowledge, and much more...

 

Between Lines

Drawing from Twain's notes, historical evidence, letters, and more, Wieck provides a whole wealth of details that can only serve to inform a reading of the text. Each time we read through the novel, Twain's humor shines through even more brightly, and it becomes apparent why this novel is considered such a classic.

Mark Twain has already stretched our imaginations with Huck Finn's adventures. However, Wieck writes that "we are furnished no direction for sorting out the seemingly arbitrary paths on which he often takes us." With Refiguring Huckleberry Finn, Wieck pulls us further into a discussion of the novel as he attempts to help the reader "discover ideas, feelings, and perceptions" that will hopefully "kindle enthusiasm for the enlivening experience of Huckleberry Finn."

 

The Ending or Beginning

In the end, Huck is free to make his own choices, as he says, "I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest..." Wieck explains, "The point would appear to be that people need not feel condemned by their background, no matter what it might be, and even if as miserable a rapscallion as pap."

http://classiclit.about.com/cs/productreviews/fr/aa_refighuckfin.htm

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn From James Topham


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
From James Topham
 -Mark Twain-
Mark Twain's second book detailing the life and times of the young ragamuffin, Huckleberry Finn came as something of a sequel to his ever-popular The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and it provides a similar mix of heady southern atmosphere, child-like larks, and fantastic prose.
Like his earlier book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is firmly ensconced in the atmosphere and social structure of eighteenth century life by the Mississippi river, a river that (even more so than in the book's predecessor) comes to be more of a character than a mere setting. A beautiful novel of fun and great beauty, it has been a must-read for adults and children for more than a century.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn return us to the town of St. Petersburg, Missouri, and its opening pages reacquaint us with the characters that we met in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Huckleberry Finn, who once a child of the river, found a robber’s loot, and now had quite a large amount of money held in trust at the bank. He has been adopted by an old widow, and has been forced to go to school, keep clean, and do all the things that a respectable boy should.

However, such a veneer of respectability does not last, when Huck's father Pap returns to town claiming custody over Huck (and, of course, wanting his money). A drunk and a n'er-do-well, Pap often beats Huck and locks him in a cabin when he goes out drinking and so, in an attempt to escape, Huck fakes his own death using pig's blood and runs away to an island in the center of the river. After a few days of living rough he meets an escaped slave by the name of Jim, and they join forces, living lives close to nature. However, the island could not hold them forever, and when Huck overhears that Jim's owners are planning to look for Jim on the island, they both escape--traveling on a log raft down the river.
On their journey they have a number of run-ins with various river folk--including a gang of robbers whose loot they managed to steal, and a group of slave-hunters whom Huck lies to in order to save Jim. Finally, in the dark one night, a large steamer collides with the raft and, abandoning ship, Huck and Jim are parted. However, they are not parted for long, as Jim finds Huck and gets him out of a tight spot when he is caught up in a gun battle between two warring southern families.

Returning to the river, Huck and Jim get mixed up with two small-time con artists going by the names the Duke and the Dauphin, who get attempt a number of scams at the towns they come across along the river (and which Huck does his best to spoil). However, this agreement comes to an end when the two men betray Jim. Huck swears to help him, and is helped in this endeavor by Tom (who coincidentally turns up when he goes to visit his aunt and uncle).

The escape goes badly awry however, when in the process of breaking Jim free, Tom is shot in the leg. Caring more for the boy than his own freedom, Jim gives himself up and is once more put in chains. However, when Tom awakes he explains that, in fact, Jim is a free man (having been freed months earlier in the will of his recently departed owner). On their return to St. Petersburg, Huck's father is revealed to have died, and Huck once more faces the prospect of being "sivilised" this time by Tom's Aunt Sally. He says no thank you, and heads off on his adventures once more.
A wonderful, sprawling book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has all the components to make a truly great adventure story. And, in the end, Huck firmly determines that the adventurous life is for him--forsaking any notions of making himself a good child. Like a Peter Pan for the American frontier, one feels that Huck will never grow up, and will never fall into civilization's traps. His interest lies in the excitement and adventure of the river--and in the final analysis those are what he chooses.

A brilliant book, perhaps surpassing its predecessor in readability and plotting, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is a boy's own story told at a wonderful pace. It should be an instant recommendation in any list of great American literature.

http://classiclit.about.com/od/adventuresofhuckleberry/fr/aa_huckfinn2.htm

What Have Writers Said About Huckleberry Finn? By Esther Lombardi, About.com Guide


What Have Writers Said About Huckleberry Finn?
By Esther Lombardi, About.com Guide

You may already be familiar with the historical controversies surrounding "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain. But, what specifically, have writers said about Huckleberry Finn been so frequently banned and challenged in classrooms and libraries? Read more about what writers have said...

Huckleberry Finn -- T. S. Eliot says:
"It is Huck who gives the book style. The River gives the book its form. But for the River, the book might be only a sequence of adventures with a happy ending. A river, a very big and powerful river, is the only natural force that can wholly determine the course of human peregrination.... Thus the River makes the book a great book... Mark Twain is a native, and the River God is his God."

Huckleberry Finn -- F. Scott Fitzgerald (1935) says:
"Huckleberry Finn took the first journey back. He was the first to look back at the republic from the perspective of the west. His eyes were the first eyes that ever looked at us objectively that were not eyes from overseas. There were mountains at the frontier but he wanted more than mountains to look at with his restive eyes--he wanted to find out about men and how they lived together. And because he turned back we have him forever."

Huckleberry Finn -- Ernest Hemingway says:
"The good writers are Henry James, Stephen Crane, and Mark Twain. That's not the order they're good in. There is no order for good writers.... All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called 'Huckleberry Finn.' If you read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating. But it's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." -- from Ernest Hemingway, "The Green Hills of Africa" (1934)

Huckleberry Finn -- Hamlin Hill (1985) says:
"We are aware that Huck cannot live comfortably in any of the worlds he inhabits. He searches for a father he cannot find, having killed, at least symbolically, the legal one. He cannot find a home, at Widow Douglas's, in Pap's cabin, on Jackson's Island, at the Grangerfords, on the raft, or at the Phelps plantation, either because none of his worlds is insulated from outside interference or because he loses them to circumstance or expediency. The entire structure of the novel is one of frustrated attempt to escape from restrictions only to find the refuge susceptible to invasion and destruction. Judith Loftus's husband is 'after us'; the slave-hunters and the Duke and Dauphin violate the pastoral immunity of the raft; Tom Sawyer appears at the Phelpses to orchestrate an attempt at freedom."

Huckleberry Finn -- H. L. Mencken says:
"I believe that 'Huckleberry Finn' is one of the great masterpieces of the world, that it is the full equal of 'Don Quixote' and 'Robinson Crusoe,' that it is vastly better than Gil Blas, 'Tristram Shandy,' 'Nicholas Nickleby' or 'Tom Jones.' I believe that it will be read by human beings of all ages, not as a solemn duty but for the honest love of it, and over and over again, long after every book written in Aerican betwen the years 1800 and 1860, with perhaps three exceptions, has disappeared entirely save as a classroom fossil. I believe that Mark Twain had a clearer vision of life, that he came nearer to its elementals and was less deceived by its false appearances, than any other American who has ever presumed to manufacture generalizations, not excepting Emerson. I believe that, admitting all his defects, he wrote better English, in the sense of cleaner, straighter, vivider, saner English, than either Irving or Hawthorne. I believe that four of his books--'Huck,' 'Life on the Mississippi,' 'Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven,' and 'A Connecticut Yankee'--are alone worth more, as works of art and as criticisms of life, than the whole output of Cooper, Irving, Holmes, Mitchell, Stedman, Whittier and Bryant. I believe that he was the true father of our national literature, the first genuinely American artist of the royal blood." -- from H. L. Mencken, Review of Albert Bigelow Paine's biography of Mark Twain, in "The Smart Set" (February 1913).

Huckleberry Finn -- Eric Solomon (1985)
 "Huckleberry Finn himself is the most American of heroes: he is the boy-man in a male world... and solitary--alone even among others, a first-person narrator who is at home in nature and, like Cooper's Natty Bumppo, at a loss in town, yet as able to cope with the venality and evil of knaves as any Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler version of the Scout. As alienated as a James Baldwin youth, and as deeply engaged in the search for a proper father as a Faulkner boy, Huck Finn, an American orphan... is, above all, a lonely survivor, one who accommodates to his changing world..."

http://classiclit.about.com/od/adventuresofhuckleberry/a/huckfinn_writer.htm

Review of 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' A Boy's Coming of Age


Review of 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'
A Boy's Coming of Age

From Katharine Swan  

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most celebrated novels in American literature--arguably the greatest novel in American literature. As such, the book is frequently taught in high school English, college literature classes, American history classes, and every other opportunity teachers can find.
The justification usually cited is its commentary on the social institutions of slavery and discrimination; however, no less important is the aspect of the story that demonstrates one boy's coming of age. Mark Twain ends The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with the cryptic statement: "So endeth this chronicle. It being strictly the history of a boy, it must stop here; the story could not go much further without becoming the history of a man."

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, on the other hand, contains much less of the perpetual jokes and scrapes of the first book. Instead, Huck is faced with the emotional growing pains of becoming a man in a morally flawed society.

At the beginning of the novel, Huck lives with the Widow Douglas, who wants to "sivilize" Huck, as he puts it. Although he dislikes the restraints society puts on him (i.e. stiff clothing, education, and religion), he prefers it to going back to living with his drunken father. However, his father kidnaps him and locks him up in his house. Therefore, the first major chunk of the novel focuses on the abuse Huck experiences at the hands of his father--abuse so bad that he must fake his own murder in order to escape alive.

Escape to Freedom: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
After staging his death and running away, Huck meets up with Jim, a runaway slave from the village. They decide to travel down the river together. Both of them are running away to gain their freedom: Jim from slavery, Huck from his father's abuse and the Widow Douglas's restrictive lifestyle (although Huck does not see it that way yet). For a major part of their journey together, Huck views Jim as property.

Jim becomes a father figure--the first Huck ever had in his life. Jim teaches Huck right and wrong, and an emotional bond develops through the course of their journey down the river. By the last segment of the novel, Huck has learned to think like a man instead of a boy.

This change is most poignantly demonstrated when we see the melodramatic prank that Tom Sawyer would have played with Jim (even though he knows that Jim is already a free man). Huck is genuinely concerned with Jim's safety and well-being, whereas Tom is only interested in having an adventure--with complete disregard for Jim's life or Huck's concern.

Coming of Age: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Tom is still the same boy as the one in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but Huck has become something more. Experiences that he has shared with Jim on their journey down the river have taught him about being a man. Although Adventures of Huckleberry Finn contains some very poignant critiques of slavery, discrimination, and society in general, it is also important as the story of Huck's journey from boyhood to manhood.

http://classiclit.about.com/od/adventuresofhuckleberry/fr/aa_huckfinn.htm

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, by Mark Twain


Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1
by Mark Twain

Edited by Harriet Elinor Smith
University of California Press, November 2010


The wait for Mark Twain's autobiography has been longer than the interval between the appearances of Haley's Comet that conveniently book-ended the life of Samuel Clemens. This first installment of three is well-worth the long wait. There are nuggets here that show the full force of Clemens's rapier like wit and acerbity. There are nuggets of great hilarity and moments of deep introspection.

A word of caution is in order before you undertake volume one. It contains two books. One is a more academic exposition that is intended for those who are serious in their pursuit of what makes Mark Twain tick. Well written though the first and last sections are, the casual lover of Mark Twain should remember they are written for more serious readers, and one should expect to be enlightened rather than entertained. The serious reader and the most dedicated researcher will find a wealth of information that will put Clemens into a broader and deeper context.

Edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and other editors of the Mark Twain Project, the first section contains an extensive introduction and facsimiles of pages from the autobiography, along with explications that place these writings in context. The final section of this volume contains explanatory notes and an extensive bibliography. The editors note, "This edition... offers the reader an unmodernized, critically constructed text, both of the preliminary manuscripts and dictations and of the final text that Clemens intended his "heirs and assigns" to publish after his death.

The middle section, the second "book," is Clemens in his own words. That is what the general public is looking for; indeed, has been waiting for all these years. This section and the essays it contains do not disappoint. The reader will find Clemens at his most honest, his most pointed. Clemens notes, "The chapters which immediately follow constitute a fragment of my many attempts... to put my life on paper... It starts out with good confidence," but is soon abandoned for other pursuits. It is "the plan that starts you at the cradle and drives you straight for the grave, with no side-excursions permitted on the way. Whereas the side-excursions are the life of our life-voyage, and should be also, its history." It is these side-excursions that readers have been eagerly awaiting.
Clemens decreed that his publisher must wait until 100 years after his death had passed before publishing his autobiography. Clemens wanted to be sure that those about whom he wrote ("after I was in my forties") were definitely dead. This simple expedient gave him the freedom to let his mind roam free and candid. Some times he even stuck entirely to the truth; some times, he took that step to the side. The result is spectacular.

He mentions the early branches of the Clemens family, "stretching back to Noah's time." He writes about the dedication to Innocents Abroad and a meeting with Robert Louis Stevenson who was "most scantily furnished with flesh." He gives instructions to future editors about how to treat the numerous newspaper clippings he "shall scatter through this Autobiography... without end." His poignant entry on Friday, February 2, 1906 recounts the death of Susy Clemens, his beloved daughter, only 24 years old. On August 18, 1896, while in England, he received a telegram that said simply, "Susy was peacefully released to-day." The description of his reaction is one of his most eloquent and heart-rending pieces of writing.
The Autobiography was conceived and published by the Mark Twain Project of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. The Project contains the most comprehensive collection of Clemens' personal papers and things written about him. More than 35 volumes have been produced by the Project since 1967. All of the documents contained within this volume have been published elsewhere, but no venue has provided more scholarly elucidation than one finds here. This volume will stand the test of time.

http://contemporarylit.about.com/od/memoir/fr/Autobiography-Of-Mark-Twain-Volume-1.htm?nl=1

terça-feira, 29 de maio de 2012

Susan Sontag, Interviewed by Edward Hirsch


Susan Sontag, Interviewed by Edward Hirsch

The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 143

Susan Sontag lives in a sparsely furnished five-room apartment on the top floor of a building in Chelsea on the west side of Manhattan. Books—as many as fifteen thousand—and papers are everywhere. A lifetime could be spent browsing through the books on art and architecture, theater and dance, philosophy and psychiatry, the history of medicine, and the history of religion, photography, and opera—and so on. The various European literatures—French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, etcetera, as well as hundreds of books of Japanese literature and books on Japan—are arranged by language in a loosely chronological way. So is American literature as well as English literature, which runs fromBeowulf to, say, James Fenton. Sontag is an inveterate clipper, and the books are filled with scraps of paper (“Each book is marked and filleted,” she says), the bookcases festooned with notes scrawled with the names of additional things to read.
   Sontag usually writes by hand on a low marble table in the living room. Small theme notebooks are filled with notes for her novel in progress, “In America.” An old book on Chopin sits atop a history of table manners. The room is lit by a lovely Fortuny lamp, or a replica of one. Piranesi prints decorate the wall (architectural prints are one of her passions).
   Everything in Sontag’s apartment testifies to the range of her interests, but it is the work itself, like her conversation, that demonstrates the passionate nature of her commitments. She is eager to follow a subject wherever it leads, as far as it will go—and beyond. What she has said about Roland Barthes is true about her as well: “It was not a question of knowledge . . . but of alertness, a fastidious transcription of what could be thought about something, once it swam into the stream of attention.”
   Sontag was interviewed in her Manhattan apartment on three blisteringly hot days in July of 1994. She had been traveling back and forth to Sarajevo, and it was gracious of her to set aside time for the interview. Sontag is a prodigious talker—candid, informal, learned, ardent—and each day at a wooden kitchen table held forth for seven- and eight-hour stretches. The kitchen is a mixed-use room, but the fax machine and the photocopier were silent; the telephone seldom rang. The conversation ranged over a vast array of subjects—later the texts would be scoured and revised—but always returned to the pleasures and distinctions of literature. Sontag is interested in all things concerning writing—from the mechanism of the process to the high nature of the calling. She has many missions, but foremost among them is the vocation of the writer.
 Susan Sontag in 1962
INTERVIEWER
When did you begin writing?
SUSAN SONTAG
I’m not sure. But I know I was self-publishing when I was about nine; I started a four-page monthly newspaper, which I hectographed (a very primitive method of duplication) in about twenty copies and sold for five cents to the neighbors. The paper, which I kept going for several years, was filled with imitations of things I was reading. There were stories, poems and two plays that I remember, one inspired by Čapek’s R.U.R., the other by Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Aria de Capo. And accounts of battles—Midway, Stalingrad, and so on; remember, this was 1942, 1943, 1944—dutifully condensed from articles in real newspapers.
INTERVIEWER
We’ve had to postpone this interview several times because of your frequent trips to Sarajevo that, you’ve told me, have been one of the most compelling experiences of your life. I was thinking how war recurs in your work and life.
SONTAG
It does. I made two trips to North Vietnam under American bombardment, the first of which I recounted in “Trip to Hanoi,” and when the Yom Kippur War started in 1973 I went to Israel to shoot a film, Promised Lands, on the front lines. Bosnia is actually my third war.
INTERVIEWER
There’s the denunciation of military metaphors in Illness as Metaphor. And the narrative climax of The Volcano Lover, a horrifying evocation of the viciousness of war. And when I asked you to contribute to a book I was editing, Transforming Vision: Writers on Art, the work you chose to write about was Goya’s The Disasters of War.
SONTAG
I suppose it could seem odd to travel to a war, and not just in one’s imagination—even if I do come from a family of travelers. My father, who was a fur trader in northern China, died there during the Japanese invasion—I was five. I remember hearing about “world war” in September 1939, entering elementary school, where my best friend in the class was a Spanish Civil War refugee. I remember panicking on December 7, 1941. And one of the first pieces of language I ever pondered over was “for the duration”—as in “there’s no butter for the duration.” I recall savoring the oddity, and the optimism, of that phrase.
INTERVIEWER
In “Writing Itself,” on Roland Barthes, you express surprise that Barthes, whose father was killed in one of the battles of the First World War (Barthes was an infant) and who, as a young man himself, lived through the Second World War—the Occupation—never once mentions the word war in any of his writings. But your work seems haunted by war.
SONTAG
I could answer that a writer is someone who pays attention to the world.
INTERVIEWER
You once wrote of Promised Lands: “My subject is war, and anything about any war that does not show the appalling concreteness of destruction and death is a dangerous lie.”
SONTAG
That prescriptive voice rather makes me cringe. But . . . yes.
INTERVIEWER
Are you writing about the siege of Sarajevo?
SONTAG
No. I mean, not yet, and probably not for a long time. And almost certainly not in the form of an essay or report. David Rieff, who is my son, and who started going to Sarajevo before I did, has published such an essay-report, a book called Slaughterhouse—and one book in the family on the Bosnian genocide is enough. So I’m not spending time in Sarajevo to write about it. For the moment it’s enough for me just to be there as much as I can—to witness, to lament, to offer a model of noncomplicity, to pitch in. The duties of a human being, one who believes in right action, not of a writer.
INTERVIEWER
Did you always want to be a writer?
SONTAG
I read the biography of Madame Curie by her daughter, Eve Curie, when I was about six, so at first I thought I was going to be a chemist. Then for a long time, most of my childhood, I wanted to be a physician. But literature swamped me. What I really wanted was every kind of life, and the writer’s life seemed the most inclusive.
INTERVIEWER
Did you have any role models as a writer?
SONTAG
Of course I thought I was Jo in Little Women. But I didn’t want to write what Jo wrote. Then in Martin Eden I found a writer-protagonist with whose writing I could identify, so then I wanted to be Martin Eden—minus, of course, the dreary fate Jack London gives him. I saw myself as (I guess I was) a heroic autodidact. I looked forward to the struggle of the writing life. I thought of being a writer as a heroic vocation.
INTERVIEWER
Any other models?
SONTAG
Later, when I was thirteen, I read the journals of André Gide, which described a life of great privilege and relentless avidity.
INTERVIEWER
Do you remember when you started reading?
SONTAG
When I was three, I’m told. Anyway, I remember reading real books—biographies, travel books—when I was about six. And then free fall into Poe and Shakespeare and Dickens and the Brontës and Victor Hugo and Schopenhauer and Pater, and so on. I got through my childhood in a delirium of literary exaltations.
INTERVIEWER
You must have been very different from other children.
SONTAG
Was I? I was good at dissembling too. I didn’t think that much about myself, I was so glad to be on to something better. But I so wanted to be elsewhere. And reading produced its blissful, confirming alienations. Because of reading—and music—my daily experience was of living in a world of people who didn’t give a hoot about the intensities to which I had pledged myself. I felt as if I were from another planet— a fantasy borrowed from the innocent comic books of that era, to which I was also addicted. And of course I didn’t really have much sense of how I was seen by others. Actually, I never thought people were thinking of me at all. I do remember—I was about four—a scene in a park, hearing my Irish nanny saying to another giant in a starched white uniform, Susan is very high-strung, and thinking, That’s an interesting word. Is it true?
INTERVIEWER
Tell me something about your education.
SONTAG
All in public schools, quite a number of them, each one more lowering than the one before. But I was lucky to have started school before the era of the child psychologists. Since I could read and write, I was immediately put into the third grade, and later I was skipped another semester, so I was graduated from high school—North Hollywood High School—when I was still fifteen. After that, I had a splendid education at Berkeley, then at the so-called Hutchins College of the University of Chicago, and then as a graduate student in philosophy at Harvard and Oxford. I was a student for most of the 1950s and I never had a teacher from whom I didn’t learn. But at Chicago, the most important of my universities, there were not just teachers I admired but three to whose influence I gratefully submitted: Kenneth Burke, Richard McKeon, and Leo Strauss.
INTERVIEWER
What was Burke like as a teacher?
SONTAG
Completely inside his own enthralling way of unpacking a text. He spent almost a year with the class reading Conrad’s Victory word by word, image by image. It was from Burke that I learned how to read. I still read the way he taught me. He took some interest in me. I had already read some of his books before he was my teacher in Humanities III; remember, he wasn’t well known then and he’d never met an undergraduate who had read him while still in high school. He gave me a copy of his novel, Towards a Better Life, and told me stories about sharing an apartment in Greenwich Village in the 1920s with Hart Crane and Djuna Barnes—you can imagine what that did to me. He was the first person I met who had written books that I owned. (I except an audience I was roped into with Thomas Mann when I was fourteen years old, which I recounted in a story called “Pilgrimage.”) Writers were as remote to me as movie stars.
INTERVIEWER
You had your B.A. from the University of Chicago at eighteen. Did you know by then you would become a writer?
SONTAG
Yes, but I still went to graduate school. It never occurred to me that I could support myself as a writer. I was a grateful, militant student. I thought I would be happy teaching, and I was. Of course, I had been careful to prepare myself to teach not literature but philosophy and the history of religion.
INTERVIEWER
But you taught only through your twenties, and have refused countless invitations to return to university teaching. Is this because you came to feel that being an academic and being a creative writer are incompatible?
SONTAG
Yes. Worse than incompatible. I’ve seen academic life destroy the best writers of my generation.
INTERVIEWER
Do you mind being called an intellectual?
SONTAG
Well, one never likes to be called anything. And the word makes more sense to me as an adjective than as a noun, though, even so, I suppose there will always be a presumption of graceless oddity—especially if one is a woman. Which makes me even more committed to my polemics against the ruling anti-intellectual clichés—heart versus head, feeling versus intellect, and so forth.
INTERVIEWER
Do you think of yourself as a feminist?
SONTAG
That’s one of the few labels I’m content with. But even so . . . is it a noun? I doubt it.
INTERVIEWER
What women writers have been important to you?
SONTAG
Many. Sei Shonagon, Austen, George Eliot, Dickinson, Woolf, Tsvetayeva, Akhmatova, Elizabeth Bishop, Elizabeth Hardwick . . . the list is much longer than that. Because women are, culturally speaking, a minority, with my minority consciousness I always rejoice in the achievement of women. With my writer’s consciousness, I rejoice in any writer I can admire, women writers no more or less than men.
INTERVIEWER
Whatever the models of a literary vocation that inspired you as a child, I have the impression that your adult idea of a literary vocation is more European than American.
SONTAG
I’m not so sure. I think it’s my own private brand. But what is true is that living in the second half of the twentieth century, I could indulge my Europhile tastes without actually expatriating myself, while still spending a lot of my adult life in Europe. That’s been my way of being an American. As Gertrude Stein remarked, “What good are roots if you can’t take them with you?” One might say that’s very Jewish, but it’s also very American.
INTERVIEWER
Your third novel, The Volcano Lover, seems to me a very American book, even though the story it tells takes place in eighteenth-century Europe.
SONTAG
It is. Nobody but an American would have written The Volcano Lover.
INTERVIEWER
And The Volcano Lover’s subtitle: “A Romance.” That’s a reference to Hawthorne, right?
SONTAG
Exactly. I was thinking of what Hawthorne says in the preface to The House of Seven Gables: “When a writer calls his work a romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume had he been writing a novel.” My imagination is very marked by nineteenth-century American literature—first by Poe, whom I read at a precocious age and whose mixture of speculativeness, fantasy, and gloominess enthralled me. Poe’s stories still inhabit my head. Then by Hawthorne and Melville. I love Melville’s obsessiveness. Clarel,Moby-Dick. And Pierre—another novel about the terrible thwarting of a heroic solitary writer.
INTERVIEWER
Your first book was a novel, The Benefactor. Since then you’ve written essays, travel narratives, stories, plays, as well as two more novels. Have you ever started something in one form and then changed it to another?
SONTAG
No. From the beginning I always know what something is going to be; every impulse to write is born of an idea of form, for me. To begin I have to have the shape, the architecture. I can’t say it better than Nabokov did: “The pattern of the thing precedes the thing.”
INTERVIEWER
How fluent are you as a writer?
SONTAG
I wrote The Benefactor quickly, almost effortlessly, on weekends and during two summers (I was teaching in the department of religion at Columbia College); I thought I was telling a pleasurably sinister story that illustrated the fortune of certain heretical religious ideas that go by the name of Gnosticism. The early essays came easily too. But writing is an activity that in my experience doesn’t get easier with practice. On the contrary.
INTERVIEWER
How does something get started for you?
SONTAG
It starts with sentences, with phrases, and then I know something is being transmitted. Often it’s an opening line. But sometimes I hear the closing line, instead.
INTERVIEWER
How do you actually write?
SONTAG
I write with a felt-tip pen, or sometimes a pencil, on yellow or white legal pads, that fetish of American writers. I like the slowness of writing by hand. Then I type it up and scrawl all over that. And keep on retyping it, each time making corrections both by hand and directly on the typewriter, until I don’t see how to make it any better. Up to five years ago, that was it. Since then there is a computer in my life. After the second or third draft it goes into the computer, so I don’t retype the whole manuscript anymore, but continue to revise by hand on a succession of hard-copy drafts from the computer.
INTERVIEWER
Is there anything that helps you get started writing?
SONTAG
Reading—which is rarely related to what I’m writing, or hoping to write. I read a lot of art history, architectural history, musicology, academic books on many subjects. And poetry. Getting started is partly stalling, stalling by way of reading and of listening to music, which energizes me and also makes me restless. Feeling guilty about not writing.
INTERVIEWER
Do you write every day?
SONTAG
No. I write in spurts. I write when I have to because the pressure builds up and I feel enough confidence that something has matured in my head and I can write it down. But once something is really under way, I don’t want to do anything else. I don’t go out, much of the time I forget to eat, I sleep very little. It’s a very undisciplined way of working and makes me not very prolific. But I’m too interested in many other things.
INTERVIEWER
Yeats said famously that one must choose between the life and the work. Do you think that is true?
SONTAG
As you know, he actually said that one must choose between perfection of the life and perfection of the work. Well, writing is a life—a very peculiar one. Of course, if by life you mean life with other people, Yeats’s dictum is true. Writing requires huge amounts of solitude. What I’ve done to soften the harshness of that choice is that I don’t write all the time. I like to go out—which includes traveling; I can’t write when I travel. I like to talk. I like to listen. I like to look and to watch. Maybe I have an Attention Surplus Disorder. The easiest thing in the world for me is to pay attention.
INTERVIEWER
Do you revise as you go along or do you wait until you have an entire draft and then revise the whole thing?
SONTAG
I revise as I go along. And that’s quite a pleasurable task. I don’t get impatient and I’m willing to go over and over something until it works. It’s beginnings that are hard. I always begin with a great sense of dread and trepidation. Nietzsche says that the decision to start writing is like leaping into a cold lake. Only when I’m about a third of the way can I tell if it’s good enough. Then I have my cards, and I can play my hand.
INTERVIEWER
Is there a difference between writing fiction and writing essays?
SONTAG
Writing essays has always been laborious. They go through many drafts, and the end result may bear little relation to the first draft; often I completely change my mind in the course of writing an essay. Fiction comes much easier, in the sense that the first draft contains the essentials—tone, lexicon, velocity, passions—of what I eventually end up with.
INTERVIEWER
Do you regret anything you’ve written?
SONTAG
Nothing in its entirety except two theater chronicles I did in the mid-1960s for Partisan Review, and unfortunately included in the first collection of essays, Against Interpretation—I’m not suited for that kind of pugnacious, impressionistic task. Obviously, I don’t agree with everything in the early essays. I’ve changed, and I know more. And the cultural context that inspired them has altogether changed. But there would be no point in modifying them now. I think I would like to take a blue pencil to the first two novels, though.
INTERVIEWER
The Benefactor, which you wrote in your late twenties, is narrated in the voice of a Frenchman in his sixties. Did you find it easy to impersonate someone so different from yourself?
SONTAG
Easier than writing about myself. But writing is impersonation. Even when I write about events in my own life, as I did in “Pilgrimage” and “Project for a Trip to China,” it’s not really me. But I admit that, with The Benefactor, the difference was as broad as I could make it. I wasn’t celibate, I wasn’t a recluse, I wasn’t a man, I wasn’t elderly, I wasn’t French.
INTERVIEWER
But the novel seems very influenced by French literature.
SONTAG
Is it? It seems many people think that it was influenced by the nouveau roman. But I don’t agree. There were ironic allusions to two French books, hardly contemporary ones: Descartes’s Meditations and Voltaire’s Candide. But those weren’t influences. If there was an influence on The Benefactor, though one I wasn’t at all conscious of at the time, it was Kenneth Burke’s Towards a Better Life. I reread Burke’s novel recently, after many decades (I may never have reread it since he gave me a copy when I was sixteen), and discovered in its programmatic preface what seems like a model for The Benefactor. The novel as sequence of arias and fictive moralizing. The coquetry of a protagonist—Burke dared to call his the novel’s hero—so ingeniously self-absorbed that no reader could be tempted to identify with him.
INTERVIEWER
Your second novel, Death Kit, is quite different from The Benefactor.
SONTAG
Death Kit invites identification with its miserable protagonist. I was in the lamenting mood—it’s written in the shadow of the Vietnam war. It’s a book of grief, veils and all.
INTERVIEWER
Hardly a new emotion in your work. Wasn’t your first published story entitled “Man with a Pain”?
SONTAG
Juvenilia. You won’t find it in I, etcetera.
INTERVIEWER
How did you come to write those theater chronicles for Partisan Review?
SONTAG
Well, you have to understand that the literary world then was defined by so-called small magazines—hard to imagine because it’s so different now. My sense of literary vocation had been shaped by reading literary magazines—Kenyon Review, Sewanee Review, The Hudson Review, Partisan Review—at the end of the 1940s, while still in high school in Southern California. By the time I came to New York in 1960, those magazines still existed. But it was already the end of an era. Of course, I couldn’t have known that. My highest ambition had been and still was to publish in one of these magazines, where five thousand people would read me. That seemed to me very heaven.
Soon after I moved to New York, I saw William Phillips at a party and got up my nerve to go over and ask him, How does one get to write for Partisan Review? He answered, You come down to the magazine and I give you a book to review on spec. I was there the next day. And he gave me a novel. Not one I was interested in, but I wrote something decent, and the review was printed. And so the door was opened. But then there was some inappropriate fantasy, which I tried to squelch, that I was going to be “the new Mary McCarthy”—as Phillips made plain to me by asking me to do a theater chronicle. You know, Mary used to do it, he said. I told him I didn’t want to write theater reviews. He insisted. And so, much against my better judgment (I certainly had no desire to be the new Mary McCarthy, a writer who’d never mattered to me), I did turn out two of them. I reviewed plays by Arthur Miller and James Baldwin and Edward Albee and said they were bad and tried to be witty and hated myself for doing it. After the second round I told Phillips I couldn’t go on.
INTERVIEWER
But you did go on and write those famous essays, some of which were published inPartisan Review.
SONTAG
Yes, but those subjects were all of my own choosing. I’ve hardly ever written anything on commission. I am not at all interested in writing about work I don’t admire. And even among what I’ve admired, by and large I’ve written only about things I felt were neglected or relatively unknown. I am not a critic, which is something else than an essayist; I thought of my essays as cultural work. They were written out of a sense of what needed to be written.
I was assuming that a principal task of art was to strengthen the adversarial consciousness. And that led me to reach for relatively eccentric work. I took for granted that the liberal consensus about culture—I was and am a great admirer of Lionel Trilling—would stay in place, that the traditional canon of great books could not be threatened by work that was more transgressive or playful. But taste has become so debauched in the thirty years I’ve been writing that now simply to defend the idea of seriousness has become an adversarial act. Just to be serious or to care about things in an ardent, disinterested way is becoming incomprehensible to most people. Perhaps only those who were born in the 1930s—and maybe a few stragglers—are going to understand what it means to talk about art as opposed to art projects. Or artists as opposed to celebrities. As you see, I’m chock-full of indignation about the barbarism and relentless vacuity of this culture. How tedious always to be indignant.
INTERVIEWER
Is it old-fashioned to think that the purpose of literature is to educate us about life?
SONTAG
Well, it does educate us about life. I wouldn’t be the person I am, I wouldn’t understand what I understand, were it not for certain books. I’m thinking of the great question of nineteenth-century Russian literature: how should one live? A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.
INTERVIEWER
Do writing an essay and writing a piece of fiction come from different parts of yourself?
SONTAG
Yes. The essay is a constrained form. Fiction is freedom. Freedom to tell stories and freedom to be discursive, too. But essayistic discursiveness, in the context of fiction, has an entirely different meaning. It is always voiced.
INTERVIEWER
It seems as if you have pretty much stopped writing essays.
SONTAG
I have. And most of the essays I’ve succumbed to writing in the past fifteen years are requiems or tributes. The essays on Canetti, Barthes, and Benjamin are about elements in their work and sensibility that I feel close to: Canetti’s cult of admiration and hatred of cruelty, Barthes’s version of the aesthete’s sensibility, Benjamin’s poetics of melancholy. I was very aware that there’s much to be said about them that I didn’t say.
INTERVIEWER
Yes, I can see that those essays are disguised self-portraits. But weren’t you doing much the same thing in early essays, including some of those in Against Interpretation?
SONTAG
I suppose it can’t be helped that it all hangs together. Still, something else was going on in the essays that went into the last collection, Under the Sign of Saturn. I was having a kind of slow-motion, asymptomatic nervous breakdown writing essays. I was so full of feeling and ideas and fantasies that I was still trying to cram into the essay mode. In other words, I’d come to the end of what the essay form could do for me. Maybe the essays on Benjamin, Canetti, and Barthes were self-portraits, but they were also really fictions. My volcano lover, the Cavaliere, is the fully realized fictional form of what I’d been trying to say, in an impacted way, in the essay-portraits of Canetti and Benjamin.
INTERVIEWER
Writing fiction, is your experience one of inventing or figuring out a plot?
SONTAG
Oddly enough, the plot is what seems to come all of a piece—like a gift. It’s very mysterious. Something I hear or see or read conjures up a whole story in all its concreteness—scenes, characters, landscapes, catastrophes. With Death Kit, it was hearing someone utter the childhood nickname of a mutual friend named Richard—just the hearing of the name Diddy. With The Volcano Lover, it was browsing in a print shop near the British Museum and coming across some images of volcanic landscapes that turned out to be from Sir William Hamilton’s Phlegraei Campi. For the new novel, it was reading something in Kafka’s diaries, a favorite book, so I must have already read this paragraph, which may be an account of a dream, more than once. Reading it this time the story of a whole novel, like a movie I’d seen, leaped into my head.
INTERVIEWER
The whole story?
SONTAG
Yes, the whole story. The plot. But what the story can carry or accumulate—that I discover in the writing. If The Volcano Lover starts in a flea market and ends with Eleonora’s beyond-the-grave monologue, it isn’t as if I knew before I started writing all the implications of that journey, which goes from an ironic, down-market vignette of a collector on the prowl to Eleonora’s moral wide-shot view of the whole story that the reader has experienced. Ending with Eleonora, and her denunciation of the protagonists, is as far as you can get from the point of view with which the novel starts.
INTERVIEWER
At the beginning of your legendary essay “Notes on Camp,” which appeared in 1964, you wrote that your attitude was one of “deep sympathy modified by revulsion.” This seems a typical attitude of yours: Both yes and no to camp. Both yes and no to photography. Both yes and no to narrative . . .
SONTAG
It isn’t that I like it and I don’t like it—that’s too simple. Or, if you will, it isn’t “both yes and no.” It’s “this but also that.” I’d love to settle in on a strong feeling or reaction. But, having seen whatever I see, my mind keeps on going and I see something else. It’s that I quickly see the limitations of whatever I say or whatever judgment I make about anything. There’s a wonderful remark of Henry James: “Nothing is my last word on anything.” There’s always more to be said, more to be felt.
INTERVIEWER
I think most people might imagine that you bring some theoretical agenda to fiction—if not as a writer of novels, at least as a reader of them.
SONTAG
But I don’t. I need to care about and be touched by what I read. I can’t care about a book that has nothing to contribute to the wisdom project. And I’m a sucker for a fancy prose style. To put it less giddily, my model for prose is poet’s prose; many of the writers I most admire were poets when young or could have been poets. Nothing theoretical in all that. In fact, my taste is irrepressibly catholic. I shouldn’t care to be prevented from doting on Dreiser’s Jennie Gerhardt and Didion’s Democracy, Glenway Wescott’s The Pilgrim Hawkand Donald Barthelme’s The Dead Father.
INTERVIEWER
You’re mentioning a number of contemporaries you admire. Would you also say you’ve been influenced by them?
SONTAG
Whenever I avow to being influenced, I’m never sure I’m telling the truth. But here goes. I think I learned a lot about punctuation and speed from Donald Barthelme, about adjectives and sentence rhythms from Elizabeth Hardwick. I don’t know if I learned from Nabokov and Thomas Bernhard, but their incomparable books help me keep my standards for myself as severe as they ought to be. And Godard—Godard has been a major nourishment to my sensibility and therefore, inevitably, to my writing. And I’ve certainly learned something as a writer from the way Schnabel plays Beethoven, Glenn Gould plays Bach, and Mitsuko Uchida plays Mozart.
INTERVIEWER
Do you read the reviews of your work?
SONTAG
No. Not even those I’m told are entirely favorable. All reviews upset me. But friends give me a certain thumbs-up, thumbs-down sense of what they are.
INTERVIEWER
After Death Kit you didn’t write much for a few years.
SONTAG
I’d been very active in the antiwar movement since 1964, when it couldn’t yet be called a movement. And that took up more and more time. I got depressed. I waited. I read. I lived in Europe. I fell in love. My admirations evolved. I made some movies. I had a crisis of confidence of how to write because I’ve always thought that a book should be something necessary, and that each book by me should be better than the one before. Punishing standards, but I’m quite loyal to them.
INTERVIEWER
How did you come to write On Photography?
SONTAG
I was having lunch with Barbara Epstein of The New York Review of Books in early 1972 and going on about the Diane Arbus show at the Museum of Modern Art, which I’d just seen, and she said, “Why don’t you write a piece about the show?” I thought that maybe I could. And then when I began writing it I thought that it should start with a few paragraphs about photography in general and then move to Arbus. And soon there was a lot more than a few paragraphs, and I couldn’t extricate myself. The essays multiplied—I felt often like the hapless sorcerer’s apprentice—and they got harder and harder to write, I mean, to get right. But I’m stubborn—I was on the third essay before I managed to place some paragraphs about Arbus and the show—and, feeling I’d committed myself, wouldn’t give up. It took five years to write the six essays that make up On Photography.
INTERVIEWER
But you told me that you wrote your next book, Illness as Metaphor, very fast.
SONTAG
Well, it’s shorter. One long essay, the nonfiction equivalent of a novella. And being ill—while writing it I was a cancer patient with a gloomy prognosis—was certainly very focusing. It gave me energy to think I was writing a book that would be helpful to other cancer patients and those close to them.
INTERVIEWER
All along you’d been writing stories . . .
SONTAG
Revving up for a novel.
INTERVIEWER
Soon after finishing The Volcano Lover you started another novel. Does that mean that you’re more drawn to longer, rather than shorter, forms of fiction?
SONTAG
Yes. There are a few of my stories which I like a lot—from I, etcetera, “Debriefing” and “Unguided Tour,” and “The Way We Live Now,” which I wrote in 1987. But I feel more drawn to polyphonic narratives, which need to be long—or longish.
INTERVIEWER
How much time did it take you to write The Volcano Lover?
SONTAG
From the first sentence of the first draft to the galleys, two and a half years. For me that’s fast.
INTERVIEWER
Where were you?
SONTAG
I started The Volcano Lover in September 1989 in Berlin, where I had gone to hang out thinking that I was going to a place that was both very isolated and the Berkeley of Central Europe. Although only two months after I arrived Berlin had started to become a very different place, it still retained its main advantages for me—I wasn’t in my apartment in New York with all my books, and I wasn’t in the place that I was writing about either. That sort of double distancing works very well for me.
About half of The Volcano Lover was written between late 1989 and the end of 1990 in Berlin. The second half was written in my apartment in New York, except for two chapters that I wrote in a hotel room in Milan (a two-week escapade) and another chapter that I wrote in the Mayflower Hotel in New York. That was the Cavaliere’s deathbed interior monologue, which I thought I had to write in one go, in complete isolation, and knew—I don’t know how I knew—that I could do in three days. So I left my apartment and checked into the hotel with my typewriter and legal-sized pads and felt-tip pens, and ordered up BLTs until I was done.
INTERVIEWER
Did you write the novel in sequence?
SONTAG
Yes. I write chapter by chapter and I don’t go on to the next chapter until the one I’m working on is in final form. That was frustrating at first because from the beginning I knew much of what I wanted the characters to say in the final monologues, but I feared that if I wrote them early on I wouldn’t be able to go back to the middle. I was also afraid that maybe by the time I got to it I would have forgotten some of the ideas or no longer be connected to those feelings. The first chapter, which is about fourteen typewritten pages, took me four months to write. The last five chapters, some one hundred typewritten pages, took me two weeks.
INTERVIEWER
How much of the book did you have in mind before you started?
SONTAG
I had the title; I can’t write something unless I already know its title. I had the dedication; I knew I would dedicate it to my son. I had the Così fan tutte epigraph. And of course I had the story in some sense, and the span of the book. And what was most helpful, I had a very strong idea of a structure. I took it from a piece of music, Hindemith’s The Four Temperaments—a work I know very well, since it’s the music of one of Balanchine’s most sublime ballets, which I’ve seen countless times. The Hindemith starts with a triple prologue, three very short pieces. Then come four movements—melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic, choleric. In that order. I knew I was going to have a triple prologue and then four sections or parts corresponding to the four temperaments—though I saw no reason to belabor the idea by actually labeling Parts I to IV “melancholic,” “sanguinic,” etcetera. I knew all of that, plus the novel’s last sentence: “Damn them all.” Of course, I didn’t know who was going to utter it. In a sense, the whole work of writing the novel consisted of making something that would justify that sentence.
INTERVIEWER
That sounds like a lot to know before beginning.
SONTAG
Yes, but for all that I knew about it, I still didn’t understand all that it could be. I started off thinking that The Volcano Lover was the story of the volcano lover, Sir William Hamilton, the man I call the Cavaliere; that the book would stay centered on him. And I was going to develop the character of the self-effacing first Lady Hamilton, Catherine, at the expense of the story of his second wife, which everyone knows. I knew her story and the relation with Nelson had to figure in the novel, but I intended to keep it in the background. The triple prologue and Part I, with its many variations on the theme of melancholy (or depression, as we call it)—the melancholy of the collector, the ecstatic sublimation of that melancholy—all that went as planned. Part I never leaves the Cavaliere. But then, when I started Part II—which was to have variations on the theme of blood, from the sanguinic Emma, this person bursting with energy and vitality, to the literal blood of the Neapolitan revolution—Emma kidnapped the book. And that permitted the novel to open out (the chapters got longer and longer) into a furor of storytelling and of reflections about justice, war and cruelty. That was the end of the main narrative, told in the third person. The rest of the novel was to be in the first person. A very short Part III; the Cavaliere—delirious, “phlegmatic”—enacts, in words, his dying. That went exactly as I’d imagined it, but then I was back in the Cavaliere-centered world of Part I. There were more surprises for me when I came to write the monologues of Part IV, “choleric”—women, angry women, speaking from beyond the grave.
INTERVIEWER
Why beyond the grave?
SONTAG
A supplementary fiction, making it more plausible that they are speaking with such insistent, heartfelt, heartbreaking truthfulness. My equivalent of the unmediated, acutely rueful directness of an operatic aria. And how could I resist the challenge of ending each monologue with the character describing her own death?
INTERVIEWER
Were they always going to be all women?
SONTAG
Yes, definitely. I always knew the book would end with women’s voices, the voices of some of the women characters in the book, who would finally have their say.
INTERVIEWER
And give the woman’s point of view.
SONTAG
Well, you’re assuming that there is a woman’s, or a female, point of view. I don’t. Your question reminds me that, whatever their numbers, women are always regarded, are culturally constructed, as a minority. It’s to minorities that we impute having a unitary point of view. Lord, what do women want? Etcetera. Had I ended the novel with the voices of four men, no one would suppose I was giving the male point of view; the differences among the four voices would be too striking. These women are as different from each other as any of four men characters in the novel I might have chosen. Each retells the story (or part of it) already known to the reader from her own point of view. Each has a truth to tell.
INTERVIEWER
Do they have anything in common?
SONTAG
Of course. They all know, in different ways, that the world is run by men. So, with respect to the great public events that have touched their lives, they have the insight of the disenfranchised to contribute. But they don’t speak only about public events.
INTERVIEWER
Did you know who the women would be?
SONTAG
I knew pretty soon that the first three beyond-the-grave monologues would be by Catherine, Emma’s mother, and Emma. But I was already in the middle of writing Part II, Chapter 6 and boning up on the Neapolitan Revolution of 1799, before I found the speaker of the fourth and last monologue—Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel, who makes a brief appearance toward the end of that chapter, the narrative climax of the novel. And, finding her, I finally understood the unwrapped gift of that last line, which I’d heard in my head before I’d even started writing—that hers would be the voice that had the right to utter it. The events, public and private, of her life, as well as her atrocious death, follow the historical record, but her principles—her ethical ardor—are the novelist’s invention. While I’d felt sympathy for the characters in The Benefactor and Death Kit, what I feel for the characters in The Volcano Lover is love (I had to borrow a stage villain, Scarpia, to have one character in The Volcano Lover I didn’t love). But I can live with their becoming small at the end. I mean, it is the end of the novel. I was thinking in cinematic terms as I did throughout Part II, Chapter 6. Remember how so many French films of the early 1960s ended with the camera in long shot starting to pull back, and the character moving further and further into the rear of the pictured space, becoming smaller and smaller as the credits start to roll. Seen in the ethical wide shot that Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel provides, Nelson and the Cavaliere and Emma should be judged as harshly as she judges them. Although they do end badly in one way or another, they are extremely privileged, they’re still winners—except for poor Emma, and even she has quite a ride for a while. The last word should be given to someone who speaks for victims.
INTERVIEWER
There are so many voices—stories and substories.
SONTAG
Until the late 1980s most of what I did in fiction was going on inside a single consciousness, whether it was actually in the first person like The Benefactor or nominally in the third person like Death Kit. Until The Volcano Lover, I wasn’t able to give myself permission to tell a story, a real story, as opposed to the adventures of somebody’s consciousness. The key was this structure that I borrowed from the Hindemith composition. I’d had the idea for a long time that my third novel was going to have the title “The Anatomy of Melancholy.” But I was resisting it—I don’t mean fiction, but that novel, whose story hadn’t yet been given to me. But it’s obvious to me now that I didn’t really want to write it. I mean a book written under the aegis of that title, which is just another way of saying “under the sign of Saturn.” Most of my work had projected only one of the old temperaments—melancholy. I didn’t want to write just about melancholy. The musical structure, with its arbitrary order, freed me. Now I could do all four.
With The Volcano Lover the door opened and I have a wider entry. That’s the great struggle, for more access and more expressiveness, isn’t it? You don’t—I’m adapting a phrase of Philip Larkin—write the novels you really want to write. But I think I’m coming closer.
INTERVIEWER
It seems as if some of your essayistic impulses are also part of the novel’s form.
SONTAG
I suppose it’s true that if you strung together all the passages about collecting in The Volcano Lover you’d have a discontinuous, aphoristic essay that might well stand on its own. Still, the degree of essayistic speculation in The Volcano Lover seems restrained if compared with a central tradition of the European novel. Think of Balzac and Tolstoy and Proust, who go on for pages and pages that could really be excerpted as essays. Or The Magic Mountain, perhaps the thinkiest great novel of all. But speculation, rumination, direct address to the reader are entirely indigenous to the novel form. The novel is a big boat. It’s not so much that I was able to salvage the banished essayist in myself. It’s that the essayist in me was only part of the novelist I’ve finally given myself permission to be.
INTERVIEWER
Did you have to do a lot of research?
SONTAG
You mean reading? Yes, some. The me who is a self-defrocked academic found that part of writing a novel set in the past very pleasurable.
INTERVIEWER
Why set a novel in the past?
SONTAG
To escape the inhibitions connected with my sense of the contemporary, my sense of how degraded and debased the way we live and feel and think is now. The past is bigger than the present. Of course, the present is always there too. The narrating voice of The Volcano Lover is very much of the late twentieth century, driven by late-twentieth-century concerns. It was never my idea to write a “you are there” historical novel, even while it was a matter of honor to make the historical substance of the novel as dense and accurate as I could. It felt even more spacious that way. But having decided to give myself one more romp in the past—with “In America,” the novel I’m writing now—I’m not sure it will work out the same way this time.
INTERVIEWER
When is it set?
SONTAG
From the mid-1870s almost to the end of the nineteenth century. And, like The Volcano Lover, it’s based on a real story, that of a celebrated Polish actress and her entourage who left Poland and went to Southern California to create a Utopian community. The attitudes of my principal characters are wonderfully exotic to me—Victorian, if you will. But the America they arrive in is not so exotic, though I’d thought that to set a book in late-nineteenth-century America would feel almost as remote as late-eighteenth-century Naples and London. It’s not. There is an astonishing continuity of cultural attitudes in our country. I never cease to be surprised that the America Tocqueville observed in the early 1830s is, in most respects, recognizably the America of the end of the twentieth century—even though the demographic and ethnographic composition of the country has totally changed. It’s as if you had changed both the blade and handle of a knife and it is still the same knife.
INTERVIEWER
Your play, Alice in Bed, is also about a late-nineteenth-century sensibility.
SONTAG
Yes—Alice James plus the nineteenth century’s most famous Alice, Lewis Carroll’s. I was directing a production of Pirandello’s As You Desire Me in Italy, and one day Adriana Asti, who played the lead, said to me—dare I say it?—playfully, Please write a play for me. And remember, I have to be onstage all the time. And then Alice James, thwarted writer and professional invalid, fell into my head, and I made up the play on the spot and told it to Adriana. But I didn’t write it for another ten years.
INTERVIEWER
Are you going to write more plays? You’ve always been very involved with theater.
SONTAG
Yes. I hear voices. That’s why I like to write plays. And I’ve lived in the world of theater artists for much of my life. When I was very young, acting was the only way I knew how to insert myself into what happens on a stage: starting at ten, I was taken on for some kiddie roles in Broadway plays put on by a community theater (this was in Tucson); I was active in student theater—Sophocles, Shakespeare—at the University of Chicago; and in my early twenties did a bit of summer stock. Then I stopped. I’d much rather direct plays (though not my own). And make films (I hope to make better ones than the four I wrote and directed in Sweden, Israel, and Italy in the 1970s and early 1980s). And direct operas, which I haven’t done yet. I’m very drawn to opera—the art form that most regularly and predictably produces ecstasy (at least in this opera lover). Opera is one of the inspirations of The Volcano Lover—stories from operas and operatic emotions.
INTERVIEWER
Does literature produce ecstasy?
SONTAG
Sure, but less reliably than music and dance; literature has more on its mind. One must be strict with books. I want to read only what I’ll want to reread—the definition of a book worth reading once.
INTERVIEWER
Do you ever go back and reread your work?
SONTAG
Except to check translations, no. Definitely no. I’m not curious. I’m not attached to the work I’ve already done. Also, perhaps I don’t want to see how it’s all the same. Maybe I’m always reluctant to reread anything I wrote more than ten years ago because it would destroy my illusion of endless new beginnings. That’s the most American part of me: I feel that it’s always a new start.
INTERVIEWER
But your work is so diverse.
SONTAG
Well it’s supposed to be diverse, though of course there is a unity of temperament, of preoccupation—certain predicaments, certain emotions that recur—ardor and melancholy. And an obsessive concern with human cruelty, whether cruelty in personal relations or the cruelty of war.
INTERVIEWER
Do you think your best work is still to come?
SONTAG
I hope so. Or . . . yes.
INTERVIEWER
Do you think much about the audience for your books?
SONTAG
Don’t dare. Don’t want to. But, anyway, I don’t write because there’s an audience. I write because there is literature.

The Paris Review No. 137, Winter 1995