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One of the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs: "A home-grown treasure ... smart, serious analysis"

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Blog entries on '15 June 2007'

Friday 15 June 2007

The Black Swan

I keep hearing intriguing things about Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book The Black Swan. Frustratingly, my copy hasn't landed yet, so I can't tell you much, but there is a small interview with Nassim over on the Penguin website:

Q: The Black Swan is an intriguing title - can you give us an overview of what a black swan looks like?

A: The Black Swan is about these unexpected events that end up controlling our lives, the world, the economy, history, everything. Before they happen we consider them close to impossible; after they happen we think that they were predictable and partake of a larger scheme. They are rare, but their impact is monstrous. My main problem is: We don't know that these events play such a large role. Why are we blind to them?

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 15 June 2007

Bookforum online

The latest issue of the excellent American literary magazine Bookforum is completely available online. All of it! Bookforum is one of my very favourite things so do check this out. (UK subscription rates are a steal, by the way.) Includes Stefanie Sobelle on Gabriel Josipovici's Goldberg: Variations and Ross Benjamin on Peter Handke's Crossing the Sierra de Gredos.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Friday 15 June 2007

Criticism vs. Reviewing

Eric at Wet Asphalt takes a look at Criticism vs. Reviewing:

... blogs tend toward shorter pieces than magazines or newspapers. Straight up reviews tend to be shorter than longer critical essays. I still expect all of them to deal with the subject of fiction (and poetry!) with the same sort of honesty, earnestness, intelligence, insight and passion. I want all of them to make me think about fiction in new ways, to expose me to authors I've never heard of, and make me reconsider the ones I have. And if you can do that, I'll call the work you do it with whatever name you want me to.

Eric looks at this subject through the prism of the differences between the work of the New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani and James Wood ("who writes chiefly for the New Republic and The Guardian"). Essentially, dismissing Kakutani and lauding Wood, Eric only sees a difference of "of quality rather than of genre" between the two. I'm not so sure. I think at some point the differences in quality (and, often, length) between a review and criticism make the distinction useful. Certainly, at one extreme, the difference is obvious: a 200-word plot summary is not criticism. As a review gets more complex and in-depth, though, it is a distinction one often feels but that isn't particularly easy to define.

One difference between the two forms might be the focus in reviewing on the book in hand, the story it is telling, and how successfully it accomplishes what it sets out to do: synopsis plus brief evaluation. With criticism, the book is additionally placed in its wider context and set against other works (often within a particular -- and sometimes particularly technical -- critical apparatus): synopsis, context, evaluation. With a review, the theoretical perspective is rarely made apparent -- the review is a "common-sense" take. Criticism is aware that any "common-sense" view of literature is naive: it hides an ideological reading it simply isn't aware of. Criticism incorporates the knowledge of the existence of its own perspective into its reading. Kakutani blathers; James Wood -- whether you agree with it or not -- has an explicit theory and measures work against it.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

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Memorial Tablet

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
‘In proud and glorious memory’... that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west...
What greater glory could a man desire?

-- Siegfried Sassoon
Collected Poems (Faber and Faber)

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Word of the Day

The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or two

Pre-order Anu Garg's new book: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words (ISBN 9780452288614), published by Penguin more …

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October's Books of the Month

The New Spirit of Capitalism The New Spirit of Capitalism
Luc Boltanski; Eve Chiapello
Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM
Steve Lake, Paul Griffiths

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