Liz’s News of the Books

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It Doesn’t Mean What You Want It To Mean

Nothing about this case makes sense.

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is one of the most heralded, widely read and referenced books of all time. Not to spoil it for you, but it involves a mentally retarded character who accidentally commits a crime. So fine, the state of Texas referenced it in regards to the case of Marvin Wilson, who allegedly murdered a police informant back in 1992. The U.S government has banned the execution of mentally disabled prisoners. What’s the problem here?

That Texas went and, using the justification of Steinbeck’s novel, executed Marvin Wilson, who had an IQ of 61. Except that according to how what they said, they shouldn’t have executed him: “Most Texas citizens might agree that Steinbeck’s Lennie should, by virtue of his lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills, be exempt.” I’m not sure quite how, with an IQ of 61, Marvin Wilson does not qualify for a lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills or how Texas decided that he was not mentally disabled. These are not questions for a literary blog. All I can say is that I don’t think Texas prosecutors read Of Mice and Men closely enough.

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Liz’s News of the Books

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The Age of Ageism

Is this just a thing that the British do? Make incredibly dismissive, overarching generalizations about writing to piss off a certain segment of the literary population? (I have no idea why.To increase hits on their website? Because someone’s got to argue about writing, and since there are apparently only 20 literary arguments under the sun to go along with the 20 plots, they have to keep trying new variations on them?)

About a month ago, it was childless women writers. Now, Robert McCrum, himself no spring chicken, says that literary masterpieces are best accomplished by those under 40. He grants a few “exceptions” here and there—Dostevsky, for one, but otherwise just continues to make a blanket statement: that old age is bad for a writing career.

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Liz’s News of the Books

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The Jester & the Psycho

I’ve only read one short story and about 40 pages of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.Yes, I know, I need to fix this. I certainly liked what I read: the short story, Little Expressionless Animals, is one of my all-time favorites, and Wallace’s hyperverbal, quick-witted style is one to which I aspire. I also, perhaps, should read more Bret Easton Ellis. I simultaneously crave the voice of and am appalled by American Psycho. I don’t know how to take Ellis, or his assertions that what he writes isn’t autobiographical (and you sort of hope it isn’t). But whatever, I like his writing, and I’ve got lots of time to read both him and Wallace.

And my curiosity is piqued by Ellis’s recent trashing of Wallace on Twitter.He’s just so darn angry. It’s rude to speak ill of the dead, but Ellis doesn’t really care about convention, as we’ve seen again and again (using repeating characters, making himself a character, being coy about his inspirations and in his personal life, his sexuality).What is he objecting to in Wallace? They have a certain similarity, I’d say, in style, both relying on contemporary touchstones and distinct voices to tell a story. Is it that Ellis is in some ways a one-hit wonder, and that one hit is demonized, while the dead Wallace is eulogized and stands as the most recent member of the Western canon (of dead white guys)?

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Liz Baudler’s News of the Books

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If you’re reading this right now, you’re probably affected by books and language. You hold what great authors say in high esteem. You might even have a secret file on your computer with thousands of paragraphs pretending to be a novel. What world have you stepped into, you with your love of literature?

It’s not a relaxing one. Those who are good with words are often good at using them to their downfall, and as a writer, you are a public corpse to be dissected, your work used and misused against your will, your very attributes questioned. It’s scandalous: it’s fascinating.

What follows is one perhaps-not-as well-read-as-she-should-be-writer’s reactions to what’s lighting up the literary spheres. I’ll dissect the stories out there, find precedents for what’s happening now, and offer my two cents. I like to see all sides of an issue, so I may not always have the best or most fervent arguments. But at least you’ll know what’s out there and what I think about it. And I’d love to hear what you think, too. One day, we may all be famous enough to start our own literary controversies, but in the meantime, everybody can be a critic, ethicist, or grammarian about the subject we love best: literature.

The Wrong Sort of Creativity

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