Sunday Post for November 15, 2015

Terror Strikes in Paris

Only one story today about Paris, because that is about all I can bear. But reactions that are neither hot nor takes, but explorations of deeply felt frustrations, help me to process the horror of Friday evening. I've come to rely on Adam Gopnik's measured approach to tragedy, and his ever-apparent frustration with the violence he writes about for the New Yorker.

Terrorism of this nihilistic order is hardly unknown in Paris. But the terrorists of the seventies—like the Palestinians who, in 1982, committed a very similar horror, bombing and machine-gunning helpless diners in the Jewish restaurant Chez Jo Goldenberg, in the Marais—at least had some horrible logic of publicity appear to govern their acts. The new hunger for mass casualties, far beyond the needs even of diabolic publicity, is tied to a larger apocalyptic vision, a renewal of the twelfth-century religious warfare that the ISIS message underlined with such glee. The communiqué warned that this was only “the first of the storm.” This view, which was Glucksmann’s view, of an unappeasable war between modernity and a neo-medieval appetite for authority and absolute religious warfare, today must be more persuasive to more Parisians than it ever has been before.
Don DeLillo, The Art of Fiction No. 135

A 1993 interview from the Paris Review with Don DeLillo that was making the rounds this week. Interviewer Adam Begley asked if it made a difference in his career that he started writing novels when he was nearly thirty.

Well, I wish I had started earlier, but evidently I wasn’t ready. First, I lacked ambition. I may have had novels in my head but very little on paper and no personal goals, no burning desire to achieve some end. Second, I didn’t have a sense of what it takes to be a serious writer. It took me a long time to develop this. Even when I was well into my first novel I didn’t have a system for working, a dependable routine. I worked haphazardly, sometimes late at night, sometimes in the afternoon. I spent too much time doing other things or nothing at all. On humid summer nights I tracked horseflies through the apartment and killed them—not for the meat but because they were driving me crazy with their buzzing. I hadn’t developed a sense of the level of dedication that’s necessary to do this kind of work.
How Could You Like That Book?

Tim Parks, in the New York Review of Books, explores that all too common feeling when we come across somebody who likes a book we just can't understand them liking.

Perhaps it’s easy for me to understand why so many are not on board with these writers because I occasionally feel the same way myself. In fact it may be that the most seductive novelists are also the ones most willing to risk irritating you. Faulkner comes to mind, so often on the edge between brilliant and garrulous. Italy’s Carlo Emilio Gadda was another. Muriel Spark. Sometimes even Kafka. Resistance to these writers is never a surprise to me.

On the other hand, I do spend endless hours mulling over the mystery of what others like. Again and again the question arises: How can they?

When People—and Characters—Surprise You

Mary Gaitskill talks about Anna Karenina and breaks down why a particular passage was so meaningful to her.

I read Anna Karenina for the first time about two years ago. It’s something I’d always meant to read, but for some reason I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. When I finally settled down to read it, I loved it. What strikes me about the book is how precisely rendered the characters are, how recognizable they are as people. It was written so many years ago, and yet the characters are descriptions of people I know and see.