Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What the hell does "literary" mean?

Someone called Alan Glynn's Winterland a "literary thriller," but I didn't let that stop me, and so far I'm not disappointed.

I'll get to the book later, but let's talk about that word literary first. I've never liked it, but I could never quite figure out why. It's a favorite of anti-genre snobs, of course, but one learns to tolerate idiots like that.

Then it hit me: literary as a label is a kind of intellectual Viagra, a confidence booster for book buyers so insecure about their own tastes that they need to be reassured of a book's respectability before they'll plunk down their $24.99.

I'm all for the qualities that I think marketers have in mind when they call a book literary. Call Winterland stylistically adventurous, and I'll agree with you. Say that it tests the boundaries of thriller and crime conventions, and I'll give a little cheer. But call it literary, and I'm liable to roll my eyes, think, "What the &*(*&*#$ does that mean?", and choose another book instead. I'd likely have done so with Winterland had I not heard good things about the novel from people I trust, none of whom called it literary.

So, what does literary mean to you? What do you think it means to publishers, publicists and reviewers, especially with respect to crime fiction?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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117 Comments:

Anonymous Adrian said...

Christ. It wasn't me was it? I did a blurb for Winterland and was VERY impressed by it. I might have used the L word. If so, apologies.

August 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Nah, it's OK; you're not literary, as far as I know. I think that use was in a publisher's or publicist's letter.

Winterland has quite a list of blurbers, on my copy Allan Guthrie, Declan Hughes, Val McDermid, George Pelecanos, Jason Starr and, of course, Ken Bruen.

I'm a little more than a hundred pages in. It's terrific so far.

August 10, 2010  
Blogger Karen Russell said...

When I'm reviewing mysteries I use "literary" to mean that it's heavy on characterization as opposed to just having an exciting plot -- that it would appeal to people who like good literature in addition to those who like crime fiction.

I suppose all crime fiction SHOULD be good literature, but in reality some writers are better at twisting plots than at turning phrases!

Do you have a better way of describing that difference? I'll happily convert. :)

August 10, 2010  
Anonymous adrian said...

So Schoenfelder didnt use my blurb, eh? In that case I take it back. It was rubbish. The butler did it. How come there was no snow in this so called Winterland?

Speaking of Val McD. Never read her but one of the things I liked about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (one of the very few things) was his name checking of authors he admired, Val McD, Martha Grimes et. al. He at least didnt have his characters reading Proust or something.

August 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Karen, welcome and thanks for the comment.

No, it's not that I have a better label than "literary," it's that I'm not sure what good any label does or whether one is even necessary. I'd just feel more comfortable being told what the reviewer means by "literary."

Literary could mean characterization, as you suggest, or adventurous prose style or testing of genre conventions, as I suggest. It can also mean pompous, condescending and sententious. It's entirely too troublesome and imprecise, in other words.

August 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, that's obviously an early copy of Winterland that I have. Those names were all back-of-the-jacket blurbs, by the way. The front-cover blurb is from John Connolly. I don't know where else to look for blurbs.

I seem to recall at least one other crime-fiction reference in The 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I don;t remember who it was, though.

August 10, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

There was quite a bit of discussion on the topic of "literary fiction" in the replies to your July 03 2010 post, "Peter Temple's style suits his substance."

August 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've dabbled in such discussions from time to time, but I was never able to articulate my dislike of the term "literary" until now. I imagine that Temple post would have been sparked by his winning Australia's Miles Franklin Prize.

August 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, considering your objections to Stieg Larsson's depiction of violence against women, Val McDermid is an interesting choice of authors to admire. I haven't read her, either, but I think she's been at the center of various debates about violence against women written by women in crime fiction.

August 10, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Some of these distinctions are phony: There are plenty of books that are mysteries or crime fiction which are "literary" indeed, some much better than what passes for "literary fiction" these days.

So what is the definition of "literary" fiction anyway? It's not every non-mystery book, so how is it characterized?

I've read mysteries that are far superior writing-wise to many non-mysteries.

And mysteries run the gamet in many sub-genres, so again I don't know what the distinction is.

"Winterland" sounds good. By the way, Reactions to Reading website cheers on "Mystery Man" by Bateman; the concern is laughing out loud uproariously in public while reading it.

I'll have to put both on my huge TBR list.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, this is a complicated question that, however, may not be worth all the attention I'm giving it here.

I believe in the distinction between high and low. Some writing is better than others. Some authors are more ambitious than others, and the pleasures to be gained from, say, an enjoyable action movie are not the same those to be gained from, say, Hamlet. But the distinction cannot be based on genre, at least not solely or even primarily.

Anyone using the word "literary" in my presence in any but the plainest, most literal sense ("The Booker, the Edgar and the Dagger are literary prizes.") can expect me to ask what he or she is talking about because I probably will not umderstand.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger adrian.mckinty said...

Peter

In another place I've mentioned that the late Mr Larsson reminds me of one of those creepy college lecturers who professes to be a feminist but is always hitting on the freshers. Endorsing Val McD seems to be a good approach if you are going down that route.

On the wider point, literary fiction is just a genre like every other genre. One largely taylored for urban middle class white people. I dont have any problems with it just as I dont have any problems with romance or science fiction.

I think the problems come in when a novelist believes he or she is writing for posterity. That can get annoying. It's also silly. I doubt very much if any novel written since 1945 will be read for pleasure 100 years hence, certainly not in 500 years and 500 years is just a blip in the eons of time that lie ahead.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I'll avoid speculation on why Larsson might have endorsed Val McDermid simply because I've read just one of his books and none of hers. It might be interesting to learn, though, what she has to say about violence against women in his books. And she will be a guest of honor at Bouchercon, which means a public interview, so perhaps the question will come up.

Calling literary fiction a genre is a useful start, though I'm afraid there appears little chance anyone will come up with a widely accepted definition of it.

Not being an author myself, I haven't thought much about why authors write. I'm more interested in what reviewers, publicists and publishers mean when they talk about "literary fiction." I don't think civilians -- regular readers -- ever use the term.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a nice take on Larsson, by the way, the creepy college lecturer.

August 11, 2010  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Peter

Well yes I have no idea about Val McD either because I havent read her stuff. I suppose on one level it must be flattering to get a name check in one of the most popular novels of recent years, but I would hope that the violence in Dragon Tattoo makes her at least pause for thought.

I've read 1 and a half Stieg Larsson novels. I nearly stopped reading book 2 when the punky feminist icon got the breast implants (!) but I did stop reading when she kept banging on about "the ignorant American tourists" who despoil the world with their vulgar ways.

Humorless Bush era shlock.

August 11, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Well, this is complicated about Stieg Larsson, but many women readers and reviewers, including those who are very smart and write analytical reviews, think that his books are very good and expose violence against women. And, in the case of Lizbeth Salander, there was nobody who would defend her, so she had to do it herself. And, given the horrible abuse inflicted upon her by many, she got angry and instead of turning it on herself and giving up on life, she got justice in her way.
Book III vindicates her and also has several great, brilliant, courageous women characters.
As a woman reader I know (who loves the Larsson trilogy) said, Salander is "drop-dead brilliant, courageous and independent."

About Val McDermid, I don't know what she thinks. She writes all kinds of books. I have read a few; those I read had no violence.
Women writers shouldn't be held up to a higher standard, but should be able to write what they want to write.

There are lots of books out there with horrible violence against women. People just shouldn't buy them or read them. Then publishers will figure this out and not promote those books.

On "literary" fiction, I still can't figure it out. Arnaldur Indridason, for example, writes so well, better than many non-mystery writers. So why is he left off of a "literary" fiction list? (There are others; this is just an example.)

I think it's time to move on from Stieg Larsson. There are many opinions. Not everyone will agree.

I've enjoyed reading Petrona's reviews and analysis of the trilogy and Scandinavian Crime Fiction's blogs, too.

But I'm leaving it behind now and trying to read more Sjowall/Wahloo, Camilleri, Tana French and lots more...so much more.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I don't remember too many laughs in Larsson, though there is one bit of self-effacing humor in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, something about a fat, doorstop novel.

I do seem to recall reading that Val McDermid has not shied away from depicting extreme violence, possibly against women, and that this may have made some readers, critics or both uncomfortable. Perhaps this is why Larsson mentioned her.

August 11, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, while navigating through the shoals of old DBB blog posts in an effort to see if/what you had written about Ken Bruen's "Brant" novels (have now read 2 and enjoy them much more than the Jack Taylors) I ran across another post relevant to this one that readers might want to re/visit: December 08, 2007 "Some sensible words about crime fiction...". Interesting quote and discussion.

I was also interested to read that, at least at one time, you didn't care for KB's use of literary and musical quotes and assorted epigrams to begin his chapters. And here I thought I might be alone in that dislike. I find them distracting and never can remember them as I read the chapters.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I would not think it out of place if Arnaldur were to be nominated for a non-crime literary award. I wonder if he is considered for such awards in the Nordic world.

Happily, we readers don't have to worry about such matters. We can read our Arnaldur and our Peter Temple and our Alan Glynn and not give a rat's rear end whether anyone considers them literary or not.

August 11, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

There's also Adrian Hyland and "Gunshot Road," for a book that transcends the mystery genre.

And though I haven't yet read Johan Theorin's books, I think he does, too.

I just wouldn't hold McDermid to a higher standard than lots of male authors who write volumes with violence against women. There are lots of authors I won't read at all and that goes back years because of this.

Yes, we can read whatever we choose--as long as it's available in our city by whatever means necessary.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Val McDermid will be a guest of honor at Bouchercon in San Francisco. I plan to attend the convention. Perhaps moving in her orbit and hearing her speak will draw me to her books. If so, I may have something intelligent to say about her by, say, the end of October.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

"Literary"" and merit seem to be welded together, as you have pointed out.

I have blogged about the shock I experienced in College, where most of the writers I enjoyed reading did not even register on the curriculum.

I have to admit I don't have a negative reaction to the idea of a "literary thriller" genre. Some searches later, I found that John Buchan is considered to be the first literary thriller writer,and I'll leave it to the experts to thrash out the details, for and against this theory.


Proust, I think, would have made a great thriller writer. His ability to keep suspense going for pages is wonderful.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Declan Burke said...

Peter -

I've only read one Val McDermid to date, FEVER OF THE BONE, but it was terrific. Strongly recommend it.

I agree in principle with what Kathy says about 'horrible violence against women', and those writers who over-do it, but surely the same applies to horrible violence enacted against men? And, if we baulk at reading and writing such things, what future does the crime novel have?

As for Val McDermid's opinion of Stieg Larsson - I wrote a feature this week on crime writers' takes on the Millennium Trilogy, and she had this to say:

“What I think Larsson has done is similar to what JK Rowling did so spectacularly well, he’s synthesised the most successful elements of other people’s writing into something that has the ability to reach a mass market. There’s nothing especially revolutionary about his work - it’s unusual to see a man writing with such strong views on misogyny, but women thriller writers have been doing that for a long time now without generating such amazement. [...] “I think he’s a terrific storyteller, and he’s created a pair of protagonists who really have the power to make us care what happens to them. I like his ideas, and I wish he’d lived to explore further the issues he was clearly so passionate about. I also wish he had lived long enough to work with an editor to make the books sharper and less baggy. What I think is excellent news for crime writers is that it has woken up a wider audience to the power of the contemporary genre.”

Cheers, Dec

August 11, 2010  
Blogger R/T said...

The following link offers some interesting tidbits about literary and genre fiction. I am persuaded by the article that I ought to make a beeline to the library and bookstore for some Higgins! Enjoy!

http://www.mulhollandbooks.com/2010/08/09/making-sense-of-nothing-and-making-nothing-of-sense-a-maundering-on-the-taxonomy-of-writing-and-i-forget-what-else/

August 11, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Sometimes I wonder why I read this blog and then I read something like this:

Then it hit me: literary as a label is a kind of intellectual Viagra, a confidence booster for book buyers so insecure about their own tastes that they need to be reassured of a book's respectability before they'll plunk down their $24.99.

Then I realize why Rozovsky is my hero (Yes, I'm serious, Peter).

I'm someone who prefers the public's taste to the critic's taste but what that really means for me is that the public gets it wrong slightly less often than the critics get it wrong.

To take up a point that appears in the comments, the only reason people talk so much about Stieg Larsson is because of how many books he has sold. But thats a pisspoor reason to talk about any writer.

One site I've come across lists the best-selling books since 1900. I can't vouch for its accuracy but these are the bestselling books for each decade starting with the 1900s:

To Have And To Hold Mary Johnston
The Rosary Florence Barclay
The Man of the Forest Zane Grey
Cimmaron Edna Ferber
How Green Was My Valley Richard Llewellyn
The Cardinal Henry Morton Robinson
Advise And Consent Allen Drury
Love Story Erich Segal
The Covenant James A Michener
The Plains of Passage Jean M Auel

This is the list Stieg Larsson's novels will be attached to. In the future, his novels will be as worthy of comment as these books are. But, of course, nobody talks about these books anymore. My prediction is that ten years from now Larsson's name will be as unfamiliar as most of the names on the above list.

I won't talk about the term literary since what you have said hardly needs adding to. But may I be rude about the term experimental which is so often applied to books? In science, a researcher is ridiculed if his or her experiment fails, but in literature a writer is clapped on the back merely for trying something considered experimental.

I think when it comes to literature we need a little more scientific rigour.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Tales, I have no quarrel with discussion of a crime novel's literary qualities or even with the suggestion that it has literary merit. But calling something a "literary thriller" or "literary crime novel" implies the existence of a non-literary thriller, etc., which is absurd, I think. There's good literature, bad literature, poorly written, exploitive literature, but there's no non-literature, hence no non-literary literature, hence no non-literary thrillers, hence no literary thrillers.

Here's a set of definitions of literary that I've just dug up. Numbers 1, 2 and 5 are most pertinent to the current discussion:

lit·er·ar·y

–adjective
1. pertaining to or of the nature of books and writings, esp. those classed as literature: literary history.
2. pertaining to authorship: literary style.
3. versed in or acquainted with literature; well-read.
4. engaged in or having the profession of literature or writing: a literary man.
5. characterized by an excessive or affected display of learning; stilted; pedantic.
6. preferring books to actual experience; bookish.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Declan, is that feature of yours available online? Val McDermid's assessment is far and away the most acute and level-headed I've read of Larsson, including the comment about death having insulated his books from editing.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, R/T. I had read that article. Sarcasm and sneering disdain are rarely attractive or amusing, but Tosches either doesn't know this or doesn't care. Your comment was funnier than what he wrote.

I like what he says about Higgins and Highsmith, though, especially his overcoming initial resistance to the latter. I thought aspects of The Friends of Eddie Coyle had not dated well, but the ensuing discussion on my site, including recommendations from readers who disagreed with me, got me interested in some of his other, lesser-known novels. Authors worship the guy, which has to mean something.

I also acknowledged that I wasn't around when Higgins first hit and thus might be in no position to appreciate his innovations and the effect he may have had.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I like the comments from Val McDermid that Declan posted, which is not to say I agree (or disagree) with her assessment of Larsson. But she offers one of the few coherent answers I've read to the question of why Larsson is so popular.

That's an interesting list, though some of those names still have some currency, even if they are not spoken in terms of great respect these days.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

Thank you for giving me something to blog about. I've dealt with the subject, to my own satisfaction, in a quick post.

Funnily enough the eternal search for Epiphanies in Joyce, mostly by crazed academics, seems to have the same effect on me as the expression "literary" has here.

I shall certainly refrain from using it in future...

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Dana King said...

This has been on my mind lately, as I finished reading Richard Price's CLOCKERS over the weekend.

It's long been fashionable to say literary stories are character-driven and genre books are plot-driven. Then genre writers started talking up how their books are character-driven, even when all that meant was a character debated whether to shoot or fight his way out of a jam, and if he felt conflicted about it later.

The best I can think of, using Price as an example off the top of my head, is that the literary-ness of the book increases as the importance of the plot recedes. Not the importance of the story: CLOCKERS is a hell of a story. It also has a good plot, but I found myself reading to learn more about Rocco and Strike, and to see what happened to them as a result of the plot's resolution. What that resolution was didn't matter much to me after a while.

I've only read one of Val McDermid's books, A DARKER DOMAIN, and it was excellent. I've never met her, but was struck by seeing her at Bouchercon by how adored she is as a person by so many people. I'm sorry I can't make it to Frisco this year.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Rob Kitchin said...

For me a literary text is one that rather than simply telling a story to entertain, tries to convey something meaningful about the world. In other words, it examines some philosophical insight into the human condition and is designed at some level to make the reader reflect on that (which is perhaps why it is more character driven). And yes, that occurs in genre writing, but is I think more explicit in 'literary' novels.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P à D, that was a good post that you put up. John Updike's reaction to the "literary" designation is instructive.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Maxine said...

I very much liked Winterland - I feel sure it will make my top 5 list for this year. But "literary"? No, it's a crime novel, not Atonement. The difference seems pretty obvious.

August 11, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I think Rob Kitchin's description is a good one and it certainly applies to many mystery-centered books.

I don't want to get too specific as I'd leave out some key writers but I certainly read mysteries all the time that fit that description, including from every continent. (I don't know about Antartica-themed books, so I beg off on that one.)

And, please, where is the post about Val McDermid?

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Rob: I wonder if Raymond Chandler, who anticipated stories ostensibly about crime but really about character and atmosphere, would have taken the additional step if he were with us today of using separate terminology -- of distinguishing between literary and genre novels.

And here's an experiment I'd like to try some time: take an undeniably "literary" text that predates the distinction between "literary" and "genre," and ask: How would such a text have been classified at the time it was written?

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maxine, I agree on both counts. "Winterland" will likely make my list of of the year's best books, and it is a crime novel -- a genre novel. But it is so because of Glynn's deliberate use crime fiction tropes (the "amateur" who gets into dangerous situations seeking the truth, the frequent little cliffhangers, and the gradual assembly of a cast of characters who seek answers are three that come to mind.) as the material of his story. It's a genre novel defined positively -- by what the author does -- rather than negatively, that it's not literary or is not philosophically ambitious. For me what makes the book exciting is the challenge Glynn sets for himself of taking these conventions and making something especially compelling and different out of them.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, the quotation from Val McDermid is from an article Declan Burke wrote about crime writers' thoughts on Stieg Larsson, and that excerpt is all I've read from the article. I've asked Declan if it's available online. I'd like to read more.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, Richard Price is accused of being literary, so he's probably a good example. I read an interview in which he denied being a crime writer but then listed several crime writers among his favorite authors, so who knows?

These discussions can take on the aspect of ritual. I think many people associate "literary" with "character." Crime writers often get asked on convention panels "Which comes first for you, character or plot?" and they virtually always answer "character." There is a clear implication that plot is of a lower order of importance. I, too, tend to remember a character or a general atmosphere more than I will a plot resolution. But to the question "character, or plot?" I'd offer, among crime novels, Dominque Manotti's or Jean-Patrick Manchette's as examples in which the plot is as least as important (though what is a plot if not a set of conditions that act upon the characters, and what are characters except creations set in motion and given life by the plot?) I don't mean to sound too much like a sententious jerk, but sometimes these divisions that we make when we talk about stories are silly.

I've never been strongly attracted to McDermid's work because I'm generally not a fan of psychological suspense or hyper-violence, and I'm not drawn to the sorts of polemics she winds up getting involved in. But I regard her with new interest based on the comment that Declan Burke cited. She is obviously a woman of keen intelligence. Perhaps she'll be one of my Bouchercon discoveries this year.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, here's the sensible discussion to which you refer. I liked James Fallows' argument so much because it was based on the experience of reading, and because he is a reader of taste and discernment. (I see that I mentioned Emerson in that post. I was reading his essays at the time. Brilliant. They transcent their genre.)

I have moderated my views on Ken Bruen's use of epigraphs since those long-ago days of 2007, in part because I have come across some apt and surprising ones.

When I saw you had commented on this post, I expected you to cite Raymond Chandler's astonishingly prescient hopes and speculations about the future of the mystery story, that he could well imagine future novels that adhered to the form of the crime novel or mystery while really being more about character and atmosphere. That was not exactly a prediction, so I'll call it beyond all doubt the most brilliant anticipatory statement ever made about crime fiction.

August 11, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I can think of mysteries that fit the more literary genre, like Indridason, for instance, especially "Hypothermia." (Maybe Theorin when I read the Dagger-winning book of this year). Even Hyland in "Gunshot Road," where much writing was almost poetic.

A lot of mysteries do bring in larger world issues, such as war, and local important issues, like unemployment, downsizing, immigrants' issues. And more, either in a big way or else a mention.

August 11, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"I expected you to cite Raymond Chandler's astonishingly prescient hopes and speculations about the future of the mystery story, that he could well imagine future novels that adhered to the form of the crime novel or mystery while really being more about character and atmosphere."

Peter, I did cite that key Chandler quote in my July 06 reply to your July 03 post (one that is related to this current thread). I could put a smiley face here but somehow that doesn't see appropriate for DBB.

I'm often reminded of something Chandler wrote on this topic that might be suitable in a reply to a DBB comment--he visited the subject in anger or resignation several times in his letters--but realize I sound like a broken record if I bring it up too often.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A smiley face on DBB? LOL! LOL!

This is the Chandler excerpt in question, from 1949:

“I am not satisfied that the thing can’t be done nor that sometime, somewhere, perhaps not now nor by me, a novel cannot be written which, ostensibly a mystery and keeping the spice of mystery, will actually be a novel of character and atmosphere with an overtone of violence and fear.”

That was a fair job of anticipating the course crime fiction and discussion about crime fiction would take. It resonates to this day -- in this blog discussion, as a matter of fact.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, people usually refer to literary quality and philosophical or stylistic ambition when the call a crim novel literary, I think. I like to think that no one would argue these days that crime novel never touches on public issues of interest. Adrian Hyland, with his sympathetic, empathetic writing about Aborigines in Australia, is a fine example.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger adrian.mckinty said...

I second Kathy D's rec of Gunshot Road. Great book. Lovely characters and well written. Good call Miss D.

Peter, maybe you're right about Larsson's sly humor. I do remember laughing my ass off at the bit where he goes to Australia and lo and behold he ends up on a sheep station. Hilarious. If I didnt know that he was being brilliantly ironic I could have sworn he got his view of Australia/The World from Tin Tin novels.

And what about that Dec Burke - always at the tip of zeitgeist spear is Mr. B.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm giving the man credit for one good joke in, what, 1,600 pages, though I'm sure that if he had lived to complete what some people have said was a projected ten-book project, it would have contained at least three jokes.

Ms. McD. is the one who impresses me. Notice that she, like you, lamented that Larsson's early death deprives his books of editing.

One can't libel the dead. One apparently can't edit them, either.

August 11, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I can't help it. Here's Raymond Chandler again on the mystery story as literature.

"...there is a constant haste to deprecate the mystery story as literature for fear the writer of the piece should be assumed to think it important writing. This conditioned approach might well be the result of the decay of the classics, a sort of intellectual insularity which has no historical perspective. [A product of a Victorian classical education, this was the source of another RC's periodic gripes.] People are always suggesting to writers of my sort, "You write so well why don't you attempt a serious novel?" By which they mean something by Marquand or Betty Smith. They would probably be insulted if one suggested that the aesthetic gap, if any, between a good mystery and the best serious novel of the last ten years is hardly measurable on any scale that could measure the gap between the serious novel and any representative piece of Attic writing of the Fourth Century BC, any ode of Pindar or Horace or Sappho, any chorus of Sophocles, and so on...You can't produce art by trying, by setting up exacting standards, by talking about critical minutiae, by the Flaubert method. It is produced with great ease, in an almost offhand manner, and without self-consciousness. You can't write just because you have read all the books.

-- Letter of June 17, 1949, to his English publisher, Hamish Hamilton

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Chandler obviously did some serious thinking in 1949. That passage too anticipates the sort of discussion that does on today.

The only reason you might want to stop quoting Chandler here is fear that I might accuse of being a Chandler expert. You are the nearest thing to one that I know, but I also know that you resist the description fiercely.

August 11, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Time for me to read some Chandler, if I ever get beyond my TBR pile and purchases from the Book Depository.

What is good to start with?

Am getting behind in reading as I'm involved in the opus that is the dvd of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Yow, is it full of violence. It seems worse than the book, however I am fast-forwarding through it.

August 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, you can read the Chandler story that has one of the most famous opening paragraphs in all of crime fiction right here.

Everyman's Library publishes a one-volume collection of all Chandler's stories that naturally has much good stuff in it.

Among his novels, "Playback" is probably a bit less highly regarded than the others. "The Big Sleep" might be a good place to start if you've seen the Howard Hawks film version, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

August 11, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Have seen the movie of "The Big Sleep," the revised version which features Lauren Bacall more than the previous one, due to Howard Hawks' intervention and desire to make her a star.

August 12, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Kathy, if I could only keep one novel by Raymond Chandler, it would be "The Long Goodbye." With it, RC transcended the genre label he was trying to shake free from without compromising his belief that crime fiction could produce "real" literature.

But we don't have to make that choice, so, yes, I'd probably start with "The Big Sleep" with the caveat that this novel is not far removed from his gritty, hard-boiled pulp stories. Although I always recommend Dashiell Hammett's short stories before novels to people who've read neither, with Chandler I always recommend starting with the novels. Chandler's personal favorite was "Farewell, My Lovely" and I like that one and "The Lady in the Lake" best after "The Long Goodbye."

But I also read the archetypal ss "Red Wind" a couple of times a year. And "Nevada Gas," "Spanish Blood," and "Trouble Is My Business."

August 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, if you've seen the movie, you ought to feel at home with the novel.

August 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, that link I gave Kathy a few comments back is to "Red Wind." I had not previously seen if called "the archetypal." I often see it referred to as "the frequently anthologized."

August 12, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, yes I saw the link to RW; I was just giving it a second thumbs up. It's such a pip. Did I not use the word archetypal correctly?

August 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, you just referred in a fresh way to that oft-praised story.

August 12, 2010  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

Alan Glynn has explained that he wrote "Winterland"a s a novel.
However, marketing requires categories and every aspect of a book speaks to a niche group of potential buyers.

.....

(Also, in passing, and with apologies for using your comment forum for a personal aside,
I twice tried to post the following comment on Pattinase's blog, in response to the
question about what one is reading at present. It was eaten... twice...


This is an edited version of a comment meant for here.
It was too long I simply posted it on my blog.


It is heartening to see that from a position of being left on the literary shelf,
Mr Glynn's Winterland is now set to be among the stars.

August 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Photographe, that makes sense. What is "Winterland" but an examination of the lives and motivations of its characters and of what happens when those lives intersect? That sounds like a traditional novel to me. I also understand that a book needs marketing categories, if nothing else so the staff in the big stores knows where to shelf it. I just wish there were some way to convey the novel's quality and qualities other than through the word literary.

And I am the last person to complain if someone else complains about Blogger eating comments.

August 12, 2010  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

There is probably not that much difference between the "traditional novel" and the "literary novel," except possibly the style. When "literary" is applied to a genre novel, chances are good that it will do some of the things the "traditional novel" does. It may also mean any number of other things: Banville wrote it; it's quite a bit longer than other novels in the genre; it contains a lot of history, mythology, symbolism, foreign phrases, and Latin/Greek quotes; and it has longish chapters, paragraphs, and words.
Actually, anyone could write one of those.

August 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if the term "literary thriller" has been thrown around more often since Banville turned Black.

William McIlvanney's Laidlaw novels have been called literary. He'll often stop the action to have Laidlaw engage in longish bits of reflection on himself, his situation and the world. Winterland does this in briefer bursts. Maybe that's why someone called it literary.

But if Glynn said he simply wanted to write a novel, I don't see why we should not believe him just because a couple of people die in the course of the action.

August 12, 2010  
Blogger R/T said...

All this chatter about "literary" is intriguing, but it seems (to me) to have an easy explanation (one that someone probably already mentioned though I missed it if is there): as nothing more than a marketing label, publishers see "literary" as a way of expanding their niche market for genre fiction. Of course, that could be an over-simplification for something that is in may ways much ado about nothing.

August 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The label is both a simplification and marketing device. No one seems to doubt that.

I simply wondered, with some exasperation, what reviewers or publicists and publishers mean when they call a novel "literary" -- what qualities earn a book that designation.

This, of course, leads to an interesting question that has also come up in this discussion: What's the difference between a literary novel, and a plain, old novel? Does a novel, unencubered by descriptive adjectives, even exist in today's publishing/marketing/selling environment, or is everything crime, romance, fantasy, literary, and so on? And how did this state of affairs come to exist? Surely there must have been a time when a novel was just a novel.

August 12, 2010  
Blogger R/T said...

One could argue that publishers are making some pretense that "literary" implies some sort of obtuse, aesthetic superiority. Of course, that opens another can of worms because of problems when defining "aesthetics." Then you get into the problem of defining "literature" as it might or might not be different from run of the mill fiction.

I remain cynical enough, though, to think that publishers have few criteria for "literary" but apply the label somewhat randomly in hopes of attracting buyers that the publishers believe have certain attitudes about and against genre fiction; applying the label, whether the label itself has any merit or not, is simply an empty-suited marketing ploy. But, hey, that is just one cynic's notions. What you need is someone from publisher's marketing or editorial division to jump in with his or her explanation.

August 12, 2010  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

It could be useful to bring some of these questions over to Mulholland Books?

August 12, 2010  
Anonymous Al Guthrie said...

I think it might be more useful to see the disctincton between literary and commercial rather than literary and genre. There's a lot of literary genre material, same as there's a lot of commercial genre material. I think 'literary' is generally regarded as being slower, more reflective, driven by internal conflicts rather than external events. Commercial is fast and urgent and action-driven. Of course, there's a lot of overlap. And many, many seriously good writers fit somewhere in the middle, which can be perceived to be a problem.

August 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R/T, you're probably right and, while my first inclination is to sneer at the literary label, publishers' and publicists' job is to sell books. The interesting question for me is what in the history of publishing and reading compelled people to come with the label. Why do they think it helps? To whom is the literary addressed? Does it help more than it hurts? Is it attempt to broaden the appeal of, in this case, crime fiction? And those are just a few of the questions that a publishing outsider like me has about this odd term.

I, too, was going to suggest that it would be nice to hear from someone in publishing. I think we have an author/editor/agent who has just weighed in, so let's see what he says.

August 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, geez, Al. That takes me back to the days when I was an obnoxious shit in high school sneering at Top-40 radio for being commercial -- as if the music I listened to had not been issued by big record companies and sold by big record stores with an eye toward big sales.

This discussion -- What would it do to, say, Ken Bruen's sales if his work were to be described as literary? Are Jack Taylor or any number of characters in the Brant novels driven by internal conflicts, or by action? I guess Bruen is an example of overlap.

All I can say is that I feel sorry for anyone whose job is to figure out how to get good books in people's hands.

August 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Blogger is still destroying comments. Here's one that got eaten.

Tales from the Birch Wood. has left a new comment on your post "What the hell does "literary" mean?":

It could be useful to bring some of these questions over to Mulholland Books?

August 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Tales, the folks from that discussion would obviously be welcome here, as well. I think highly of a number of the people who have joined that discussion. I've heard many good things about Don Winslow, and the folks at Mulholland Books seem to be mounting one hell of an energetic promotional campaign. Good luck to them. They're publishing some good writers.

August 12, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Given the definition of "literary" genre above, slower, introspective, drive by internal rather than external events, I'd say Indridason's "Hypothermia," fits there. Maybe others.

Lots more of mystery fiction fits in this category if one thinks about it.

August 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Arnaldur's "Silence of the Grave" would also fit. I wrote about that it would not surprise me if one of his novels should be nominated for a non-crime-fiction literary prize. Nor would it surprise me if readers who don't normally read crime fiction enjoyed his work -- provided reader and book could cross the genre boundaries that bookstores and pubishers put up.

August 13, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Yes, actually I had been thinking about "Silence of the Grave," by Indridason when I wrote the above post.

I was trying to think which of his other works besides "Hypothermia," fit the "literary" definition. And I thought that "Silence of the Grave," also fit the definition, as there is much introspection, the plot development is slow--but powerful.

August 13, 2010  
Anonymous Al Guthrie said...

Pete, in answer to your question about how Ken Bruen would sell if he was decribed as 'literary' ... almost certainly not as well. The sales of 'literary' ficton these days is pitiful.

August 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, Kathy, rapid-fire action is not exactly a prominent feature in any of his six novels that have been translated into English. His novel "Voices" is a bit more melodramatic than the others so perhaps less likely to be considered literary.

August 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Al, I have seen the wish expressed here that bookstores not segregate fiction by genre. Imagine there's no mystery. It's easy if you try, and all that.

That's not going to happen, not should anyone want it to. But the big stores will often have a section labelled "Fiction/literature" or even "Fiction and literature." We have no word to encompass Jean M. Auel and Nabokov, I guess. And if you stuck Auel and so on in separate section, what would you call it? Just plain "fiction"? "Popular fiction"?

At least one bookstore I've seen shelves its crime, fantasy, science fiction, romance and graphic novels in a large section labelled "Popular fiction," with sub-sections for each genre.

Maybe it could shelve its literary fiction under "Unpopular fiction."

August 13, 2010  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Then it hit me: literary as a label is a kind of intellectual Viagra, a confidence booster for book buyers so insecure about their own tastes that they need to be reassured of a book's respectability before they'll plunk down their $24.99.

Peter, I love this. Bullseye, amen and well done.

August 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. Apparently the dosage isn't wotking, as saled of "literary" fiction are still flaccid.

I don't suppose the label matters much, and if it gets someone to read Winterland who might not otherwose have done so, that's all to the good. But it could also put off potential readers.

August 13, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I like that mysteries are in a separate section, makes it easier to find what one might want to read, browsing through the shelves--if one doesn't have a particular book in mind.

Didn't particularly like "Voices," by Indridason, wouldn't consider it "literary" fiction. And "Arctic Chill," which I liked a lot, had more action, less insights and not slow.

August 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I want mysteries in a separate section, too, so I know where to look for them. Anyone who insists that all fiction should be shelved together has admirable leveling instincts but is far removed from the real world.

I liked "Voices" less than Arnaldur's other novels because of its melodrama. Unlike the other books, this one takes place mostly indoors, at the hotel. This gives Arnaldur a chance to make some good jokes, but it cuts him off from Iceland's geography, which features so prominently in the other books.

August 13, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

When I finished "Hypothermia," I felt a sense of doom for Erlander, sadly, but then I looked up Indridason on the handy Web and found he had written two more books about him after that.

And, Euro Crime has one listed as in production in English and to come out fsirly soon.

So my worrying was unwarranted, and there is life after "Hypothermia," and the fog.

Indridason's current stand-alone is not my cup of tea.

I wonder if Indridason knows how loyal his fans are and that Erlander has his own fans.

August 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One might also see "Hypothermia" as heralding hope or at least resolution. I don't want to say more, lest I risk giving too much away.

August 13, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Hope? That's something to ponder.

Can't wait for the next Erlander book to be available in English, but will order the UK version from Book Depository, as it takes years to get here otherwise.

August 13, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I'm pretty late to this party--in fact, I see them taking all the decorations down now. But that's fine by me, as I don't have an ax to grind, though I would like to think a bit about what 'literary' means to me. The word is definitely a marketing tool, although in a store like ours, you would never find a section with that label. But we do divide fiction from genre fiction--actuallly by putting them on opposite sides of the store, which seems a bit of overkill. It's a bad floor plan, though, not actually a statement. I do think mainstream fiction that doesn't fit into any of the genre categories like mystery, sci fi, fantasy, romance, etc. sometimes gets a kind of 'literary' status by default.

I would say the term literary fiction does mean something though. In my more cynical moments I would define it as what MFA candidates aspire to write, but in more charitable ones, I would give James Joyce, Salman Rushdie and Leo Tolstoy the mantel for example, and pass on giving it to John Grisham, Isaac Asimov and, yes, Steig Larsson. And that's not because I am trying to trash those guys, I just think the aims are somewhat different. I'd say that in literary fiction there is a concern with language and exploring the possibilities of language and also that there is a more self-conscious effort to place one's work in the line of the tradition of literature, whether in imitation or rebellion or something else. There is an awareness of what has been done before. Of course one can tip one's hat to great masters of genre in writing mysteries or fantasy novels too, but that is a different field of reference.

The lines between literature and genre are quite blurry now, if they were ever very solid in the first place. I think it's quite possible to write a literary crime novel, and many have, and literary science fiction is almost becoming the norm. To me there is marketing and there is also writerly intent and sometimes these co-exist peacefully and sometimes they don't.

August 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

We can always repair to a local diner and continue the party as we watch the sun come up.

Raymond Chandler implied the existence of mystery novels on one hand, the classics on the other, and a despised are of "serious" contemporary literature in between. That I take to be a counterpart of what would be called literary fiction today.

With respect "mainstream fiction that doesn't fit into any of the genre categories like mystery, sci fi, fantasy, romance, etc. sometimes get[ting] a kind of 'literary' status by default," is their really any "mainstream" fiction today that is not part of one one of the generally recognized genres on one hand and is not of obviously high literary aspirations on the other? I reading enough of a mass pursuit these days to permit the existence of such a category?

Hmm, I'd have thought of mystery as more rather than less likely to acknowledge what has gone before. Declan Hughes acknowledged Chandler and Hammett and Ross Macdonald the way Dante acknowledges Vergil and Vergil acknowledges Homer.

August 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Right, but Declan acknowledges Chandler and Hammett and Ross MacDonald rather than Homer. That's the difference I mean when I talk about a different field of reference. It's not that Declan has or hasn't read Homer, it's the lineage he means to place himself within. It's a very honorable lineage, but it's a little different from say, calling your book Ulysses or, for that matter Satanic Verses.

As for the mainstream books that take on literary status, well, you're going to force me to step on some toes here, aren't you? I'd say 'book group' books heavily match the category of books I mean. Olive Kitteridge springs to mind. The Secret Life of Bees.Water for Elephants. Huge sellers all, and capable of generating serious discussion in a hundred meeting places. I liked one of them, felt a bit blah about another and haven't read the third. But I think there's this weird overlap in people thinking that a book that makes for interesting topics for discussion equates to high literary intent. Or maybe there was high literary intent, it's just that there isn't high literary achievement.

That's the kind of assessment that I get in trouble for.

August 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, something about the term "book group" makes me shiver with an almost atavistic fear.

You know, I was about to say "a fear bred in the bone," so naturally I thought of Robertson Davies. Now, there was a writer that many would consider literary (even if they condemned his failure to fight during World War II). He was also a lot of fun to read.

He wasn't so long ago. Did he predate the distinction between literary and genre that gets people exercised today?

I like Al Guthrie's distinction between literary and commercial rather than literary and genre. So, where would Robertson Davies fit in?

August 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

It's not an atavistic fear, it's a masculine fear. I'm in a book group, and I like it, but as a collective activity, it's a very curious phenomenon.

Robertson Davies fits into the same category that Dickens fits into, which is to say a category that needs to be expanded.

I'd say Margaret Atwood fit into this category, before she started to annoy me, and Jonathan Franzen, although we'll see with the new one due out at the end of the month.

David Mitchell might fit...barely. Maybe Peter Carey?

August 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That could be right. The one book group I attended consisted of me and a few women. (It was not gender issues that kept me from returning after my first meeting.)

What about all the McSweeney's pranksters? Or did they write just for kids -- loosely defined as people below 30?

August 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or are they more comedians and poseurs than authors?

August 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

It's funny about McSweeney's because I am not very interested in the McSweeney's side, which is the fiction side, but I love The Believer, which is the non-fiction side. As for those fiction writers, I think inevitably a few will break out of the stable and be something a bit more than the McSweeney school as it currently stands. Don't get me wrong, I admire the endeavor. It's just that they have an image that's a little too cool for school and what fiction I've read has had some of that aspect.

August 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Did David Foster Wallace come out of the group?

In any case, yes, I don't feel entirely comfortable with anything of which cool is such an integral part.

August 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

No. Among others, I think Wallace partly came out of Joyce. He is a bit cool, but unfortunately, that is probably largely because of his demise. Also, perhaps, because he was apparently a very loved teacher.

August 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had heard that he was beloved on college campuses. I have also heard that "Infinite Jest" was intentionally unreadable.

He was probably a sharp guy capable of great things. I remember a weirdly brilliant passage about tennis that he wrote, maybe from one of his essays, but somehow I never had a burning desire to read more.

I think he was considered very cool even before his death, though I concede you'd be in a better position to judge.

August 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Well, plenty of people have read it all the same. People probably said that about Finnegans Wake as well, and on that I know with some certitude that it wasn't intentionally unreadable, though it was intentionally complicated.

I haven't read much of Wallace myself, but I did read his essay on taking a cruise long before I had any sense that he was a "literary figure" and loved it.

Of Infinite Jest, friends tell me that if you love either tennis or drugs, it helps.

August 14, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

In looking at the NYT hard cover and paperback bestsellers' lists, most of the books are popular fiction, not literary, with a few exceptions, whether mysteries or non-mysteries.

There is an occasional literary work in the mix.

In literary fiction, I haven't seen women mentioned, but I would add Toni Morrison who writes wonderfully, her writing and her message. She did win a Pulitzer.

And a lot more and I won't go into the list as all of us have many names to go here.

And where would we put John Steinbeck, who was a wonderful writer?

And even though a mystery writer, aside from Indridason, and maybe Theorin (whom I haven't yet read), I think Fred Vargas' writing can be outstanding, although maybe it's her creativity and ideas that affect us, rather than the actual writing style.

Yes, this could be discussed for days and weeks and, I'm sure has been, all over cyberspace, college classrooms, etc.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Right. I'd say that both Steinbeck and Morrison fit in that tricky "literary, but hugely popular" category.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I wonder if "Infinite Jest" is one of those books that's more talked about than read. I don't remember the details, but I do remember that tje essayist stressed the suggestion that the book was intentionally unreadable, that enjoying reading it was not the point.

I have no strong feelings about tennis, but I did find it thrilling that someone could dissect the geometry and topography of a tennis court the way Wallace did.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I'm no more certain than anyone else is what literary, but I could well imagine readers who think they don't like crime fiction enjoying Vargas.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I'd always thought of Joyce Carol Oates as literary. Then I read one of her stories in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (unless I'm wrong, and it was Alfred Hitchcock). Maybe Mailer and Roth are literary but popular -- or hugely celebrated, at least.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

It might be worth looking at how the Dewey system of classification has influenced where books are shelved?

August 15, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Libraries use the Dewey Decimal system but put fiction in alphabetical order. Most branches I know of keep mysteries separate from overall fiction, although sometimes they are mixed together for space reasons. (Mysteries are given fewer shelves in my branch which presents lot of problems.)

August 15, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Oddly, enough, in a certain linked group of people in my life, everyone has read Infinite Jest but me. And they all loved the experience. Of course, half of them are reading Finnegans Wake with me, so maybe 'difficulty' is a relative term here.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd probably have speculated at some length about librarians deciding where to classify fiction under the Dewey system, but Kathy obviated the need for that.

My library indeed does shelve fiction alphabetically. It shelves hardback mysteries in among general fiction, though it also has a separate section for paperback mysteries prominently displayed on the floor of the fiction room.

Mysteries or crime fiction could fit in comfortably if anyone ever expanded the Dewey Decimal System to include fiction as long as no one went too wild with sub-classifications.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

God help me, Seana, but now I'm curious about comparing Finnegan's Wake and Infinite Jest.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Finnegans Wake. The apostrophe is omitted by Joyce.

Yeah, it's become a multi-generational thing. My friends son college age son is already well into that comparison already. He's an admirer of Wallace, now working his way back to Joyce for clues...

August 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I don't presume to correct Joyce. Stieg Larsson's American publisher, yes, but James Joyce, no.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

A wise course. As with so much of the book, Joyce's intention flickers in and out of my understanding, but I think that Wikipedia about has it here:

"As whiskey, the "water of life", causes both Finnegan's death and resurrection in the ballad, so the word "wake" also represents both a passing (into death) and a rising (from sleep). Joyce removed the apostrophe in the title of his novel in order to suggest an active process in which a multiplicity of "Finnegans", that is, all members of humanity, fall and then wake and arise.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I have a recording or two of the ballad lying around, and clips are readily available online, I think.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Yes, I've got a copy of it that a friend lent me. The song does have the apostrophe.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I’m listening to this version as we speak. “Lots of fun!”

August 15, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

So "wake" is used in Joyce's title as a verb, as in all Finnegans Wake, rather than as a noun meaning either Finnegan's "awakening" or his funeral.

I haven't read it so do not know.

Gosh--again for want of an apostrophe.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Right, though with Joyce, just because you've figured out one of his meanings, it's never safe to assume that you've figured out all of them.

I wouldn't start with this one, unless you were going to do it with a group, and you'd probably want to tackle Ulysses or more likely Dubliners first in any case.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, I give Joyce credit for teasing out multiplicities of meanings by the mere omission of a punctuation mark. I do not give similar credit to most of the journalistic cud I chew every evening.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Right--I don't know anyone else you should cut that much slack.

I've been doing a bit of Joyce research today for my blog, and came across a quote that you might like:

"A man without a newspaper is half-clad, and imperfectly furnished for the battle of Life".

I believe this comes from W.T. Stead, though my source is a bit confusing on this.

August 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, I do like it. I'm not sure Joyce -- or even David Foster Wallace -- would say that a man without CNN is half-clad and imperfectly furnished for anything.

August 15, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I have a headache now.

August 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Go lie down, then read a good book.

August 16, 2010  

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