• László Krasznahorkai
    December 26, 2013

    Hungarian Novels

    As the crossroads of Europe, Hungary has borne all the turbulent drama the continent could offer. Over the last century, Hungarians have gone from being proud citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to seeing most of their lands lost to neighboring countries after World War I to witnessing the rise of Hungarian fascists in league with the Nazis, who were replaced by the victorious Russians after World War II. Years of unrest eventually sparked the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, a popular uprising infamously crushed by Red Army tanks and followed by decades of life under police-state control.

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  • Tao Lin
    December 19, 2013

    The Best Novels of 2013

    Bookforum contributor Christian Lorentzen picks his favorite novels of the year, from Coetzee's "deep joke" to Pynchon's portrayal of the "deep Web."

    Christian Lorentzen is an editor at the London Review of Books.

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  • The Letter "e," from Shel Silverstein's "Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book."
    October 08, 2013

    Alphabet Books for Adults

    Most books about the alphabet are geared toward kids; they’re for pre- and early readers who are just beginning to learn about letters, the basic building blocks of language. But the last century has seen the publication of a number of alphabet-related books that appeal to adults too. Some of these books were written with an adult audience in mind, while others transcend their intended youthful audience through their innovative form and content. All of the books on this list contain adult pleasures; they use the alphabetic sequence as a means to reflect on topics as varied as globalization,

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  • Roland Barthes and his mother.
    October 01, 2013

    Sons and Mothers

    Throughout the history of literature, writers have catalogued the myriad ways a man can love a woman. One complex and emotionally fraught part of this genre is dedicated to the mother-son relationship. Once the spell of childhood is broken, first loves, first passions, and other trials and tribulations chip away at what was once a special bond between a boy and his mother. Male writers have often attended to the fragile nature of the relationships with their mothers in memoir or semi-autobiographical fiction. The five works included here attempt to reconcile the child-son with the adult-son,

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  • September 10, 2013

    Layers in Fiction

    When multiple narrative layers are incorporated into a work of fiction, they can have a disorienting effect. Whether they take the form of a shift in perspective, the introduction of interviews, or something else, they can deeply affect the way we perceive a novel, and undermine—or do away with entirely—our trust in the story’s narrator. These concerns surface in the works below.

    Jonathan Aprea is a writer and photographer based in New York.

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  • July 24, 2013

    The Unfinished Novel

    The novel, like all art, reaches for immortality, but the unfinished novel is bound up with mortality and the limits of time. In my view, that makes it even more beautiful than a finished novel. We're left to imagine the completion that is forever suspended. How was the writer ever going to tie up such a complicated plot? What was he or she going to do with all those characters and their noisy, difficult yearnings? And what was it all supposed to mean? As we circle these questions, the author becomes paradoxically more and more present to us in the work left behind. We feel his or her humanity

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  • July 15, 2013

    Books about Vancouver

    Though it’s often overlooked as one of the great West Coast cities, Vancouver, BC synthesizes many of the most appealing qualities of its American counterparts. The Canadian outpost combines San Francisco's walkability, Portland's livability, Seattle's seaside surroundings, and Los Angeles' slickness, all in a carefully designed urban setting. The city’s current state is the result of development that has taken place over the past several decades. Yet Vancouver’s skyscrapers, gleaming condominium towers and urban center can make it difficult for the uninitiated visitor to see everything else

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  • Donald Richie in Tokyo's entertainment district of Asakusa, 1954. | Donald Richie/Stephen Mansfield.
    April 04, 2013

    Western Ex-Pats in Post-War Japan

    The 1950s through the 80s saw Japan go from post-war disrepair to world-frightening powerhouse, adapting and even improving all manner of Western inventions from cars and consumer electronics to jeans and rock music. While America and Britain observed these developments from afar, a number of expatriate writers registered more thoughtful assessments of the rapidly changing situation on the ground. These Westerners, many of whom first came to Japan during the Second World War, brought outside perspectives to this endlessly fascinating era of unprecedented—and unsurpassed—Japanese development

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  • Samuel Johnson
    March 25, 2013

    The Golden Age of the English Poet-Critic

    Today we have academics and professional critics as well as novelists and poets who moonlight as critics. But prior to the establishment of literary study as an academic field in the twentieth century, nearly all criticism in English was written by creative writers, often poets. Their criticism is characterized by autobiographical arguments that make little use of outside opinion, and are stylized enough to be called poetic. Their criticism is literature. Of course, poet-critics are still with us (see: James Fenton, Charles Simic), but no longer are they as highly regarded as they were from

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  • March 12, 2013

    The Anglophone Epistolary Novel

    Dearest readers,

    About a hundred pages in to Fanny Burney’s Evelina (1778), the titular heroine writes the following: “How many long letters has this one short fortnight produced!” This might be an axiom for the epistolary novel, which tends to assume that no sooner is life experienced than it is converted into letters, stamped, sealed, and addressed. The eighteenth-century epistolary novel is associated with the rise of realism—Samuel Richardson’s enormously popular Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) is often considered a landmark text in this regard—but there is a sense in which the genre

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  • February 04, 2013

    The Life and Afterlife of Sylvia Plath

    Even before her suicide became cultural legend, Sylvia Plath created her life’s narrative through the lens of myth. Plath saw herself in Shakespeare’s Ariel and Robert Grave’s white goddess, the doomed German lorelei and the resurrected Lazarus—figures liberated by their fantastic generative powers yet bound, too, to tragedy and death. “I think I would like to call myself ‘the girl who wanted to be god,’” the teenage Plath wrote in one letter, only to doubt her own capacity to play that part lines later: “I am I—I am powerful—but to what extent?” It’s these paradoxes that Plath sought to master

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  • December 04, 2012


    Environments can be mind-altering. In books like Heart of Darkness, landscape is portrayed as an alien, oppressive force, and evil is rendered in physical terms. “The earth seemed unearthly,” says Marlow of the Congo. Then there are the novels that keep you indoors. In them, noise is winnowed away and narrative is confined to the space between four walls. Home-bound characters are no longer be prey to the forces that trouble the outside world, but isolation invites other dangers. Pressure builds. The smallest actions and remarks take on unnatural meaning. Inhabitants become estranged from

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