In Paradise, the name of Peter Matthiessen’s new novel, will be released soon, and it could be the last book in his one-of-a-kind outpouring of fiction and nonfiction. A beautiful tribute to him in The New York Times magazine can be found here.
Photograph copyright Damon Winter/The New York Times
Red Pine has two new books coming out in the next couple of years, in addition to Yellow River Odyssey which will be released sometime this summer. The first is based on the poems of Stonehouse, and the second, Finding Them Gone, is the story of his pilgrimage to the graves of Chinese poets. Both will be published by Copper Canyon Press.
“Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them.
Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t. Like many fly fisherman in western Montana, where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
—A River Runs Through It
“For us artists there waits the joyous compromise through art with all that wounded or defeated us in daily life; in this way, not to evade destiny, as the ordinary people try to do, but to fulfil it in its true potential – the imagination.” – From The Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durrell, 1912- 1990
Here’s one more picture from Bill Porter’s new book, Yellow River Odyssey, which should be released soon by Chin Music Press, a small publisher of elegant books based in Washington state. The caption reads: “After another hour among the dunes, we headed back to Shapotou, where I cooled my heels in the Yellow River mud and talked with several men who were inflating goat skins and lashing them to wooden frames to use as rafts. Sheepskins, they said, were useless. Goatskins were the only the skins that held air long enough, and they had to be coated on their insides with sesame oil to keep them from cracking and to maintain their flexibility.”
Lonn Taylor, my friend who lives in Fort Davis, Texas, has a new book of essays, Texas People, Texas Places: More Musings of the Rambling Boy. It follows up My Texas: Musings of the Rambling Boy, which was published in January 2012, and he continues his stories and essays illuminating the best of Texas geography, history, and personalities. See my essay on Lonn’s earlier book here. Lonn is revered in the Big Bend area of Texas, where he has a weekly radio show on Marfa’s public radio station KRTS, which is the place to go to hear a wide range of music from classical to Texas roots music.
Philip Roth may be enjoying his days more now, since it’s going on five years since he said he had decided to still his pen as a novelist. But that doesn’t mean he’s not still making literature, this time in the form of a literary interview conducted by a Swedish journalist, which has just appeared in The New York Times Book Review.
The interview sheds light on his own work and his methods, and also the current golden age of American novels. He spins off a list of American novelists, a paean to the uniqueness of American literature that captures as it does the modern and the universal world, writ large through America’s novelists’ eyes. Even in the face of America’s overpowering popular culture, he says, literature lives:
“What has the aesthetic of popular culture to do with formidable postwar writers of such enormous variety as Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, William Styron, Don DeLillo, E. L. Doctorow, James Baldwin, Wallace Stegner, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Penn Warren, John Updike, John Cheever, Bernard Malamud, Robert Stone, Evan Connell, Louis Auchincloss, Walker Percy, Cormac McCarthy, Russell Banks, William Kennedy, John Barth, Louis Begley, William Gaddis, Norman Rush, John Edgar Wideman, David Plante, Richard Ford, William Gass, Joseph Heller, Raymond Carver, Edmund White, Oscar Hijuelos, Peter Matthiessen, Paul Theroux, John Irving, Norman Mailer, Reynolds Price, James Salter, Denis Johnson, J. F. Powers, Paul Auster, William Vollmann, Alison Lurie, Flannery O’Connor, Paula Fox, Marilynne Robinson, Joyce Carol Oates, Joan Didion, Hortense Calisher, Jane Smiley, Anne Tyler, Jamaica Kincaid, Cynthia Ozick, Ann Beattie, Grace Paley, Lorrie Moore, Mary Gordon, Louise Erdrich, Toni Morrison, Eudora Welty (and I have by no means exhausted the list) or with serious younger writers as wonderfully gifted as Michael Chabon, Junot Díaz, Nicole Krauss, Maile Meloy, Jonathan Lethem, Nathan Englander, Claire Messud, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Safran Foer (to name but a handful)?”
The estimable The New York Review of Books has reissued William Gass’s On Being Blue, a philosophical romp through moods, colours and much more. Gass is a writer who, one hundred years from now, may emerge as one of the few contemporary writers whose work will enter the American canon. Here’s the NYRB description:
“On Being Blue is about everything blue—sex and sleaze and sadness, among other things—and about everything else. It brings us the world in a word as only William H. Gass, among contemporary American writers, can do.
“Of the colors, blue and green have the greatest emotional range. Sad reds and melancholy yellows are difficult to turn up. Among the ancient elements, blue occurs everywhere: in ice and water, in the flame as purely as in the flower, overhead and inside caves, covering fruit and oozing out of clay. Although green enlivens the earth and mixes in the ocean, and we find it, copperish, in fire; green air, green skies, are rare. Gray and brown are widely distributed, but there are no joyful swatches of either, or any of exuberant black, sullen pink, or acquiescent orange. Blue is therefore most suitable as the color of interior life. Whether slick light sharp high bright thin quick sour new and cool or low deep sweet dark soft slow smooth heavy old and warm: blue moves easily among them all, and all profoundly qualify our states of feeling.”
A photo and caption from Bill Porter’s “Yellow River Odyssey,” now scheduled to be released in May 2014:
“I was on my way from Hong Kong to follow the Yellow River from its mouth to its source and couldn’t resist the temptation to stop in Shanghai for the China Coast Ball. This annual bacchanal was organized by and for the Hong Kong expatriate community, and it was normally held in March at the Belle Vista in Macao. But in 1991 the Belle Vista was being renovated, and the organizers turned to the Peace Hotel in Shanghai as a suitable replacement. The Peace had been boarded up during the Cultural Revolution, and the splendor of its art-deco interior had survived intact.”
From Edmund Wilson’s A Piece of My Mind (1957):
“One can say that on the one hand, you find in the United States the people who are constantly aware… that, beyond their opportunities for money-making, they have a stake in the success of our system, that they share in the responsibility to carry on its institutions, to find expression for its new point of view, to give it dignity, to make it work; and, on the other hand, the people who are merely concerned with making a living or a fortune, with practicing a profession or mastering some technical skill, as they would in any other country, and who lack or do not possess to the same degree, the sense of America’s role.”
Wilson was – and still is – America’s essential literary and cultural critic. He left a body of work that changed and is still transforming our sense of who we are. For me, he and Emerson are the true America spirit, the American mind. I feel an Edmund Wilson phase of deep rereading coming to the fore. Also, great timing, I just found a copy of Clive James’ first book of collected criticism, The Metropolitan Critic. James has written seminal essays which go to the heart of Wilson’s unique role as a writer-critic. First James, and then back to Wilson for the umpteenth time…