Generally speaking, nothing says “inessential” quite like “celebrity-written children’s book.” Jay Leno, Jeff Foxworthy, Katie Couric, Julianne Moore, Jamie Lee Curtis, Julie Andrews, Gloria Estefan, Whoopi Goldberg, B.J. Novak, Spike Lee, Tim McGraw, LeAnn Rimes... the list of stars who’ve delved into that world goes on and on. Scholastic even has a series of books called Little Bill, written by Bill Cosby, most of them available for a penny on Amazon.
Prison, it might be fair to say, demanded this sort of writing from Wilde. It forced him to change out the voice of a snobbish aesthete for that of a survivor, that of a sufferer, that of a jilted lover, that of a prophet, and—another Emersonian voice—that of an educator. “You came to me to learn the Pleasure of Life and the Pleasure of Art,” Wilde tells Douglas in the letter’s lovestruck last sentence. “Perhaps I am chosen to teach you something much more wonderful, the meaning of Sorrow, and its beauty.”
"The simple answer is that he wrote it...The more complicated answer is that in addition to writing the story, he drew it. The many maps and sketches he made while drafting The Lord of the Rings informed his storytelling, allowing him to test narrative ideas and illustrate scenes he needed to capture in words. For Tolkien, the art of writing and the art of drawing were inextricably intertwined.
People see my head on a book and attach a tall body to it. The image of somebody that you have accorded status to in your mind is a large one; the Greeks always made the gods quite tall. I’m short. Shorter than you think.
Shakespeare has not lost his place in this new world, just as, despite the grim jeremiads of the cultural pessimists, he has not lost his place in colleges and universities. On the contrary, his works (and even his image) turn up everywhere, and students continue to flock to courses that teach him, even when those courses are not required.
But as I have discovered in my teaching, it is a different Shakespeare from the one with whom I first fell in love.
And almost everyone gets it wrong. This is the most remarkable thing about “The Road Not Taken”—not its immense popularity (which is remarkable enough), but the fact that it is popular for what seem to be the wrong reasons. It’s worth pausing here to underscore a truth so obvious that it is often taken for granted: Most widely celebrated artistic projects are known for being essentially what they purport to be.
Is it possible that the literary sensibility—person—that produced a clutch of novels under the name Thomas Pynchon has had a fat new novel out since April, under a different name, only to encounter a virtual vacuum of notice? That relative anonymity may have been expected, or might even have been among its aspirations, to prove a point?
Jill Lepore revisits the legacy of Benjamin Franklin, who in his time was “the most accomplished and famous American who had ever lived.”
When Stephen King was announced as the winner of a medal for distinguished contribution to American letters in 2003, the eminent literary critic Harold Bloom said it was “a testimony to [the] idiocy” of the awarding organisation, the National Book Awards. On 10 September, no less than Barack Obama will present the novelist with the United States’ National Medal of Arts.