Results for “ferrante”
43 found

The new Elena Ferrante novel, up through p.138 (no spoilers)

Some surprises have come, and I am liking it more.  Is it fair to judge it against the Neapolitan quadrology?  This book has only one major character rather than two, so is it doomed to be only half as good?  Can any current book manage to be half as good?  Can we read this one fresh at all?  (Is it better to view the Mona Lisa “fresh,” or not?)  Should we be trying to discard prior expectations, or not be trying to discard expectations for a book such as this?

You’ll be getting another report soon, please note I am deliberately not reading the book too quickly.  Here is my previous post on the book.  I agree with the commentator who described the male characters as mostly flat.

The new Elena Ferrante novel, up through p.63 no spoilers

It is a thrill to be dragged into her Neapolitan world of class and romantic intrigue and family strife once again, and the book is clearly Ferrante from the get go.  Yet I have some doubts.  The plot seems more accessible and less complex, and with fewer layers to be unpeeled.  It has not yet moved out of “father-daughter cliché land.”  Every page is engrossing, but I am still looking for the surprise.

They have been so stingy with advance review copies that there are still no Amazon reviews.

My favorite fiction of 2021

Marcel Proust, The Mysterious Correspondent: New Stories.  Not the very best Proust, but even so-so Proust is pretty superb.  These are fragments to be welcomed.

Andy Weir, Project Hail Mary.  At least as good as The Martian, and arguably more conceptual.

Judith Schlansky, Verzeichnis einiger Verluste [Inventory of Losses].  Conceptual German novel with roots in Borges, not as good in English.

Patrick McGrath, Last Days in Cleaver Square.  Unreliable narrator!

Karl Knausgaard, The Morning Star.  The master returns with a full-scale novel, with theology galore.

Anne Serre, The Beginners.  Short, French, about relationships, fun.

Sally Rooney, Beautiful World, Where Are You? She is quite the conservative, don’t be put off by the left-wing rhetoric.

Mario Levrero, The Luminous Novel.  The best Uruguayan novel of all time?

Domenico Starnone, Trust.  The better of the two “Elena Ferrante” novels released in English this year?

As for retranslations of classics, I very much like the new Oedipus Rex trilogy and the new translation of the Kalevala.  I hope they are fiction!  And kudos to Sarah Ruden’s work on the Gospels, I am not sure where to put them…

Overall I thought this was an excellent year for reading fiction, much better than the few years preceding.  My number one pick here would be the Andy Weir, noting that, for purposes of your norming, I do not usually select science fiction for this designation.  (Here is my earlier CWT with Andy Weir.)

Note that I just ordered a whole new batch of appealing-sounding novels (FT link), and I will read some before year’s end, so I will give you an update when appropriate, most likely toward the very end of the calendar year.  And my non-fiction list will be coming soon.  And also note: “missing” titles from this list are very often missing on purpose!

Read more!

What I’ve been reading

1. Carole Angier, Speak, Silence: In Search of W.G. Sebald.  Might Sebald be the only semi-recent writer who can hold a candle to Ferrante, Knausgaard, and Houllebecq?  This book is sprawling, and suffers somewhat from lack of access to the author’s family, but it is a true labor of love.  And Angier has a deep understanding of Sebald, and also brings out the Jewish-related themes in his work (though he was not Jewish himself).  It attempts to be a Sebaldian work itself, and even if it does not always succeed it is the kind of passionate book we need more of.  Recommended, but you have to read Sebald first, if need be start with Die Ausgewanderten [The Emigrants].

2. Arthur Herman, The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World.  Ignore the subtitle!  There have been a number of good books on the Vikings lately, and this is perhaps the most “popular” and big picture of the lot.  The early Vikings swept through Europe in a matter of decades, mixing conquest and trade.  King Canute was pretty impressive it seems.  Specialists may pick nits, but it is very readable and seems to me to give a good overview of the role of the Vikings in European history.  This would be the one to start with.

3. Lawrence Rothfield, The Measure of Man: Liberty, Virtue, and Beauty in the Florentine Republic.  An excellent introduction to Florence, with some focus on issues of liberty and also civic leaderhip.  One should never tire of reading about this particular topic.

4. Howard W. French, Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World 1471 to the Second World War.  Think of this book as a retelling of some standard historical episodes, but with Africa at the center rather than as a recipient of European advances.  This is a useful reframing, and I enjoyed the read.  But perhaps by the end it was the New World that in my mind was upgraded as a more central spot for the rise of modernity?  Too frequently the relevance of Africa has to be rescued by invoking Portugal, as Sweden, Russia, and Turkey simply will not do the trick there.

New out is Diane Coyle, Cogs and Monsters: What Economics Is, and What It Should Be; she is typically wise.

I am happy to see the publication of Calvin Duke’s Entrepreneurial Communities: An Alternative to the State, The Theories of Spencer Heath and Spencer MacCallum.

There is also Kyle Harper, Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History, long and comprehensive.

Saturday assorted links

1. Malcolm Gladwell on Norm MacDonald.

2. Knausgaard cultural recommendations.

3. Rawls on caste and eugenics.

4. Very good interview with Amia Srinivasan.

5. Callard on the Bergman remake and the nature of marital loneliness (New Yorker).

6. Good Steven van Zandt piece on management, his life, and The Sopranos (FT).  “As Dante became Tony Soprano’s consigliere, “I was able to use my real-life dynamics with Bruce Springsteen as the basis of that relationship. I knew what those dynamics were — the one guy who didn’t want to be the boss, the one guy who he could trust, the one guy who wasn’t afraid of him.””

7. Elena Ferrante talks to Marina Abramovic (FT).

Thursday assorted links

1. “Claire [Weiner] was one of the first babies born during the Manhattan Project; the address on her birth certificate was a post office box.”

2. Starnone as Ferrante?

3. Jason Furman on the infrastructure bill.

4. New theory suggests large blobs of material in Earth’s mantle are remnants of protoplanet Theia.

5. Obstacles to monoclonal antibodies, and for no good reason (NYT).

6. Wolfram on consciousness.

Thursday assorted links

1. “Work on things that aren’t prestigious.”

2. Patricia Lockwood on Ferrante.

3. How to get cancelled in Iceland, alternatively what not to look for in your supermarket’s PR director.

4. What do jobless men do all day?  And the undermotivated apostate.

5. Vitalik on prediction markets, smart contract risk, epistemic humility, and more.  Like most Vitalik, it is too good to excerpt.

6. Ezra Klein on work and child allowances (NYT).  I agree with some but not all of this, in any case it is already obvious how much Ezra is in the very top tier of NYT columnists after only a few pieces.  Every part of it is an actual argument, supported by evidence of some kind or another.

Why will the important thinkers of the future be religious ones?

Tony O’Connor requests I cover this:

A few times you have said that the important thinkers of the future will be the religious ones. It would be interesting to hear more about what led you to this conclusion.

Concretely, I wonder if this would arise because religious populations within liberal polities are expanding over time (due to higher birth rates), or because there could be a shift from the non-religious population into religion. The potential causes of the latter would be interesting to hear about, if that is your belief.

First of all, I was led to the point by example. For instance, Ross Douthat and Peter Thiel are two of the most interesting thinkers as of late and they are both religious and Christian.  I am also struck by the enduring influence of Rene Girard.  I am never quite sure “how intellectually Jewish” are our leading Jewish intellectuals, but somewhat to be sure.  Even if they are atheists, they are usually strongly influenced by Jewish intellectual and theological traditions, which indicates a certain power to those traditions.  In fiction, Orson Scott Card is one of the intellectually most influential writers in the last few decades and he is a Mormon.  Knausgaard is drenched in the tradition of the Christian confessional memoir, and Ferrante is about as Catholic a writer as you will find, again even if “the real Ferrante” is a skeptic.  Houellebecq I don’t even need to get into.

Second, I see that both secular “left progressive” and “libertarian” traditions — both highly secular in their current forms — are not so innovative right now.  I don’t intend that as criticism, as you might think they are not innovative because they are already essentially correct.  Still, there is lots of recycling going on and their most important thinkers probably lie in the past, not the future.  That opens up room for religious thinkers to have more of an impact.

Third, religious thinkers arguably have more degrees of freedom.  I don’t mean to hurt anybody’s feelings here, but…how shall I put it?  The claims of the religions are not so closely tied to the experimental method and the randomized control trial.  (Narrator: “Neither are the secular claims!”)  It would be too harsh to say “they can just make stuff up,” but…arguably there are fewer constraints.  That might lead to more gross errors and fabrications in the distribution as a whole, but also more creativity in the positive direction.  And right now we seem pretty hungry for some breaks in the previous debates, even if not all of those breaks will be for the better.

Fourth, if you live amongst the intelligentsia, being religious is one active form of rebellion.  Rebelliousness is grossly correlated with intellectual innovation, again even if the variance of quality increases.

Fifth, I have the general impression that religious idea rise in importance during unstable and chaotic times.  Probably the current period is less stable than say 1980-2001 or so, and that will increase the focality of religious ideas, thereby making religious thinkers more important.

Sixth, religious and semi-religious memes are stickier than secular ones.  Maybe not on average, but the most influential religions have shown an incredible reach and endurance.

If you are reading a secular thinker, always ask yourself: “what is this person’s implicit theology?”  No matter who it is.  There are few more useful questions at your disposal.

Favorite books by female authors

Elena Ferrante named her top forty, and I am not sure I approve of the exercise at all.  Still, here are my top twenty, in no particular order, fiction only, not counting poetry:

1.Lady Murasaki, Tale of Genji.

2. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights.

3. Alice Munro, any and all.

4. Elena Ferrante, the Neapolitan quadrology.

5. Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook.

6. Octavia Butler, Xenogenesis trilogy.

7. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

8. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

9. Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter.

10. Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

11. Virginia Woolf, many.

12. Willa Cather, My Antonia.

13. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

14. Jane Austen, Persuasion.

15. Anne Rice, The Witching Hour, and #2 in the vampire series.

16. Anaïs Nin? P.D.James? A general award to the mystery genre?

17. Christa Wolf, Cassandra.

18. Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian.

19. Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise.

20. Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness.

Comments: No, I didn’t forget George Eliot, these are “my favorites,” not “the best.”  Maybe Edith Wharton would have made #21?  Or Byatt’s Possession?  The other marginal picks mostly would have come from the Anglosphere.  I learned my favorite Latin American writers are all male.

What I’ve been reading

1. Stephen Hough, Rough Ideas: Reflections on Music and More. Scattered tidbits, about half of them very interesting, most of the rest at least decently good, mostly for fans of classical music and piano music. Should you develop the habit of warming up?  Why don’t they always have a piano in the “green room”?  How many recordings should you sample before trying to play a piece?  What kinds of relationships do pianists develop with their page turners?  That sort of thing.  I read the whole thing.

2. Jeremy England, Every Life is on Fire: How Thermodynamics Explains the Origins of Living Things.  A fun and readable popular science book on why life may be likely to evolve from inanimate matter: “Living things…make copies of themselves, harvest and consume fuel, and accurately predict the surrounding environment.”  Who could be against that?

3. Dov H. Levin, Meddling in the Ballot Box: The Causes and Effects of Partisan Electoral Interventions.  “A fifth significant way in which the U.S. aided Adenauer’s reelection was achieved by Dulles publicly threatening, in an American press conference which took place two days before the elections, “disastrous effects” for Germany if Adenauer was not reelected.”  A non-partisan, academic work, “This study is the first book-length study of partisan electoral interventions as a discrete, stand-alone phenomenon.”  From 1946-2000, there were 81 discrete U.S. interventions in foreign elections, and 36 by the USSR/Russia, noting that outright conquest did not count in that data base.

4. John Kampfner, Why the Germans Do it Better: Notes from a Grown-Up Country (UK Amazon link, not yet in the USA).  You should dismiss the title altogether, which is intended to provoke British people.  In fact the author spends plenty of time on what is wrong with Germany, ranging from an incoherent foreign policy to the weaknesses of Frankfurt as a financial center.  In any case, this is an excellent book trying to lay out and explain recent German politics and economics.  It is more conventional wisdom than daring hypothesis, but the conventional wisdom is very often correct and how many people really know the conventional wisdom about Naomi Seibt anyway?  Recommended, the best recent look at what is still one of the world’s most important countries.

5. David Carpenter, Henry III: 1207-1258.  “No King of England came to the throne in a more desperate situation than Henry III.”  The Magna Carta had just been instituted, Henry was just nine years old, and England was ruled by a triumvirate, with a very real chance that the French throne would swallow up England.  This is one of those “has a lot of unfamiliar names that are hard to keep track of” books, but don’t blame Carpenter for that.  In terms of scholarly contribution it stands amongst the very top books of the year.  And yes there was already a Wales back then.  They also started building Westminster Abbey under Henry’s reign.  Here are some of the origins of state capacity libertarianism, volume II is yet to come.

6. Elena Ferrante, The Lying Life of Adults.  The last quarter of the book closes strong, so my final assessment is enthusiastic, even if it isn’t in the exalted league of her Neapolitan quadrology.  It will probably be better upon a rereading, which I will do.

Richard Davis requests

Here are some answers, I put his questions — from Request for Requests – in bold:

Melancholy among academics.

We’re a pretty sorry bunch, and many of us don’t have so much professionally to live for, at least not at the relevant margin — it is easy to lose forward momentum and never recover it, given the constraints and incentives in the profession and broader pressures toward conformity.  Rates of depression in academia, and especially in graduate school, are fairly high.  Many of the core processes are demoralizing rather than inspiring.  It is remarkable to me how much other people simply have accepted that is how things ought to be and perhaps they believe matters cannot be that different.  I view the high rates of depression in academic life as a “canary in the coal mine” that doesn’t get enough attention as an indicator of bigger, more systemic problems in the entire enterprise.  What are you doing with your lifetime sinecure?

Your favorite things Soviet.

Shostakovich.  And the Romantic pianists, most of all Richter and Gilels.  Constructivist art and ballet up through the late 1920s.  The early chess games of Tal.  Magnitogorsk.  War memorials, most of all in Leningrad.  Tarkovsky.  I admire the “great” Soviet novels, but I don’t love them, except for Solzhenitsyn, whom I would rather read then Dostoyevsky.  Probably the poetry is amazing, but my Russian is too limited to appreciate it.

The optimal number of math PhDs worldwide.

I would think fairly few.  I am happy having lots of mathematicians, with independent tests of quality.  But is the Ph.D such a great test or marker of quality?  Did Euclid have one?  Euler?  Does it show you will be a great teacher?  Maybe we should work toward abolishing the math PhD concept, but out of respect for the profession, not out of hostility toward math.

What historical works of art were anticipated to be great prior to creation, were immediately declared to be great at creation and have continued to be judged great ever since?

Overall it is striking how popular how many of the great revolutionaries have been.  Michelangelo was a major figure of renown.  Mozart was quite popular, though not fully appreciated.  Beethoven was a legend in his time, and every Wagner opera was an event.  Goethe ruled his time as a titan.  A significant percentage of the very best writers were well known and loved during their careers, though of course there was uncertainty how well they would stand up to the test of time.

The future of Northern New Jersey.

Much like the present, plus defaults on the pension obligations and over time the Indian food may get worse, due to acculturation.  The Sopranos will fade into distant memory, I am sorry to say, as will Bruce Springsteen.  So many young people already don’t know them or care.  I feel lucky to have grown up during the region’s cultural peak.

Who are the greats that still walk among us (other than McCartney)?

The major tech founders and CEOs, Stephan Wolfram, Jasper Johns and Frank Stella and Richard Serra and Gerhardt Richter and Robert Gober, a number of other classic rock stars (Dylan, Brian Wilson, Jagger, Eno, etc.), Philip Glass, Richard D. James, and note most of the greatest classical musicians who have ever lived are alive and playing today (Uchida anyone?), at least once Covid goes away.  Many of the major architects.  Ferrante and Knausgaard and Alice Munro.  Many of the figures who built up East Asia and Singapore.  Perelman.  Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.  Magnus Carlsen and all sorts of figures in sports.  A bunch of other people whom Eric Weinstein would list.

Why

Why not?

What I’ve been reading

1. Ethan Sherwood Strauss, The Victory Machine: The Making and Unmaking of the Warriors Dynasty.  On top of everything else this is an excellent book on management, and the random events along the way to making a team (the Warriors once wanted to trade both Curry and Thompson for Chris Paul).  Kevin Durant ends up as the fall guy, recommended to those who care.

2. Valerie Hansen, The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World — and Globalization Began.  Worth reading, my favorite part was the discussion of how Cahokia in Mississippi was connected to the Mayans.  And Chichen Itza is probably the world’s best preserved city from the year 1000.

3. Zena Hitz, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life.  “Drawing on inspiring examples, from Socrates and Augustine to Malcolm X and Elena Ferrante, and from films to Hitz’s own experiences as someone who walked away from elite university life in search of greater fulfillment, Lost in Thought is a passionate and timely reminder that a rich life is a life rich in thought.”

4. Alaine Polcz, One Woman in the War: Hungary 1944-1945.  I am surprised this book is not better known.  I found it deeper and more gripping than many of the more broadly recommended wartime memoirs, such as Viktor Frankl.  And more honest about the toll of war on women.

5. Adam Thierer, Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance: How Innovation Improves Economies and Governments.  A very good libertarian, “permissionless innovation” look at tech.

I have browsed Judith Herrin’s Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe, and it seems to be the definitive book on the early history of that city (one of my favorite one-day visits in the whole world).

“And what a decade it was”

From Alex X.:

With the decade coming to a close, I would be curious on everyone’s favorite of the decade [gives list of categories]:

Without too much pondering, here is what comes to mind right away:

Film: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, or A Touch of Sin.  Might Winter Sleep by next?  It was probably the best decade ever for foreign movies, the worst decade ever for Hollywood movies (NYT).

Blockbuster/action film: Transformers 4?  Big screen only, live or die by CGI!

Album: Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Single: I don’t see an obvious, non-derivative pick here that really stands out.  Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” probably is the mainstream choice, but do I ever go over to the stereo to put it on?  Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel” is another option, but is it such a big step beyond Prince?  Lorde or Beyonce?  LCD Soundsystem seems more about the entire album, same for Frank Ocean.  Something from Kanye’s Yeezus?  To pull a dark horse option out of the hat, how about Gillian Welch, “The Way It Goes“?  Or Death Grips “Giving Bad People Good Ideas“?  I’ve spent enough time on Twitter that I have to opt for that one.

TV Show: Srugim, Borgen, The Americans.

Single Season: Selections from same, you know which seasons.

Book Fiction: The Ferrante quadrology and Houllebecq’s Submission.

Book Non Fiction: Knausgaard, volumes I and II.

Athlete of the Decade: Stephen Curry or Lebron James.

What are your picks?

My Conversation with Karl Ove Knausgaard

Here is the audio and transcript, this was one of my favorite Conversations. Here is the CWTeam summary:

Knausgård’s literary freedom paves the way for this conversation with Tyler, which starts with a discussion of mimesis and ends with an explanation of why we live in the world of Munch’s The Scream. Along the way there is much more, including what he learned from reading Ingmar Bergman’s workbooks, the worst thing about living in London, how having children increased his productivity, whether he sees himself in a pietistic tradition, thoughts on Bible stories, angels, Knut Hamsun, Elena Ferrante, the best short story (“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”), the best poet (Paul Celan), the best movie (Scenes from a Marriage), and what his punctual arrival says about his attachment to bourgeois values.

Here is one excerpt:

KNAUSGÅRD: You have this almost archetypical artist putting his art before his children, before his family, before everything. You have also Doris Lessing who did the same — abandoned her children to move to London to write.

I’ve been kind of confronted with that as a writer, and I think everyone does because writing is so time consuming and so demanding. When I got children, I had this idea that writing was a solitary thing. I could go out to small islands in the sea. I could go to lighthouses, live there, try to write in complete . . . be completely solitary and alone. When I got children, that was an obstruction for my writing, I thought.

But it wasn’t. It was the other way around. I’ve never written as much as I have after I got the children, after I started to write at home, after I kind of established writing in the middle of life. It was crawling with life everywhere. And what happened was that writing became less important. It became less precious. It became more ordinary. It became less religious or less sacred.

It became something ordinary, and that was incredibly important for me because that was eventually where I wanted to go — into the ordinary and mundane, even, and try to connect to what was going on in life. Life isn’t sacred. Life isn’t uplifted. It is ordinary and boring and all the things, we know.

And:

COWEN: So many great Norwegian writers — Ibsen, Sigrid Undset, Knut Hamsun — there’s nationalism in their work. Yet today, liberals tend to think of nationalism as an unspeakable evil of sorts. How do we square this with the evolution of Norwegian writing?

And if one thinks of your own career, arguably it’s your extreme popularity in Norway at first that drove your later fame. What’s the connection of your own work to Norwegian nationalism? Are you the first non-nationalist great Norwegian writer? Is that plausible? Or is there some deeper connection?

KNAUSGÅRD: I think so much writing is done out of a feeling of not belonging. If you read Knut Hamsun, he was a Nazi. I mean, he was a full-blooded Nazi. We have to be honest about that.

COWEN: His best book might be his Nazi book, right? He wrote it when he was what, 90?

KNAUSGÅRD: Yeah.

COWEN: On Overgrown Paths?

KNAUSGÅRD: Yeah.

COWEN: To me, it’s much more interesting than the novels, which are a kind of artifice that hasn’t aged so well.

KNAUSGÅRD: Yeah.

COWEN: But you read On Overgrown Paths, you feel like you’re there. It’s about self-deception.

KNAUSGÅRD: It’s true, it’s a wonderful book. But I think Hamsun’s theme, his subject, is rootlessness. In a very rooted society, in a rural society, in a family-orientated society like Norway has been — a small society — he was a very rootless, very urban writer.

He went to America, and he hated America, but he was America. He had that in him. He was there in the late 19th century, and he wrote a book about it, which is a terrible book, but still, he was there, and he had that modernity in him.

He never wrote about his parents. Never wrote about where he came from. All his characters just appear, and then something happens with them, but there’s no past. I found that incredibly intriguing just because he became the Nazi. He became the farmer. He became the one who sang the song about the growth. What do you call it? Markens Grøde.

COWEN: Growth of the Soil.

And:

COWEN: Arnold Weinstein has a book on Nordic culture, and he argues that the sacrifice of the child is a recurring theme. It’s in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. It’s in a number of Ibsen plays, Bergman movies. Has that influenced you? Or are you a rejection of that? Are you like Edvard Munch, but with children, and that’s the big difference between you and Munch, the painter?

I told you we ask different questions.

KNAUSGÅRD: Yeah, yeah. You just said different. You didn’t say difficult.

Knausgaard showed up for the taping carrying a package of black bread, which he forgot to take with him when leaving.  So for the rest of the day, I enjoyed his black bread…