That something subtitled “Book 2” might be called the most interesting literary development of the year surprises me; also surprising to me is that something I feel comfortable terming “the most interesting literary development” includes a long section detailing the narrator’s attendance at “Rhythm Time,” a music class for infants. But Book 2 (of six) of the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s 3,600-page autobiographical novel of family life, “My Struggle,” reveals that the tome grows only more substantive, comical and artistically singular as it proceeds.
— Rivka Galchen
The first ever Lahore Literary Festival — not because it was the largest such festival in the world, or the most star-studded, and not because festivals are in and of themselves always good things, but rather because, at the sight of its 800-seat main auditorium filled repeatedly beyond capacity, every stair and aisle occupied in the giddiest breach of fire safety, and with so many hundreds more keen but unable to squeeze into this or that talk, most of them half my age or younger, I began to think that, laments to the contrary notwithstanding, the ranks of readers are in fact growing, in Pakistan and I suspect across Asia and Africa, and that this is a wonderful development, worth our taking a minute to cheer.
— Mohsin Hamid
Earlier this year, in a 6,400-word newspaper essay taken from his book “The Kraus Project,” Jonathan Franzen set out some of his objections to — and anxieties about — Internet culture. The article was many things: angry, mournful, brilliant, occasionally dotty. The widespread mockery it received was only depressingly crude. For the sin of casting doubt on the Truth and Beauty of Twitter, Franzen was swiftly branded a Luddite, an elitist, a pretentious old fart and a misogynist. The yakkers, braggers and bullies did themselves proud.
— Zoë Heller
I’ve been fascinated by the use of graphic novels and comic biographies to introduce important episodes in modern American social justice movements. These books almost certainly find readers who may be unfamiliar with — or might otherwise be uninterested in — some of the most influential activists of the 20th century. Two recent favorites: “March: Book 1,” a collaboration between Representative John Lewis of Georgia, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, about Lewis’s lifelong work on civil rights; and Peter Bagge’s “Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story,” which translates Sanger’s colorful life and vital work on behalf of women’s reproductive rights into a dynamic, relatively upbeat biography.
— Anna Holmes
For a while there, after the 2008 crash, it seemed possible that publishing would follow the music and journalism businesses into meltdown. The best literary news of 2013 is that, as Evan Hughes reported in The New Republic, books have not succumbed to the downward-spiraling revenue trend: Sales of books in all formats actually grew by almost $2 billion in the last five years, and e-books have turned out to complement printed books without replacing them. It’s easy to see why writers should be happy — they can continue to get paid for their work — but this is equally good news for readers, who still need publishers to find, foster and distribute good writing.
— Adam Kirsch
What’s with this new business of writers making public statements about their career moves? Last year, Philip Roth announced his decision to “retire” from writing fiction. This past June, Alice Munro declared she was closing up shop. Also this year, the estimable Lee Siegel used The New Yorker’s literary blog to tell the world that he wasn’t writing negative reviews any longer. All this is a bit meta for my taste — a further blurring of the crucial line between public and private, real and virtual that should distinguish authors’ meaningful utterances from chatter. Writers should publish (or not), rather than publicize. The rest is noise.
— Daniel Mendelsohn
Years ago, some recurring references in Cesare Pavese’s journals and Nietzsche’s writings alerted me to Giacomo Leopardi, and to his reputation as one of the 19th century’s greatest writers and thinkers. An American friend sent me an anthology in English, and I savored its brief selections, marveling at his iconoclastic and cosmopolitan mind, which seemed as much at home in India as in ancient Rome, and which was presciently skeptical of our own contemporary beliefs and superstitions about technology and progress. With the publication of his mammoth “Zibaldone” (a “hodgepodge of thoughts”) earlier this year, an intellectual feast is now available to Anglophone readers.
— Pankaj Mishra
Like most people, I suppose, I’m never thrilled to be asked to donate money, but I was pleased to learn that Archipelago Books recently launched a campaign, via Kickstarter, to support its worthy and invaluable mission: publishing books in translation (in this case, a hardcover edition of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle: Book 1”). The excellent online magazine Guernica has also turned to Kickstarter to raise funds, with successful results. It’s a great idea, and important for people to know about: Some of our most valuable cultural institutions can be kept alive if we all cook at home one night and divert the money saved to the literary cause.
— Francine Prose
Few writers’ unpublished work represents as huge a volume of their total output as Emily Dickinson’s. She published only 10 poems during her lifetime but left behind thousands more, some neatly sewn into handmade books, others scribbled in fragments on envelopes and candy wrappers and stray scraps of paper, at times festooned with dried flowers or clippings of illustrations. Happily, as of this year, many (not all) of the widely scattered contents of Dickinson’s archive have been gathered on a publicly accessible, searchable website. To wander at will through the papers of America’s most visionary and idiosyncratic poet is, in her words, to “dwell in Possibility — / A fairer house than Prose.”
— Dana Stevens
In early October, two psychology researchers reported that people who had read examples of literary fiction, as distinct from popular fiction and nonfiction, performed better on tests of empathy. At a time when reading literary fiction can seem as marginal an activity as there ever was, news of its measurable utility elicits feelings of vindication and relief. But our reactions are in some ways more telling than the study itself. So a short story by Don DeLillo proves more useful in at least one way than an article called “How the Potato Changed the World.” To pit DeLillo against the potato is absurd, not to mention unfair to the potato.
— Jennifer Szalai