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Archive for July 27th, 2009

July 27th, 2009 • Posted in Wicked Quotes

Ten Wicked Quotes about Writing and Reading, etc.

If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research. Wilson Mizner
Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children. Life is the other way around. David Lodge
When I want to read a novel I write one. Benjamin Disraeli
I read everything except politics, philosophy, theology, economics, sociology, science, or anything to do with the wonders of nature, anything to do with technology – have I said politics? Philip Larkin
Definition of a classic: a book everyone is assumed to have read, and often thinks they have. Alan Bennett
Editing is the same as quarreling with writers – same thing exactly. Harold Ross.
[On writing poetry] It starts as insipiration and ends as a crossword puzzle. John Betjeman.
Brevity is the sister of talent. Anton Chekhov
Good prose is like a window pane. George Orwell
[Critic:] A louse in the locks of literature. Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
July 27th, 2009 • Posted in Literary Criticism

Definition of the Novel

Joyce Carey in ‘A Novel is a Novel is a Novel’ from Joyce Carey Selected Essays (Michael Joseph)

"The old lady at the zoo didn’t believe in the giraffe; it wasn’t her idea of what the creature should be. And a good many people disagree with every definition of the novel…Nine-tenths of novels are defined to everyone’s satisfaction, and nine-tenths of novels answer our definition of a long story in prose about fictitious characters.

The trouble, therefore is with the giraffes, the monsters, novels which do not answer to the common expectation. This, however, is a real trouble because it is precisely in the neutral ground between definitions that original masterpieces are born. A writer who has something new to express is always likely to see a new form or expression…

T[The business of a critic is] not to make laws but to discover them – to explore the structure of each work by itself and show, if possible, where it succeeded, and why and where it failed; not to define from outside but to clarify from within…

Since we must have a definition of the novel, let it be the simplest possible, and let us be careful to pay no serious attention to it."

July 27th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

David Mitchell’s Top Ten Novels and More

I interviewed David Mitchell recently in Toronto. During our conversation he mentioned his love of a novella by Chekhov called The Duel (read it here). As it turns out, this tops the list of his ‘favourite’ books,  found in The Top Ten, edited by J. Peder Zane. Here are the rest:

2. 1984
3. Heart of Darkness
4. Sense and Sensibility
5. The Master and the Margarita
6. As I Lay Dying
7. Tom Jones
8. Labyrinths
9. W, or The Memory of Childhood (by Georges Perec)
10. The Makioka Sisters, (by Junichiro Tanizaki)

When David mentioned The Duel, for some reason I thought of a great, rather obscure movie I’d seen way back in the 70s, called The Duellists starring Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine. Of note: the directorial debut of one Scott Ridley.


As it turns out, the film is based on a story by Joseph Conrad (read it here). Not sure if it, the film, stands up over time, but, again, back then, I thought it smashing.