March Links: The Watchmen, Orwell, and Goldengrove

* “From Comic Book to Literary Classic:” Does The Watchmen deserve all the hype? The WSJ asks. Their answer is mostly “no,” a verdict I concur with.

* Speaking of Watchmen-related hype, Ta-Nehisi Coates summarizes my feeling toward movies:

I think I’m mostly done with comic book movies, and big budget movies in general. I don’t think (with a few exceptions) that they’re made for me. Which is fine. But the more comic book movies I see, the more I value the imaginative space created by books.

(For more on this, see Why are so many movies awful?)

* Orwell wasn’t a mensch or a lout or an ideologue in the normal sense, and trying to define him is as much a challenge today as it must have been in his time. Julian Barnes tries to make some sense of him in “Such, Such Was Eric Blair:”

All prophets risk posthumous censure, even mockery; and the Orwell we celebrate nowadays is less the predictor than the social and political analyst. Those born in the immediate postwar years grew up with the constant half-expectation that 1984 would bring all the novel described: immovable geopolitical blocs, plus brutal state surveillance and control. Today, the English may have their sluggardly couch-potato side; their liberties have been somewhat diminished, and they are recorded by CCTV cameras more often than any other nation on earth. But otherwise 1984 passed with a sigh of relief, while 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall brought a louder one.

Orwell believed in 1936 that “the combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman.” That “never” was a risky call. And on a larger scale, he believed throughout World War II that peace would bring the British revolution he desired, with blood in the gutters and the “red militias…billetted in the Ritz,” as he put it in private diary and public essay. And after the revolution:

The Stock Exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into children’s holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten….

One out of four on the vision thing; and tractors were hardly a difficult pick.

I’ve mentioned his collected Essays before and will no doubt again; even when they’re infuriating, they’re enormously clever.

* Jacket Copy reports that, 27 years after John Cheever’s death, the man is everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except for my bookshelf: I’ve never read his novels, which are on the ever-expanding “to be read” list. This week’s New Yorker also has an article about Cheever. It includes this bit:

“How lonely and unnatural man is and how deep and well-concealed are his confusions”—no wonder Cheever’s fiction is slighted in academia while Fitzgerald’s collegiate romanticism is assigned. Cheever’s characters are adult, full of adult darkness, corruption, and confusion. They are desirous, conflicted, alone, adrift. They do not achieve the crystalline stoicism, the defiant willed courage, of Hemingway’s.

Really? I’m not sure I agree with the premise that Cheever is slighted in academia, and even if I did, I don’t think I’d buy the reason stated.

* The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, calls Cheever The Audubon of Suburbia:

“Cheever: A Life,” arriving as it does with the publication of Library of America editions of Cheever’s stories and novels, edited by Mr. Bailey, seems intended to spur a rediscovery of the author. It won’t be the first, or the last. Cheever occupies a secure place in the literature of the American dream, forming the link between Fitzgerald and Updike. The formidable achievement of his short stories alone ensures that he is destined to be the subject of periodic rediscovery, reassessment and biographical shading-in.

* Maybe I will read Francine Prose’s Goldengrove:

Prose’s book is filled with characters who comprehend their experience of the world through the lenses that art–high art, popular art, and everything in between–offers up. Even though Goldengrove tells a sad story, I found great comfort and pleasure in reading about these characters and their attachments to and imitations of art, and appreciated Myers’s identification of this kind of activity and attachment as a subject of the novel. “We learn what we were like as children from such books as The Mill on the Floss, C. S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, and Goldengrove,” he says. Our experience of art is as much a life experience as anything else.

I didn’t care for The Mill on the Floss, but the overall point is well-taken.

* The best article on Kindle economics and bookstores that I’ve seen: Digital readers will save writers and publishing, even if they destroy the book business.

* Speaking of book publishing, MobyLives reports:

Exact data on how the used book market is eroding the market for new books is hard to come by but the consensus is — it ain’t helping.

The Wall Street Journal predicted in 2005: “While the market’s size is still modest — about $600 million, or 2.8% of the $21 billion that readers spent on consumer books in 2004 — it is growing at 25% annually. Jeff Hayes, group director for InfoTrends Research Group, suggests that it could reach $2.25 billion in U.S. sales by 2010, or 9.4% of a projected $23.9 billion in consumer book sales.”

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