Readersforum's Blog

November 21, 2013

Javier Marias, The Art of Fiction No. 190

179Interviewed by Sarah Fay

A waiter at a restaurant in Madrid gasped when I mentioned that I was in town to interview Javier Marías. “You know him?” he asked, as if I’d named a president or a movie star. “Sometimes we see him walking down the street.”

Although Marías is not yet well known to readers in the United States, in Europe he is a literary and intellectual sensation—the author of eleven novels, two books of short stories, a collection of biographical essays, and a column on politics, literature, film, sports, and social issues for the Madrid newspaper El Pais’s weekly magazine. He is also one of Spain’s leading translators from English. His own books have been published in more than thirty languages and have sold over five million copies worldwide, and he is often mentioned in the European press as a contender for the Nobel Prize. Critics and admiring colleagues (J. M. Coetzee, Salman Rushdie, and the late W. G. Sebald) have praised the way he pits Spanish black humor against English grandiloquence to produce novels that are simultaneously fast-paced and meticulous, speculative and clinical, stylish and classical.

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May 8, 2012

Could the Internet Save Book Reviews?

AP Images

Even as print publications are getting rid of reviewers, websites and podcasts offer new ways of approaching literature.

By Sarah Fay

In his 1946 essay “Confessions of a Book Reviewer,” George Orwell outlined the changes he’d make to the standard, 600-word format of the book review. He wrote that the best practice “would be simply to ignore the great majority of books and to give very long reviews—1,000 words is a bare minimum—to the few that seem to matter.” He then suggested notices “of a line or two” for the majority of titles less worthy of mention. Although Orwell considered book reviewing “an exceptionally thankless, irritating and exhausting job” and once likened it to “pouring his immortal spirit down the drain, half a pint at a time,” he’s often evoked as the patron saint of book reviewers. Orwell reviewed over 100 books in 1940 alone and “Confessions of a Book Reviewer” is a testament to the problems he saw in journalistic literary criticism, including the fact that reviewing involved “praising trash” and “constantly inventing reactions towards books about which one has no spontaneous feelings whatever.”. His idea to review only the best books didn’t spark a revolution in 1946 and probably won’t start one any time soon, but the essay points to the fact that book reviews haven’t changed very much in the past 65 years—until now.

The digital age has transformed the physical act of reading and will alter journalistic literary criticism as well. According to a Pew Research study published in 2010, over half of all Americans obtain news and information—including book reviews—on digital platforms: online editions of newspapers like the New York Times, email, Twitter, RSS feeds, etc. (The number is even higher among people with post-graduate degrees and those who are in their 20s and 30s.) The full effect of these changes will have on book reviews isn’t clear, but they’re already shifting in ways that would both please and alarm Orwell.

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