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Reviews that make you go "ouch," writing about money: Some random links

August 29, 2007 |  3:16 pm

Shelley Reviews that make you go "ouch": Adam Kirsch (whose father Jonathan and grandfather Robert have long associations with The Times’ Book Review) delivers a one-two blow against Ann Wroe’s "Being Shelley: The Poet’s Search for Self" in the New Yorker:

"The most important limitation of Wroe’s method is that it leaves her with as little critical perspective on Shelley as Shelley had himself. Being Shelley means feeling as Shelley felt, and Wroe tremblingly recapitulates the poet’s sense of being too fragile for this world: ‘Rain punished Shelley, too. He stood in it, his heart naked to its freezing, battering drops.’ By the time he drowns, Wroe’s Shelley has become literally angelic, ready to return to his heavenly home: ‘White wings unfolded vastly from his shoulders, as if through this battering frenzy he could rise to the upper sky.’ But, if there is one lesson to be drawn from Shelley’s life and work, it is that you can’t trust a man who believes he is an angel."

There are enough other portraits of Shelley’s life--by Richard Holmes, for example, and Claire Tomalin and Ian Gilmour (for that matter, include Edward John Trelawny, too)--that I was a little disappointed with Kirsch’s piece. He didn’t give Wroe much of a chance. Is there no room for experiment?

****

Writers and money:  Ken Burns’ 2001 documentary on the life of Mark Twain had an interesting insight, among many, in describing Twain’s disastrous investment in a printing machine that never worked as well in practice as it did in theory. Twain’s faith in the machine, the documentary suggested, was increased by the fact that he was an artist: His imagination showed him how it might succeed, so it was harder for him to imagine that the venture would fail.Twain

If you read this year’s Man Booker Prize chairman Howard Davies in last week’s Financial Times, you’d find that, Twain aside, Davies has a deep faith in the solid business sense of American writers.

Brits, by contrast, are perfectly awful, Davies says. While lauding the financial savvy of Tom Wolfe ("The Bonfire of the Vanities") and the real estate acumen of Richard Ford ("The Lay of the Land"), he complains that British writers are hopeless. "Most of our novelists are more preoccupied with life after working hours and below the waist," he writes. Ignoring the economic aspect of modern life is something to lament, he says, though he’s buoyed by some of the authors on the Booker longlist--for example, Indra Sinha, Mohsin Hamid, Lloyd Jones and Catherine O’Flynn--for including a sense of how financial pressures impinge on their characters’ lives. And yet, he asks, "where is the great hedge fund novel of our time?"

Interesting point, Mr. Davies. But don’t expect anyone at Bear Stearns to share your enthusiasm.

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Big bucks: Fox 2000 and Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions made a winning bid for "The Passage," an unfinished novel about vampires that is planned as part of a trilogy. How much did they pay for the 397-page manuscript? A whopping $1.75 million. A suggestion for the author, Jordan Ainsley (a pseudonym, various blogs report): Call the series "The Early Retirement" trilogy.

Nick Owchar

                                                         Twain photo credit: Cooper Square Press

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