by Vicraj Gill
You may remember last month’s features on Bloomer L. Annette Binder, including Jill Kronstadt’s great piece on Binder’s debut story collection, Rise. One of the stories Kronstadt loved most was the strange, sad, and beautiful “Nephilim”—which was also last month’s entry in 29th Street Publishing’s “One Story” podcast.
Speaking of debuts, Benjamin Lytal at The New Yorker takes a look at what he dubs the “Icarian” one, the “kind that might not even get published, because the author has flown too close to the sun.” It’s hard to think of a time when Vladimir Nabokov and Gustave Flaubert were obscure names. But neither Flaubert’s The Temptation of Anthony nor Nabokov’s The Tragedy of Mister Morn made any waves when they were first written, though each debut bears traces of its author’s genius. Lytal’s piece also poses this provocative question: “Did Jane Austen know, sitting with ‘Elinor and Marianne’ on her lap, that she would keep writing, that she would never stop, that the rudiments on her page would refine themselves into anything like ‘Pride and Prejudice’?”
Any mention of young authors brings to mind Granta’s decennial “Best of Young British Novelists” list—last month brought us the latest one. The Atlantic’s Emily Temple went on to ask the writers chosen for the honor for the names of their favorite young authors. As Temple herself notes, “not all of them stuck to the letter of our “young and British’ stipulations,” and many of the authors featured and mentioned are women or writers of color. The piece also features this powerful statement from Granta honoree Adam Thirlwell’s endorsement of poet Alice Oswald—“a writer’s real youth is in their [sic] language.”
If you need proof of that last one, check out this profile of spy novelist John le Carré at the New York Times. His twenty-third novel, A Delicate Truth, just came out last month; 1974’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was adapted as a film two years ago, and 2008’s A Most Wanted Man will follow in 2014, along with Our Kind of Traitor (2011) after that. What’s more, as NYT’s Dwight Garner notes, Le Carré’s writing in this “hardy late-career bloom” is superb. And his books remain powerful, “less about espionage than they are about human frailty and desire . . . how we are, all of us, spies of a sort.”
Le Carré’s been writing more or less steadily since his own debut with the thriller Call for the Dead in 1961. But what happens when, after early success, you find yourself running into roadblocks? Shuggie Otis, a guitar prodigy in his teens, found himself in this situation, after his attempt to branch out and avoid being typecast as a bluesman failed. But when Epic Records, who had dropped him after 1974’s “Inspiration Information,” approached him about a re-release over twenty years later, he suggested they also release his latest, “Wings of Love,” leading to a late-career bloom of his own. When it comes to Otis’s music, Questlove says it best: “[H]is music is so potent that it only blossomed 30 years after it was first released.”
Here we have writers, musicians—but translators can be Bloomers too. We’ve mentioned Howard Goldblatt in a previous roundup, and his story merits another mention. Goldblatt, who himself admits that “[t]he first 20 years of my life don’t count for much,” encountered Chinese language and culture during his time at a U.S. Navy post in Taipei, and found it fascinating. After returning to America, he decided to channel that interest—first into graduate study and then into translation, often of lesser-known works by little-known authors. Aimee Levitt’s recent profile of Goldblatt at the Chicago Reader covers this colorful history, the techniques and politics of translation, and much more.
If you enjoyed Amy Weldon‘s piece on Black Beauty author Anna Sewell and her empathy for animals, you might also be interested in the heated debate currently surrounding the use of horse-drawn carriages in New York City. The treatment of the horses has become a pressing matter in the race between Democratic mayoral hopefuls Christine C. Quinn, who supports the carriages’ continued use, and Bill de Blasio, who believes that the practice ought to be abolished.
Finally, we’re rounding out this month’s “At Large” on a personal note. Our founding editor, Sonya Chung, recently celebrated a milestone birthday. In honor of the event, she wrote us a poignant reflection on failure, “The Real F-Word,” and also published a piece at The Common, on how the body changes after 40, along with the mind.