For a whimsical purchase one Sunday afternoon, I’m pleased with the rich provocations in Tim Parks’s Where I’m Reading From, a collection of powerful essays written for the New York Review of Books.
Parks’s clear incisive discussion of contemporary criticism, translation and literary convention is uncommonly fresh, but it is the essays on literary globalisation that strike me with greatest intensity. These essays, in particular, makes some of the stakes clear of a relentless pressure to make novels attractive to a global audience. I quote a passage here from his essay Writing Adrift in the World:
Perhaps the problem is rather a slow weakening of our sense of being inside a society with related and competing visions of the world to which we make our own urgent narrative contributions; this being replaced by the author who takes courses to learn how to create a product with universal appeal, something that can float in the world mix, rather than feed into the immediate experience of people in his own culture.
I’m surprised not to have come across Parks’s essays before. His essays share the passion and flair I associate with Joseph Epstein, Zadie Smith (a better essayist than novelist) and Geoff Dyer.
Parks also leaves me with a tantalising list of reading suggestions to look into, including an earlier collection of his own essays.
I had noted a review of this book last fall but unfortunately it will not be released here in Canada until May. I have been enjoying his NYRB blog posts, especially his advocacy of reading with a pen in hand, a thought that seems to send so many readers into fits of apoplectic agony. Assuming a book is my own property, I believe it is to be engaged with not passed through without a trace. I look forward to this collection.
I couldn’t agree more; his essay about reading with pen in hand is what drew me to this collection. As far as I can tell many of these are accessible on NYRB online, so the only advantage to buying the hard copy is to be able to annotate freely.
LikeLiked by 1 person
He’s not essential reading for me, but from time to time he writes a great little essay!
Even in the few essays I thought a touch ‘light’, Parks manages to bring a freshness to a potentially trite topic.