It’s the middle of December already. Honestly, all I can do is shake my head at that one. But we’re back in business here, just in time for all those festivities. And whether you’ve been naughty or nice or—one hopes—a little more hard to pin down than that, Open Letters Monthly has a neat gift you: the December issue is devoted to Anthony Burgess.
In the lead essay, John Cotter reviews the handsome new edition of Burgess’ Earthly Powers, on which he has me sold: “Burgess has found a place for everything in Earthly Powers: Hollywood, Nazis, gay marriage, British dentistry, black magic, Black Power, even A Clockwork Orange.… What’s amazing is that it all works. It works beautifully.” It’s not easy to do justice to a marvelously complex novel like Earthly Powers in one review, though, so Cotter and Steve Donoghue proceed to have a very comprehensive chat about it—including the cover art and type—asking (and weighing in on) the question, “Who reads big smart novels?”
Greg Waldmann shows that there’s far more to Burgess and music than Beethoven’s Ninth, and in fact that he was a composer before he was a writer—”his wanted and less-wanted vocations,” in that order.
Sam Sacks looks at Burgess’ reviewing career, which he “took to … with a kind of self-flagellatory zeal for which a lifetime of Catholicism had trained him.” (He was fired from his position as fiction editor of the Yorkshire Post for reviewing his own pseudonymously published novel.)
Kennen McCarthy gives us a glimpse into Burgess’ contribution to Time-Life’s The Great Cities series: New York: “It illustrates how terrifying it must have been to be a New Yorker in the 1970s, then cushions the blow with fond experiences and fascinating historical background; the entire book is riotously bipolar.”
And, to give A Clockwork Orange its due, Justin Hickey revisits both the book and the movie.
In non-Burgess news, Jeffrey Eaton reviews golden boy Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don’t (spoiler alert: not many of Silver’s did).
Victoria Olsen talks about where she and E.M. Forster cross paths on her own Passage to India.
Virginia Konchan bestows on us an original poem, Annus Mirabilis of Mäda Primavesi.
Michael Gushue takes a look at Kathleen Rooney’s verse consideration of poet Weld Kees and his work, Robinson Alone—what Gushue calls “a genuine act of loving-kindness (caritas), from one artist to another.”
Douglass Shand-Tucci continues his American Aristocracy series, this month musing on Phillips Brooks, Trinity Church, and “Copley Square as transatlantic religious mecca.”
For your ergonomic ease—the man could give you carpal tunnel just clicking through his work in Open Letters Weekly—the prodigious Steve Donoghue rounds up A Year of Reviewing.
And from artist Rachel “No Relation” Burgess, the wonderful portrait of the man himself that graces the cover, both here and there.