Open Letters Monthly, February 2010

The February issue of Open Letters Monthly is up now, and it’s packed with good stuff.

The idea behind the lead piece, Bad Books, Good Hooks, would have reeled me in even if I weren’t a contributor: “Be it a third martini, or a second Gulf War, we’re all familiar with ideas that look great in theory but are disasters in practice. In the literary world, those disasters grate especially intimately; there’s no feeling quite like reading a book and wishing it were better, wishing it had seen more of its own potential – or even just wishing its author could write a little better.” William T. Vollman, Richard Powers, Robert Stone, and Arthur Conan Doyle get the treatment, as do a host of other writers who could have just… been… a bit better. Stay tuned for further installments in the series here, and if a book comes to mind that you’re not sure whether to hug close to your heart or hurl across the room, please feel free to submit your own Bad Books, Good Hooks contribution.

Ingrid Norton introduces what will be an ongoing feature, The Sweetness of Short Novels, which leads off with her review of J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country.

Not just bad books and short books in this issue, though; you’ll also find:

Sam Sacks on Adam Haslett’s Union Atlantic and Jonathan Dee’s The Privileges
Steve Donoghue on Robert E. Sullivan’s Macaulay: The Tragedy of Power and Steve Pincus’ 1688: The First Modern Revolution
Greg Waldmann on Joris Luyendijk’s People Like Us: Misrepresenting the Middle East
Alyssa Meyers on Joan Schenkar’s The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith
Amelia Glaser on Vladimir Nabokov’s posthumous The Original of Laura
Janet Potter on Joshua Ferris’ The Unnamed
John G. Rodwan, Jr. on Terry Teachout’s Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong and Wil Haygood’s Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson
Irma Heldman on Lou Berney’s Gutshot Straight and Elmore Leonard’s Road Dogs
Tom Cardamone on Stuart Weisberg’s Barney Frank: The Story of America’s Only Left-Handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman
John Madera on Mary Caponegro’s All Fall Down

In the world of poetry, Ed McFadden reviews Andrew Zawacki’s collection Petals of Zero/Petals of One and Elisa Gabbert discusses Karl Parker’s Personationskin. In addition, Open Letters interviews poet, translator and novelist David R. Slavitt, and gives us a fresh translation, from the Latin, of John Milton’s On the Fifth of November.

Phillip A. Lobo weighs in on that seminal PC game, The Oregon Trail. And artist Katie Caron talks about the sculptural piece that graces Open Letters’ front page, as well as this post:

Dominium is a multi-media sculptural environment incorporating many elements of our world including: oil, iron, plastic, acrylic, clay, silicon, motors, florescent lights, moss, salt, and water. Much like the Cabinets of Curiosities from the 1700’s, Dominium is an encapsulated space containing the whole world within. Before the information age, people understood the world through tactile specimens in museum displays. This work is both referencing that era of curiosity compared with the immersive experience of looking through the virtual windows of our era, the tv, computer, and iphone.

So go check out the new issue now, and don’t delay! February’s a short month.

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