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Joe Woodward
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Blog Entries by Joe Woodward

Lost & Found in Translation

Posted March 1, 2012 | 03/01/12 03:19 PM ET

The enterprise of translation has always interested me. As a young reader, of course, I read the canonized foreign "classics" of my time: the Russians, the French, the Spanish, the Central and South Americans. I read more Europeans than anything. I read no Asian literature. I read no African literature....

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Joan Didion: Late in Life

1 Comments | Posted January 10, 2012 | 01/10/12 12:24 PM ET

"Joan Didion's Blue Nights is a poetic triumph!"

"Poetry doesn't sell, don't call it that."

"Joan Didion's Blue Nights lays bare the vitality of old age."

"Old age sells even worse than poetry. Vitality?"

"Joan Didion's Blue Nights turns grief and loss into weight loss."

"That's sounding better."

...
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Occup(ied) America: A Literary History

Posted October 26, 2011 | 10/26/11 01:45 PM ET

We have always had a great interest in ourselves, in our exceptionalism, in being a country of preeminent political ideals. A simple survey of political history proves our self-centeredness not altogether magical, either. Still, most citizenries (if not their monarchs) have likewise felt that they too had stumbled upon a...

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Happy Birthday Nathanael West!

Posted October 14, 2011 | 10/14/11 04:37 PM ET

Nathanael West was born on Oct. 17, 1903 in New York City in a house his father built. West, like his father, was an ambitious builder -- but instead of hotels and apartments he constructed small, lyric novels out of plans and schemes. In spare and haunting prose, West worried...

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Where Art & Politics Collide

Posted September 6, 2011 | 09/06/11 10:56 PM ET

The place where art and politics collide is an automobile accident in which no one is wearing a seat belt. The couple in the front seat is flung through unlatched doors onto the asphalt. The ambulance that arrives is too late and too ill-equipped to save anyone.

In America today,...

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The Writer and the Fallowed Field

Posted May 7, 2011 | 05/07/11 05:16 PM ET

At the age of 25, Gustave Flaubert was not yet a writer. In a love letter to Louise Colet, he explained his frustration, "I am the obscure, tenacious pearl-diver who explores the lower depths and surfaces empty-handed..." He was a better reader than writer at this point, which was how...

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Writers, Writing on Writing: The Best American Essays 2010

Posted March 2, 2011 | 03/02/11 05:37 PM ET

No one interests us more than ourselves. It's true, I suppose. Writers, writing on writing, then, is my genre and perhaps yours, too. On occasion we're treated to a category killer anthology that captures the best work of the year entitled The Best American Essays. Edited for 2010 by Christopher...

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The Beatification of David Foster Wallace

Posted January 18, 2011 | 01/18/11 03:20 PM ET

It wasn't lost on me this week that progress was made on two campaigns: the campaign for the "beatification" of Pope John Paul II and the "canonization" of David Foster Wallace. While on the "beatification" of PJP I have nothing to say, on the "canonization" of DFW I have plenty.

...
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Hagiography -- Writing the Lives of the Saints

Posted December 30, 2010 | 12/30/10 06:08 PM ET

Writing biography is a scandalous enterprise; its penciled craftsman is perennially suspect for being neither art-maker, nor historian, nor critic, but some simple version of all three. The life-scribe is often painted as parasitic without good purpose, serving only self-interest, serving only self-advancement. The literary biographer, as a shameless subset,...

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How to Write Better, in the Words of Mock Amy Sedaris

Posted December 2, 2010 | 12/02/10 03:50 PM ET

Writing is hard. But it's easy, too, like talking and baking. Baking isn't hard. It's the easiest thing to do in the kitchen, besides the microwave. Just get some flour and baking soda or baking salt or whatever, doesn't matter, and mix it together. A handful of sugar, a pinch...

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Madame Bovary: The Exquisite Corpse

Posted November 17, 2010 | 11/17/10 05:55 PM ET

Emma Bovary is a cored apple: hollow, hollowing, browning and sweet. Her namesake novel, Madame Bovary (newly translated by Lydia Davis) is nothing if not a warning of how modernity turns out if we're not careful -- a symmetrical yet unbeautiful mess. It's a biography in the form...

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Biography: The Falsest Art?

Posted October 19, 2010 | 10/19/10 07:15 PM ET

"Biography is the falsest of arts," wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald in one of his many notebooks. Fitzgerald blamed the biographer of course, the summation required by the biographical enterprise, and not the subject for this falseness. He blamed the biographer's compunction to make men into movements, into types, archetypes, and...

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Flannery O'Connor for Congress

Posted October 4, 2010 | 10/04/10 01:24 PM ET

As Americans we're partial to disappointment, to being disappointed by ourselves, our families, our chosen representatives i.e. the president, Congress, city councils, school boards, religious leaders, the left, the right, the center, the fringe. It's an American sport, an American pastime. It's an ESPN channel, and so on. And when...

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Bibliography: A True Confession

Posted September 14, 2010 | 09/14/10 11:37 AM ET

I have a book fetish for the back matter of biographies and histories. The literary equivalent of a backless dress: bibliographies reveal and provoke and pretend to tell all, but don't, not really. As I work to finish writing a literary biography of Nathanael West, book back matter...

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Facebook My YouTube, Please! The New Author in New Media

Posted August 18, 2010 | 08/18/10 09:29 AM ET

News of my death has been greatly exaggerated (and captured, fed, and hyper-linked). I'm talking here about the new author in the era of new media, but too, about literary agents, editors, publishers, readers, librarians -- People of the Book. Every day the headlines trumpet our demise. Every day another...

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