The week’s best arts and culture reads – including kosher comedy, a critic who has given up on bad reviews and an essay on male arrogance in the modern novel.

The Notebooks of Leopardi
John Gray | New Statesman | 26 September 2013
Review of the first full English translation of Zibaldone, a journal kept by 19th Century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. “With its publication, Leopardi will be ranked among the supreme interrogators of the modern condition. The notebook has something in common with Pascal’s Pensées and Kierkegaard’s diaries but the voice – refined, detached and betraying a reticent intellectual passion – is Leopardi’s alone”.

Burying the hatchet
Lee Siegel | New Yorker | 26 September 2013
Critic resolves to give up writing negative reviews. “In my present way of thinking, mortality seems a greater enemy than mediocrity. You can ignore mediocrity. But attention must be paid to the countless ways people cope with their mortality. In the face of experiences before which even the most poetic words fail and fall mute, writing even an inferior book might well be a superior way of living.”

Ruth Wisse on Jewish humour
Anthony Gottlieb | Five Books | 26 September 2013
Interview. “Freud shows you that humour is also a way of telling the truth which would otherwise be impossible. What he’s really saying is that the more civilized we become, and the more highly educated we become, the more we have to repress those things which would give children pleasure, that would give us delight ordinarily. And joking becomes a legitimate way of letting the truth out”.

Postscript: Marcel Reich-Ranicki
Sally McGrane | New Yorker | 24 September 2013
Obituary of Germany’s most influential literary critic. A Polish-born Jew, he survived the Warsaw ghetto. After the war he was imprisoned by the Polish communists and fled to Germany. His reviews “would help make writers including Günter Grass and Martin Walser household names”. His falling-outs were the stuff of literary legend. Walser made him the anti-hero of a novel, Death Of A Critic.

Lady with a dog, transposed from Yalta to the internet
KA Semënova | McSweeney's | 24 September 2013
“A new person had appeared on his Who to Follow list: a lady with a little dog. Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, who had by then been a fortnight on Twitter, and so was fairly at home there, had begun to take an interest in new arrivals. Sitting in a Starbucks, surfing, he saw, on her profile page, a fair-haired young lady of medium height, wearing a beret; a white Pomeranian dog was running behind her.”

How to tell if you are in a Haruki Murakami novel
Alice Lee | The Toast | 24 September 2013
“An elephant mysteriously vanishes. A giant frog is waiting in your apartment. Your cat mysteriously vanishes. Two moons hang in the sky. Your wife mysteriously vanishes. A strange man comes to you and asks you to find a sheep, or a woman calls and asks for ten minutes of your time. If any of these things sound familiar, you might want to get a new collar for your cat. Note: This applies to men only.”

It may interest you to know
Belle Waring | Crooked Timber | 23 September 2013
On male arrogance and the modern novel. “I judge novels that were written during a time when men perfectly well could have known that the women they spoke to were intelligent human beings, in which the authors nonetheless fail in varied awful incredible ways to represent the 51% of humanity involved, to have failed qua novels. It is actually somewhat embarrassing for everyone”.

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