The week’s best arts and culture reads – including a damning critique of Homeland, Doris Lessing’s obituary and an appreciation of John Tavener’s influence.

Obituary: Doris Lessing
Lorna Sage | The Guardian | 18 November 2013
Born in Tehran; grew up in Zimbabwe; died in London at 94. She was “one of the major fiction writers of the second half of the 20th century and one of the most vividly representative literary figures of our times. She lived through some momentous transformations of her own vocation, from communist social realist to reluctant feminist, to Sufi seeker, to Cassandra, to self-appointed cosmic anthropologist.”

We Are What We Hide
Lee Siegel | New Yorker | 15 November 2013
Deborah Solomon’s American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell is “a masterpiece of the biographer’s art”. She portrays him as “surpassingly strange: a depressed, enervated man, a repressed homosexual, whose pictures of happy, vital, heterosexual people became icons of an ideal American life”. A contradiction, but a familiar one. “The gulf between who Rockwell was and what he made characterises a common condition of artistic creation.”

Brief Interviews With Very Small Publishers
Nikkitha Bakshani | The Morning News | 14 November 2013
Just what it says. And terrific fun. “Grief Digest, simply put, is a magazine for the bereaved, by the bereaved. An ornithological zookeeper loses an epileptic terrier, a lifelong Rockies fan is widowed twice in nine years … Girls and Corpses, a quarterly, exhibits Playboy-primed models in compromising positions with rotting corpses. Editor-in-chief Robert Rhine tells me that there is at least one real corpse in every issue.”

Homeland Is Falling Apart
David Thomson | The New Republic | 14 November 2013
TV criticism of a high order. (Beware: Spoilers.) “In three seasons, Homeland has slipped from brilliance to chaos, and Claire Danes has surrendered bipolar frenzy for the forlorn look of a producer who regrets too many wrong turns. Carrie Mathison was made for a single disaster. Maybe the same could be said for her America. In which case, have the courage of your own despair and give up the vanity that dreams of seven seasons.”

From Eastern Europe To The East End
Ben Judah | Standpoint | 14 November 2013
Superb. Highly recommended. Notes on life among London’s 500,000 Eastern European immigrants. “Stas in his ten years working in London had learned only 12 words of English, most of them swearwords. He was a living dictionary of farming obscenities that should be preserved by the Polish Academy for post-industrial generations. He liked nothing better than ripping out windows and spitting long distances.”

John Tavener’s Soul Music
Nico Muhly | 13th November 2013
Expert appreciation of Tavener’s compositional style, and its influence. “This kind of music-making creates thoughtful musicians. It is difficult to imagine that the choristers of Durham Cathedral who had to figure out what to do with Tavener’s 11-minute Ikon of St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne didn’t then return to their diet of Byrd and Tallis with a heightened sense of how to achieve maximum impact through understatement.”

Q&A With Art Spiegelman, Creator Of Maus
David Samuels | Tablet | 13 November 2013
Interesting and provocative throughout. Spiegelman says his graphic novel masterpiece has become something of a burden: it’s all that anyone wants to talk about. “I’ve now drawn it 15 different ways − the giant 500-pound mouse chasing me through a cave, the monument to my father that casts a shadow over my life right now. I’ve made something that clearly became a touchstone for people. And the Holocaust trumps art every time.”

Herodotus, The Homer Of Prose
Edith Hall | Times Literary Supplement | 13 November 2013
Tom Holland has produced “unquestionably the best English translation of Herodotus to have appeared in the past half-century … fast, funny, opinionated, clear and erudite. As I read it straight through, cover to cover. I frequently forgot that I was supposed to be evaluating the translation and became swept away by the vertiginous forward thrust of Herodotus’ own storytelling. I am in awe of Tom Holland’s achievement.”

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