The week’s best arts and culture reads – including the housewife superstar, the golden age of women’s detective fiction and the great minds’ daily rituals.

Rise and shine
Christopher Hart | Literary Review | 13 December 2013
Review of Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work, by Mason Currey. The key thing seems to be: Get your writing or composing done in the morning − as did Mozart, Beethoven, Balzac and Dickens. Proust, Kafka, Flaubert wrote at night, but all found it heavy going. “There is only one figure here who seems to have worked in the afternoon: James Joyce, while writing Ulysses.”        

Interview: Ben Schott
Darryl Campbell | Omnivoracious | 13 December 2013
Discussion of ‘Schottenfreude’. “From Angst to Zeitgeist, the German language has a proven ability to express the inexpressible. In part, this is because German can create compounds that don’t sound as silly as some English puns. But there is also something about the language of Freud, Nietzsche, Goethe, and Schopenhauer. German has profundity, formality, and sesquipedalian magnificence. Also, who doesn’t love an umlaut?”       

A nice gentle murder
P.D. James | Spectator | 12 December 2013
The Golden Age of English detective fiction, between the wars, was also a Golden Age for women writers: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh. “The detective stories of the interwar years might deal with violent death, but essentially they were and remain novels of escape. Whatever our secret terrors, we are not the body on the library floor.” (Metered paywall)           

Against ‘long-form journalism’
James Bennet | The Atlantic | 12 December 2013
It sounds odd coming from the editor of The Atlantic, but he has a point: “I have had it with ‘long-form’ journalism. By which I mean − don’t get me wrong − I’m fed up with the term long-form itself, a label that the people who create and sell magazines now invariably, and rather solemnly, apply to their most ambitious work. Reader, do you feel enticed to plunge into a story by the distinction that it is long?”           

Dame Edna’s last laughs
John Lahr | New Yorker | 11 December 2013
Loving tribute to Barry Humphries, in his final appearance as Dame Edna Everage. “Humphries’s retirement marks the end of the vaudeville tradition, whose singing, dancing, and low-comic folderol he almost single-handedly carried into the twenty-first century. Humphries’s endeavor is some kind of heroism, which over the decades has taken audiences to the frontiers of the marvellous.” 

Robert Gottlieb | New York Review of Books | 9 December 2013
The Leonard Bernstein Letters, edited by Nigel Simeone, show flashes of wit and brilliance, but they bring us little closer to an understanding of Bernstein’s deep self: “Is he for real or is he an act? Do we love him or do we want to kick him in the ass? Is his heart only on his sleeve, or is there another one inside him? The confusion between genius and narcissism, heroism and self-pity, generosity and exploitation remains unresolved.”    

Maverick Of The Russian Masters
Eileen Battersby | Irish Times | 9 December 2013
Russian 19th Century storyteller Nikolai Leskov has languished in relative obscurity partly because his writing has resisted translation. The “richness of his vernacular”, his wordplay and “deliberate use of semi-literate speech” recall Chaucer and Sterne. A new collection of his stories in English, The Enchanted Wanderer, finally does him justice, confirming him as “the equal of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Turgenev”.           

Latin Dictionary Takes A Century To Compile
Liz Bury | Guardian | 9 December 2013
Publication of the 17th and final volume of the British Academy’s Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources concludes a project begun in 1913 drawing on more than 1,400 sources including the Domesday Book, the Magna Carta and the Bayeux tapestry. “This is the first ever comprehensive description of the vocabulary of the Latin language used in Britain and by Britons between AD 540 to 1600″.  

The Cool In Her
Boris Kachka | New York | 8 December 2013
Profile of Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers. “Auburn-haired, 45, and vaguely resembling Patti Smith, Kushner thinks, talks, and even writes like a visual artist: performative statements of purpose in place of irony or self-deprecation... She can seem impossibly sophisticated and then incongruously naïve, like an excited conversationalist occasionally trapped at a cruising altitude of lofty ideas.”

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