Kakutani slams Pynchon and the return of the dot-com boom

After her glowing review of Dave Eggers’s new book, Michiko Kakutani finds fault in Thomas Pynchon’s inability to create one true character in his new novel, Against the Day. She writes:

Whereas Mr. Pynchon’s last novel, the stunning “Mason & Dixon,” demonstrated a new psychological depth, depicting its two heroes as full-fledged human beings, not merely as pawns in the author’s philosophical chess game, the people in “Against the Day” are little more than stick figure cartoons.

In the Times Sunday Book Review, Liesl Schillinger’s sprawling review calls Against the Day Pynchon’s “funniest, and argurably most accessible novel.”

Elsewhere in the Times, Katie Hafner uses the example of Reid Hoffman to portray the return of the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley, where, she writes:

Envy may be a sin in some books, but it is a powerful driving force in Silicon Valley, where technical achievements are admired but financial payoffs are the ultimate form of recognition. And now that the YouTube purchase has amplified talk of a second dot-com boom, many high-tech entrepreneurs — successful and not so successful — are examining their lives as measured against upstarts who have made it bigger.

New Dave Eggers, or Kakutani gives a positive review!

Michiko Kakutani gave Dave Eggers’s new novel What Is the What a glowing review in the New York Times today. She calls the book, which I am currently reading,

a startling act of literary ventriloquism that recounts the harrowing story of a Sudanese refugee named Valentino Achak Deng, while reminding us just how eloquently the author can write about loss and mortality and sorrow.

A devastating and humane account of one man’s survival against terrible odds, the book is flawed by an odd decision on Mr. Eggers’s part to fictionalize Mr. Deng’s story — a curious choice, especially in the wake of the uproar over James Frey’s fictionalized memoir earlier this year. But while we start out wondering what is real and what is not, it is a testament to the power of Mr. Deng’s experiences and Mr. Eggers’s ability to convey their essence in visceral terms that we gradually forget these schematics of composition.

I find it rather amusing that she’s criticizing Eggers for having branded the book as a novel even after he’s explained that decision here and here.

Paul Auster on why he writes

In Paul Auster’s acceptance speech for Spain’s Prince of Asturias Prize for Letters, the author expresses one of my favorite themes–that art and literature and writing are at once useless and redemptive, important and inconsequential, and above all, inevtiable.

This need to make, to create, to invent is, no doubt, a fundamental human impulse. But to what end? What purpose does art, in particular the art of fiction, serve in what we call the real world? None that I can think of – at least not in any practical sense. A book has never put food in the stomach of a hungry child. A book has never stopped a bullet from entering a murder victim’s body. A book has never prevented a bomb from falling on innocent civilians in the midst of war.


In other words, art is useless, at least when compared, say, to the work of a plumber, or a doctor, or a railroad engineer. But is uselessness a bad thing? Does a lack of practical purpose mean that books and paintings and string quartets are simply a waste of our time? Many people think so. But I would argue that it is the very uselessness of art that gives it its value and that the making of art is what distinguishes us from all other creatures who inhabit this planet, that it is, essentially, what defines us as human beings.

I cannot agree more with Auster’s conclusion to his speech:

I have spent my life in conversations with people I have never seen, with people I will never know and I hope to continue until the day I stop breathing.

It’s the only job I’ve ever wanted.