So a month or so ago I was at a holiday party at Melville House, and ran into John Freeman, who up until recently was President of the National Book Critics Circle. (Read this nifty profile of John, “Book Review Crusader,” by the poet Craig Morgan Teicher, at PW.) John’s new gig is serving as the American editor for GRANTA, and he was kind enough to hook me up with a copy of their newest issue, #104: Fathers.
If I’ve been slow to post on this, it’s because I’ve actually been spending time with the issue. GRANTAs, as you might or might not know, are hefty novel-size paperbacks, stuffed with a wide variety of takes on the given issue’s theme. Since I’m an unapologetic fiction partisan, it has been especially interesting to me how strongly and positively I’ve reacted to the non-fiction in the issue. Here are four of the essays I especially liked:
David Goldblatt- “Doing the Paperwork: Life in the aftermath of a violent death.”
I faced almost everything. I watched them argue over the diagram of his knife wounds, I looked the carpet fitters in the eye, but I couldn’t listen to the tape. What do you want: some justice or no justice, some truths or no truths, enough of the story or all of the story?
Siri Hustvedt- “My Father Myself.”
Montaigne is right. Inequality engenders necessary silences. Young children don’t really want friendship from a father, but a heroic figure to look up to. Is there something in fatherhood as we know it that by its very nature blocks communication?
[ASIDE: Read Montaigne’s On the affection of fathers for their children]
Michael Bywater- “Comrades.”
And it was clear that they were friends in a way that the men, their husbands, were not. They were with each other without an agenda. And unlike the men their attention was not upon some common pursuit, but upon each other.
Benjamin Markovits- ” ‘Jest Shoot It!’ ”
What I had had enough of was the sense of my own daily failure, in practice and during games, a kind of frustration very intimate in its way and self-involving: you feel your own limits like you feel the tips of your fingers. I couldn’t do what I knew I could do-…
There are many more essays than the above-mentioned, including a brilliant photo-essay by Kevin Cummins: portraits of amateur wrestlers from the Runcorn Wrestling Academy. Also, five short stories, including pieces by James Lasdun and Emma Donoghue, and flash-non-fiction portraits of their fathers by Will Self, Ali Smith, Alison Bechdel, and Jonathan Lethem, among others.
I don’t think anybody disputes that GRANTA is a major-league–if somewhat *cough* dry–publication. The addition of Freeman, who is also major-league but decidedly not dry, and the mention of whose name does whatever the opposite of inducing coughing is, bodes seriously swell things for their future, and after the wealth of pleasure I derived from this issue, I’ll surely be keeping my eye on them, as well as keeping you all posted on what I find.
Finally, for those of you in the New York area, there’s a GRANTA event featuring Lethem and Joseph O’Neill at Housing Works Bookstore on the 27th of January. You can find the event on facebook, and the Housing Works website, but here’s the info-
Tuesday January 27th, 2009
7Pm – 9PM
Housing Works Bookstore, 126 Crosby Street
No word on the site about a cover charge, but since it’s Housing Works, and the whole point is to FIGHT AIDS, one would be wise to come prepared to part with a little bit of cash to get in, plus any books you might care to donate. I’m going to do my best to make it, so hopefully see you there.