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  • Now then! I like the sound of this: "Love and the novel, the individual in history, the existential plight of the graduate student: all find their place in The Possessed. Literally and metaphorically following the footsteps of her favorite authors, Elif Batuman searches for the answers to the big questions in the details of lived experience, combining fresh readings of the great Russians, from Pushkin to Platonov, with the sad and funny stories of the lives they continue to influence -- including her own."

    That blurb (above) was from the publisher, this quote below, which only whets my appetite further, is from the New York Times:

    Early in Elif Batuman's funny and melancholy first book, The Possessed, she describes her disillusionment, as a would-be novelist, with "the transcendentalist New England culture of 'creative writing.'" The problem with creative writing programs, she says, is their obsession with craft.

    "What did craft ever try to say about the world, the human condition, or the search for meaning?" Ms. Batuman asks. "All it had were its negative dictates: 'Show, don't tell'; 'Murder your darlings'; 'Omit needless words.' As if writing were a matter of overcoming bad habits -- of omitting needless words."

    Ms. Batuman's search for something more from literature than "brisk verbs and vivid nouns" led her, swooning but alert, into the arms of the great Russian writers: Tolstoy, Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Babel.

    And it led her to write this odd and oddly profound little book, one that's ostensibly about her favorite Russians but is actually about a million other things: grad school, literary theory, translation, biography, love affairs, the making of "King Kong," working for the Let's Go travel guidebook series, songs by the Smiths, even how to choose a nice watermelon in Uzbekistan. Crucially and fundamentally, it is also an examination of this question: How do we bring our lives closer to our favorite books? (More...)

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