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The Stone

Ben Lerner, 7 January 2021

... Imagine a song, she said, that gives voice to people’s anger. These weren’t her actual words. The anger precedes the song, she continued, but the song precedes the people, the people are back-formed from their singing, which socialises feeling, expands the domain of the feelable. The voice must be sung into existence, so song precedes speech, clears the ground for it ...

Each Cornflake

Ben Lerner: Knausgaard, Vol. 3, 22 May 2014

My Struggle: Vol. 3. Boyhood Island 
by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Don Bartlett.
Harvill Secker, 490 pp., £12.99, March 2014, 978 1 84655 722 4
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... Does​ Karl Ove Knausgaard have a style? His sentences, while often long, are not elaborate; they can read like lists. ‘Infamously direct’, is how his English publisher puts it. He has a tendency towards cliché: news is always spreading like wildfire, and so on. The writing, precisely where it aspires to the literary, can be sloppy: ‘The warm, bright September days were summer’s last burst of energy before abruptly crumbling ...


Ben Lerner: On Disliking Poetry, 18 June 2015

... In ninth grade​ English Mrs X required us to memorise and recite a poem and so I asked the Topeka High librarian to direct me to the shortest poem she knew and she suggested Marianne Moore’s ‘Poetry’, which, in the 1967 version, reads in its entirety: I, too, dislike it. Reading it, however, with a perfect    contempt for it, one discovers in it, after all, a place for the genuine ...

Can’t hear, speak up!

Joanna Biggs: 'I'm a narcissist and so is Ben Lerner', 5 December 2019

The Topeka School 
by Ben Lerner.
Granta, 304 pp., £16.99, November 2019, 978 1 78378 572 8
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... I once thought that I read about other minds as a release from my own until I came to the scene in Ben Lerner’s last novel, 10:04, in which the writer’s alter ego, Ben, is in a fertility clinic in Brooklyn to produce a cup of sperm for his friend, Alex, to use to get pregnant. I’ve never been to a fertility ...

I hadn’t even seen the Alhambra

Sheila Heti: Ben Lerner, 30 August 2012

Leaving the Atocha Station 
by Ben Lerner.
Granta, 181 pp., £14.99, July 2012, 978 1 84708 689 1
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... of life exerts more of a pull on Adam than the artifice of any art. Over the past eight years, Ben Lerner, who is 33, has published three poetry collections. The poems’ many preoccupations recur in the novel: war, women, America, American idioms, communication, emptiness, the suburbs, video games. In interviews ...

So this is how it works

Elaine Blair: Ben Lerner, 19 February 2015

by Ben Lerner.
Granta, 244 pp., £14.99, January 2015, 978 1 84708 891 8
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... The first thing​ the narrator of 10:04 does is make a lot of money. Ben is a poet, novelist and creative-writing teacher, a career that for most of his working life seems not to have made him rich. But recently he had a story in the New Yorker. Book publishers were interested. ‘Soon there was a competitive auction among the major New York houses,’ he signed a ‘strong six-figure contract’ and he and his agent are eating an expensive celebratory meal ‘in what would become the opening scene ...

She wore Isabel Marant

Joanna Biggs: Literary London, 2 August 2018

by Olivia Laing.
Picador, 140 pp., £12.99, June 2018, 978 1 5098 9283 9
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... clef and autofiction, the hip blend of fiction and memoir associated with writers like Knausgaard, Ben Lerner or Sheila Heti. If most of Crudo is true, then what does the novel gain by being a novel at all? At the back of the book, all the quotations are identified, providing a key of sorts. But Laing’s own Twitter feed is another key to the novel, as ...


Joanna Biggs: Zadie Smith, 1 December 2016

Swing Time 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 453 pp., £18.99, November 2016, 978 0 241 14415 2
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... sort of writing Smith tries out here, the seemingly non-fictional sort seen in the novels of Ben Lerner and Sheila Heti, and in Smith’s own essays. As the title On Beauty had been already used by Elaine Scarry, so Swing Time has been borrowed from the title of the 1936 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers vehicle, a black and white musical of waltzes and ...

‘Researcher dies in combat’

Hugh Wilford: Middle East Inexpertise, 2 March 2017

America’s Dream Palace: Middle East Expertise and the Rise of the National Security State 
by Osamah F. Khalil.
Harvard, 426 pp., £25.95, October 2016, 978 0 674 97157 8
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... Argo​ fuck yourself.’ The line is repeated several times in Ben Affleck’s 2012 historical spy thriller, Argo. Based on the memoir by Tony Mendez, a CIA agent, the movie depicts the covert rescue of six US embassy workers caught up in the 1979-81 Iranian hostage crisis; the CIA used a fake film-shoot – of a schlocky sci-fi story called ‘Argo’ – as cover for spiriting the diplomats out of Tehran ...

A Kind of Scandal

A.D. Nuttall, 19 August 1993

Shakespeare and Ovid 
by Jonathan Bate.
Oxford, 292 pp., £35, May 1993, 0 19 812954 8
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... absolute loss. We have in general come to accept the account of Shakespeare gently offered by Ben Jonson, later hardened and simplified by Milton, as a poet without learning, warbling his ‘native woodnotes wild’. Jonson and Milton both knew far more Latin and Greek than Shakespeare, so perhaps they could afford such judgments. I am not sure that we ...

Brief Shining Moments

Christopher Hitchens: Donkey Business in the White House, 19 February 1998

Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 
by Taylor Branch.
Simon and Schuster, 746 pp., $30, February 1998, 0 684 80819 6
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‘One Hell of a Gamble’: Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-64 
by Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali.
Murray, 416 pp., September 1997, 0 7195 5518 3
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The Dark Side of Camelot 
by Seymour Hersh.
HarperCollins, 497 pp., £8.99, February 1998, 9780006530770
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Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson , Bobby Kennedy and the Feud that Defined a Decade 
by Jeff Shesol.
Norton, 591 pp., £23.50, January 1998, 9780393040784
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The Year the Dream Died 
by Jules Witcover.
Warner, 512 pp., £25, June 1997, 0 446 51849 2
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Without Honor: The Impeachment of President Nixon and the Crimes of Camelot 
by Jerry Zeifman.
Thunder's Mouth, 262 pp., $24.95, November 1996, 9781560251286
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The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis 
edited by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow.
Howard, 740 pp., £23.50, September 1997, 0 674 17926 9
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Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vietnam Papers: A Documentary Collection 
edited by David Barrett.
Texas A & M, 906 pp., $94, June 1997, 0 89096 741 5
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Taking Charge: The Johnson Whitehouse Tapes 1963-64 
edited by Michael Beschloss.
Simon and Schuster, 624 pp., £20, April 1998, 0 684 80407 7
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Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes 
edited by Stanley Kutler.
Free Press, 675 pp., $30, November 1997, 0 684 84127 4
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The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy and the Jupiters, 1957-63 
by Philip Nash.
North Carolina, 231 pp., £34.70, October 1997, 0 8078 4647 3
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... House for artists like Pablo Casals – had thoroughly enjoyed the mediocre musical written by Lerner and Loewe where, ‘for one brief shining moment’, King Arthur had enjoyed absolute power over his knights. (And Sir Lancelot over their women.) You might think that an invocation of mythical yet absolute monarchy would put bow-tied American scholars and ...

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