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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Thinking Weirdly With China Miéville, by Zak Bronson, Los Angeles Review of Books

Miéville’s generic boundary-crossing is more than simply a stylistic approach; it is also a political commitment “to think the world, and to change it.” What distinguishes Miéville as a writer is the way that his novels utilize the imaginative potential of fantastic fiction to engage with social and political reality. In interviews, Miéville has situated his novels as post-Seattle literature, and his writing responds to what the late Mark Fisher has termed capitalist realism, “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible to even imagine a coherent alternative to it.” For Miéville, the radical potential of the fantastic lies in its ability to conceptualize a world beyond reality as presently constructed. Miéville uses fantasy in a way that makes the familiar appear strange and that challenges the stability of the present. By constructing fantastical worlds that continually thwart established rules and expectations, Miéville’s novels unmask the limitations of social imagination and hold open the utopian possibilities of imagining the world otherwise — of conceptualizing “the not-this-ness of this” (as he puts it in Iron Council).

The recent publication of two books on Miéville testifies not only to his relevance to modern fiction, but also to the political importance of fantastic literature to contemporary culture. Carl Freedman’s Art and Idea in the Novels of China Miéville and Caroline Edwards and Tony Venezia’s edited collection China Miéville: Critical Essays both draw attention to Miéville as an important contemporary literary figure and as a critical thinker whose novels engage with wider concerns of genre, politics, and the imagination. Choosing to write about a figure like Miéville is no easy task. As Edwards and Venezia note in their introduction, given Miéville’s rapid rate of productivity (since the publication of these books, Miéville has released two novellas, a short story collection, and a nonfiction account of the Russian Revolution), as well as his own theorization of the genre, Miéville “always seems to be two steps ahead of his critics.” However, through their exploration of the literary and political significance of Miéville’s fiction, both Art and Idea and China Miéville: Critical Essays* provide fascinating and engaging analyses of Miéville’s novels that remarkably integrate their textual and theoretical elements. Together, both works point to the ways that fantastic literature can help to imagine alternatives to the enclosing realities of contemporary capitalism.

Funny Business: Why Comedians Are Trying To Conquer The Book World, by Stephanie Bucklin, Nylon

Sure, some comedians get lucky and get seven-figure book deals, but many comedians are not selling books just for the money. Moreover, the relationship between a book publisher and a comedian—even in the absence of these large-figure transfers—is still appealing on both sides.

So what is the appeal of books, and what does the book industry offer that comedians can’t get elsewhere?

I Just Had One Of Those Life-Changing Bumps On The Head, by David Guzman, New Yorker

From time to time, we have an experience that makes us stop and really think about what matters. Often, it takes something jarring to put everything into perspective. This happened to me recently, when I was wandering around a construction site at night and I bumped my head on a steel girder. As soon as it happened, I knew this wasn’t one of those regular, run-of-the-mill bumps on the head you get from keeping your bowling ball on a high shelf or by operating a scissor lift in your basement. This was the kind of bump on the head that opens your eyes and gives you a new outlook on life.

All at once, I understood that life isn’t about our own selfish needs, but about what we do for others. I see now, too, that I do a lot of things that put my head in harm’s way, and that I should limit how often I do that, with the goal of never having it happen. In short, I’m a changed man.

'This Could Hurt' Is A Workplace Saga With Heart, by Heller McAlpin, NPR

Ultimately, Medoff's book is about finding oneself — and satisfaction — in a combination of absorbing work and personal relationships. In addition to kindness, Rosa ingrains this idea in her acolytes: "The key is to be the same person at home and at work."