Fate

Months

A summary in Der Spiegel on the latest developments in Syria:

"Islamic State, which all sides insist is the true enemy, has lost Jarabulus and will quickly be forced to give up its last bastions on the Turkish border That will likely mean that the willingness of the Kurds to attack the IS stronghold of Raqqa on behalf of the West has sunk dramatically.
Syrian rebels are rejoicing over the successful invasion. But a rude awakening could be on the horizon when Turkey turns its back on them so it can join Assad in the battle against the Kurds.
Turkey has improved its relations with Russia and the US and put a halt to the Kurdish advance. But the conflict may now flare in Turkey. Already, several hundred people have been killed there in recent months in skirmishes between the Turkish military and the PKK.
Bashar Assad has now added the Kurds to his list of enemies, but Turkey isn't as great of an enemy as it used to be. His fate, though, remains in the hands of Moscow.
And the US now has the problem of having two allies in Syria who actually would like to shoot at each other."

Read the article here.

It's fair to say that in Syria everybody would like to shoot at everybody. And the Russians are the winners, as Der Spiegel pointed out, for now at least.

S

Zodiac

Bag

Yesterday afternoon, after the event in a bookstore in Noordwijk (according to some insiders the best bookstore in the Netherlands) a woman in her mid-forties approached me.
She said: "I have some important information for you about your zodiac sign."
She handed me an enveloppe.
"I will read it later carefully," I answered.
Then she put a book on the table that was wrapped in a scarf.
"Beautiful scarf," I said.
"It's a bag," she whispered. "I've made it myself."

S

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Silence

Stress

The driver who drove me to JFK used Waze, which is in my experience slightly better than Google Maps but of course this may be an illusion.
After half an hour I noticed that the driver was ignoring Waze. I asked politely for an explanation.
He mumbled: "I don't know, traffic is bad. This is New York. Tell your girlfriend to come and live here, then you don't have to go to the airport anymore."
I answered: "I have other reasons to go to Europe as well. And with all respect, I pay you to drive me to JFK, I didn't ask you for marital advice."
Then he answered: "You don't know how stressful it is to be a driver in New York City. It's the worst."
He decided to call his wife and I decided to be silent.
After his phone call the driver showed me a picture of his wife though.

S

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Way

Quirky

Jennifer Senior in NYT on criticism and sensibilities:

'I only recently became a book critic. In 2014, when my own book came out, I remember living in deathly fear of the person I now am. How many jobs involve submitting your work to the scrutiny of a paid corps of strangers? It seemed, at the time, like someone’s idea of a cruel joke. And I instantly understood why Nathan Zuckerman fantasized about quitting the novel-writing business and becoming an obstetrician in Philip Roth’s “The Anatomy Lesson”: “He catches what comes out and everyone loves him. When the baby appears they don’t start shouting, ‘You call that a baby?’”

Now, as a person who writes reviews for a living, I am curious to know: How do professional authors handle unsparing criticism, written in just a few days or weeks, of something they’ve toiled over for years? I decided to ask Curtis Sittenfeld, author of “Prep,” “American Wife” and most recently, “Eligible,” a modern retelling of “Pride and Prejudice.” In the last three years Curtis has become a friend, and she’s remarkably honest about such matters. She’s also willing to take real risks in her writing — imagining the inner life of Laura Bush, reimagining a beloved classic — which means she’s made herself critically vulnerable in all sorts of ways. Here are edited excerpts from our email exchange.

O.K., the obvious questions first: Do you read all your reviews?

No. I read more of the early ones and more of the ones from publications I respect. I think of reviews being mapped on a graph with four quadrants, and I’ll read the ones that are smart and positive, smart and negative, or dumb and positive (hey, all our egos need a little sustenance!). But there’s no point in reading a dumb, negative review.

You’ve now written five books. Your feelings toward reviews must have evolved over the years, yes?

I take criticism less personally, and I recognize that sometimes fate smiles on you and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m aware more than I was before I had books published that any review is a bit arbitrary — it’s not really, say, The New York Times that’s authoritatively weighing in on the quality of a book, though it seems this way to the public. It’s actually one reviewer weighing in (maybe a daily reviewer like you, but maybe a random novelist like me who reviews one or two books a year), and all of us as individuals have quirky, subjective taste.

When my first book, “Prep,” was published, I also realized I had to accept that many reviews would contain factual errors, and some would misunderstand the book. Unless you receive a rave, especially in The Times, it’s tempting to write a letter to set the record straight, but I literally don’t think I’ve ever read a letter from a writer complaining about his or her negative review that made the writer look good. You’re better off just biting your tongue.'

Read the article here.

Biting your tongue is almost always in any circumstance the best strategy.

But I have to add that one of the rare advantages of my mother's illness was that she stopped reading reviews of my books.

S

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