The History of Literature #323 – Salman Rushdie

323 Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie (1947- ) became famous in the literary world in 1981, when his second novel Midnight’s Children became a bestseller and won the Booker Prize. By the end of that decade, he was perhaps the most famous author in the world, as the fatwa calling for his execution made global headlines. Throughout these years, and despite nearly unimaginable circumstances, Rushdie has continued his devotion to the art of fiction, producing a dozen novels in addition to short stories and works of nonfiction. In this episode, Jacke takes a look at the life, works, and outlook of Salman Rushdie.

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The History of Literature #228 – England vs France – A Literary Battle Royale

“Our dear enemies,” a French writer once said of the English. Englishman John Cleese called them “our natural enemies” and joked “if we have to fight anyone, I say let’s fight the French.” With the exception of a few big twentieth-century alliances, the French and the English have been at each others’ throats for a thousand years. Occasionally this has meant taking up arms and fighting for land or religion or rule. But what about culture? What if the battlefield were a literary one? What if supremacy was determined not by the sword but by the pen? In this episode, Jacke and Mike choose their sides and get ready to wage a literary battle between two proud, rivalrous, and highly literate nations.

Help support the show at or (We appreciate it!) Find out more at,, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC. Or send an email to

Sneak Preview: What Goes With Rushdie?

Okay, time for an update! We have another podcast episode posting tomorrow morning. I’ll be joined by the President of the Literature Supporters Club to discuss great literary duos. Don’t miss it!

We’ll also be discussing this question from brilliant listener EF, a college-level instructor:

I’ve just inherited a ten-week World Literature course, with Salman Rushdie’s new novel Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Days as the primary text.

Aside from the obvious (Arabian Nights), if you were teaching the course, what would you pair with that reading?

Great question! We’ll have some answers for her tomorrow.

But I’m interested in your thoughts too. What works go on the syllabus? What are the obvious ones… and what’s unexpected? What themes should she and the students explore?

Onward and upward, people…onward and upward!

Stephen King, Great Guy

First things first: I’ve never finished a Stephen King novel. I’ve started a few, but in the end I’ve never really enjoyed the genre enough to submerge myself for hundreds of pages. I’m not trying to be hoity-toity about it (I’ll leave that to Harold Bloom), I”m just letting you know: I’m more or less a neutral observer when it comes to Stephen King. I’m not a fanboy.

But I can see why he’s sold a zillion books! I find his prose compelling, and when I’ve encountered the odd essay or short story, I’ve gotten pulled in. I like reading his introductions to his books, and I like reading his accounts of things that have happened to him. I’ve read his book On Writing twice. I didn’t take too many writerly lessons from it, but for sheer enthusiasm about sitting down and the typewriter and opening a vein, it’s hard to beat.

You learn along the way, even through this cursory reading, that King has deep blue-collar roots and a real decency toward the people around him. He’s wrestled with some demons. But he also seems like a genuinely nice guy. I wouldn’t mind having him as a neighbor, which is not something I’d have thought before reading the book.

And then there’s this gem from the recent Vanity Fair article on the Rushdie fatwa: Continue reading

Jonathan Franzen, Horse’s Ass

“In my heart I know you’re right. But my perfectly functioning brain says you’re a horse’s ass.”
(Photo Credit: Nicolas Rapold)

In anticipation of his forthcoming book, the Internet has been having fun with Jonathan Franzen’s astonishing recent article What’s Wrong With the Modern World. I’ve done my share of piling on. It might be time to remember just what a horse’s ass he is.

The Jonathan Franzen Horse’s Ass Quiz

Which of the following is not attributable to Jonathan Franzen?

A.  After insulting the organizer of the country’s most popular book club by suggesting that she and her readers would likely not appreciate his novel’s literary qualities, he offered as an apology “I like her for liking my book.”

B.  Described a period of youthful anger as being based on his “failure to have sex with a pretty girl in Munich, except that it hadn’t actually been a failure, it had been a decision on my part.”

C.  During an interview, dismissed a comparison between himself and Don DeLillo by saying, “I had a preference for rounder letters—c’s and p’s. I think of him as being more into l’s and a’s and i ’s.”  Went on to say that “I kept seeing a plate of food with beet greens and liver and rutabaga—­intense purple green, intense orange, rich rusty brown—and feeling a wish to write sentences that were juicy and sensuous…the roundness of b’s and g ’s, the juiciness…” before reassuring the interviewer that “Nowadays I have almost the opposite aesthetic.”

D.  Wrote an essay pitting “the narcissistic tendencies of technology” against “actual love” in which the example of “actual love” he describes is his own love for bird watching.

The answer is below the photo of the passionate technophobe (taken from his Facebook page).

Credit: Jonathan Franzen Facebook Page

Answer: All are true except B. The Munich girl was “unbelievably pretty.”