Ben Fountain is far more than just the author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which won RTB hearts and minds (and the National Book Award) long before it became a weird Ang Lee movie.
What is consoling and engaging the author of the best novel about America’s dismal experience in Iraq? American novels, especially those about Americans abroad (Joan Didion. say) have always done something special for him. Marilynne Robinson’s and James Baldwin’s work make us confront the reality that’s happening around us all the time, “a freaking massacre.” He carried the the (fictional but genuine) facts of Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk in his head for forty years.
Allen Tate, Fugitive poet (and author most famously of the tricky post-Eliotic 1928 “Ode to the Confederate Dead“)
Joan Didion, The Last Thing He Wanted (1996; “a masterpiece of tone and mood and character and profound interiority”; the movie, not so much)
Joan Didion, Democracy (1984; she goes “straight after the heart of that mystery, what is America?“)
Marilynne Robinson. Listeners, do you prefer her incisive nonfiction (“Poetry of Puritanism“) or the deep, torqued interiority of her first novel, Housekeeping ?
Zadie Smith on the amazing, terrifying Americanness of Kara Walker
Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” (also referenced in our Silvia Bottinelli episode on food art!)
James Baldwin, A Letter to My Nephew (1962)
James Baldwin, e.g. If Beale Street Could Talk (Ben loves those Library of America volumes…)
Another Country (1962)
Giovanni’s Room (1956)
Sewanee Review, The Corona Correspondence
George Saunders “A Letter to My Students….“
Listen and Read Here:
Upcoming Books In Dark Times Episodes: Martin Puchner from Harvard’s Department of Comparative Literature, poet Elizabeth Bradfield, and Boston College’s Carlo Rotella.