Tim Parks

Tim Parks is Associate Professor of Literature and Translation at IULM University in Milan. He is the author, most recently, of Painting Death and The Novel: A Survival Skill.

See NYRB titles related to this contributor.

  • How Could You Like That Book?

    November 10, 2015

    Could this be the function, then, or at least one important function of fiction: to make us aware of our differences?

  • Looking for Primo Levi

    October 20, 2015

    Can one ever know “too much” about a writer? Take the delicate case of Primo Levi.

  • Clearing Up Ambiguity

    September 1, 2015

    What is it about ambiguity that it is so highly praised in literature? Above all, how did it come to take on, at least for some, a cloak of liberal righteousness, to shift from being an aesthetic to a moral virtue?

  • The Key to Rereading

    July 11, 2015

    What happens when we read? The mind is not devising a key to decipher the text, it is disposing itself in such a way as to allow the text to become a key that unlocks sensation and “meaning” in the mind.

  • Reading Is Forgetting

    June 26, 2015

    Is re-reading a gradual and always positive accumulation of greater and greater control and retention of a book, or is it rather a precarious process in which each new engagement with the text cancels and alters earlier ones?

  • The Writer's Shadow

    June 8, 2015

    How is it possible that even when I know nothing about a novelist’s life I find, on reading his or her book, that I am developing an awareness of the writer that is quite distinct from my response to the work?

  • Stories We Can't See

    May 5, 2015

    “What do we see when we read (other than the words on the page)?” asks Peter Mendelsund in a welcome and fascinating new book. Or more precisely, “What do we picture in our minds?”

  • Too Many Books?

    April 16, 2015

    Is there a relationship between the quantity of books available to us, the ease with which they can be written and published, and our reading experience?

  • Stifled by Success

    March 12, 2015

    Can a writer’s original inspiration survive success?

  • In Search of Authenticity

    February 4, 2015

    “Are these real concerns? Is this work convincing?” Behind all the other questions one asks oneself about a novel, these are perhaps the most determining.

  • The Limits of Satire

    January 16, 2015

    Now that the whole world is my neighbor, my immediate Internet neighbor, do I make any concessions at all, or do I uphold the ancient tradition of satire at all costs?

  • How I Read

    December 18, 2014

    If reading is a skill, there must be techniques and tools that all can use or try, even if they use them differently.

  • A Weapon for Readers

    December 3, 2014

    There is something predatory, cruel even, about a pen suspended over a work of literature. Like a hawk over a field, it is on the lookout for something vulnerable.

  • Why Read New Books?

    November 11, 2014

    Hasn’t it all been done before? Perhaps better than anyone today could ever do it? If so, why read contemporary novels?

  • Reality Fiction

    October 16, 2014

    It has long been a commonplace that fiction provides a way to break taboos and talk about potentially embarrassing experiences. But what happens if the main obstacles to free and direct expression fall away?

  • The Books We Talk About (and Those We Don't)

    October 1, 2014

    What is the social function of the novel? Conversation. A shared subject of discussion. Something complex for minds to meet around.

  • References, Please

    September 13, 2014

    We have an absolutely false, energy-consuming, nit-picking attachment to an outdated procedure that now has much more to do with the sad psychology of academe than with the need to guarantee that the research is serious.

  • Reading Upward

    August 11, 2014

    “Frankly, I don’t mind what they’re reading, Twilight, Harry Potter, whatever. So long as they are reading something there’s at least a chance that one day they’ll move on to something better.” How many times have we heard this opinion expressed?

  • Raise Your Hand If You’ve Read Knausgaard

    July 19, 2014

    Is there any consistent relationship between a book’s quality and its sales? Or again between the press and critics’ response to a work and its sales? Are these relationships stable over time or do they change?

  • Reading: The Struggle

    June 10, 2014

    The conditions in which we read today are not those of fifty or even thirty years ago, and the big question is how contemporary fiction will adapt to these changes.

  • My Life, Their Archive

    May 21, 2014

    Many authors have sold or bequeathed their manuscripts to appropriate archives. What has changed is that writers are now being pursued on the basis of a few years celebrity, and invited to sell their correspondence even before it is written.

  • Six Chairs in Search of an Audience

    May 12, 2014

    Last night I walked out of a play. It was too painful. Too boring. At the same time I understood why so much that is experimental in literature has come to us via the theater.

  • Stupid Questions

    May 1, 2014

    Most writers complain about the people who come to hear them talk. Or rather the questions they ask.

  • Where I'm Reading From

    March 19, 2014

    Over the past year or two I’ve realized how much the organization of the books in my childhood home still influences my reading and reviewing.

  • To Tell and Not To Tell

    March 3, 2014

    Can a novel that will affect the author’s closest relationships be written without any concern for the consequences?

  • Writers Into Saints

    February 11, 2014

    Why do literary biographers feel a need to depict their subjects as especially admirable human beings?

  • Changing Our Stories

    January 23, 2014

    Can people change their lives? Can novelists change the kind of stories they write?

  • Writing to Win

    January 11, 2014

    Why do people have such a high regard for authors, even when they don’t read?

  • Literature and Bureaucracy

    December 2, 2013

    Will the West slowly and voluptuously choke on a mounting tangle of red tape, meantime entertaining itself to death with a mountain of literature that describes and charmingly castigates the whole scandalous process?

  • Literature Without Style

    November 7, 2013

    What is literary style and why is it bound to change as the novel rapidly goes global?

  • Trapped Inside the Novel

    October 28, 2013

    More and more I wonder if it is possible for a novel not to give me the immediate impression of being manipulated toward goals that are predictable and unquestioned.

  • Headline Headaches

    October 17, 2013

    Nothing prejudices the way readers come to an article more than its headline. Nothing is more likely to make them believe, even after reading it through, that the author has said something he or she has not said.

  • Holding Italy Hostage

    August 24, 2013

    Vote me out of jail, or I will bring the country down with me. This, essentially, is the message Silvio Berlusconi has just sent to the Italian government, one that clarifies at last the nature of what is at stake in Italy.

  • Writing to Death

    June 20, 2013

    How far is the trajectory of an author’s writing career and the themes that guide it related to the moment and nature of his or her death?

  • Echoes from the Gloom

    May 28, 2013

    How does Leopardi’s cosmic pessimism, as it’s sometimes called, affect my translation? As one reads the Zibaldone one can’t help feeling that one has heard its voice elsewhere.

  • Reading It Wrong

    May 9, 2013

    Do we as readers subconsciously correct the books we read to make them conform to our expectations? How far can such corrections go?

  • In the Wilds of Leopardi

    March 28, 2013

    Giacomo Leopardi was special to the point of idiosyncrasy. How do you translate him?

  • One Thousand Words

    March 19, 2013

    How long should this post be? A thousand words? Exactly?

  • My Invisible Sea

    March 2, 2013

    It is impossible not to wish to interpret or somehow understand intense dreams, especially when they are repeated, or come in series and with infinite variations. The potent combination of urgency and enigma gives you the impression that there is something you need to know, something crucial and at the same time elusive.

  • Listening for the Jabberwock

    February 4, 2013

    What is the status of translated texts? Are they essentially different from texts in their original form?

  • In Praise of the Language Police

    January 23, 2013

    It is essential for the creative writer that there be, or be perceived to be, a usual way of saying things, if a new or unusual way is to stand out and to provoke some excitement.

  • Learning to Speak American

    December 14, 2012

    Despite my hailing from England—a country that still uses miles—I had expressed distances in meters and kilometers and it seemed odd now to find my Italian characters speaking to each other about yards and miles and, of course, Fahrenheit, which they never would. Or saying AM and PM, rather than using the twenty-four-hour clock as they mostly do, even in ordinary conversation.

  • The Artist I Grew Up With

    November 20, 2012

    It’s always exciting to think about works of art or literature in relation to the person who made them, especially if you have some direct acquaintance with the artist. The usual order of events, of course, is that you grow familiar with the work and later meet the man or woman behind it, at an opening or a reading or some social event. What matters, then, is that the artist be on a par with the art, and for a serious admirer, disappointment is almost inevitable. But things are quite different when you know the artist well before you see the work, and even more so when you actually grew up with him.

  • A Game Without Rules

    November 8, 2012

    In 1904, three years after the first Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to the French poet Sully Prudhomme, the English Football Association chose not to participate in the formation of an International Football Federation (FIFA). They could not see the point. Nor in 1930, the year in which Sinclair Lewis won the Nobel, did England participate in the first World Cup: the English objected to the prospect of a ten-day ocean crossing to Uruguay to play teams that meant nothing to them. The first international football game, they pointed out, had been between England and Scotland, in 1872—a time when Alfred Nobel was still focused on improving his dynamite. Who needs Argentina or Brazil when you have Scotland to play?

  • My Novel, Their Culture

    October 3, 2012

    How should a novelist feel on seeing his work translated, completely, not just into another medium, but also another culture? Last night I opened a DVD package with the title Stille (Silence), put it into my computer, and sat down to watch. Actually, I received this DVD a month ago. It is an Austrian film production of my novel Cleaver. I did not look at it at once because I was in denial. I have been generously paid for the rights to film, I am delighted it has been made and grateful to the producer for pushing it through, but Cleaver was written in English and had an English hero from a specific milieu—a journalist and documentary film maker who, as the book opens, has carried out, for the BBC, a destructive interview of an American president easily recognizable as Bush.

  • Art That Stays Home

    September 11, 2012

    “If a book is really good, it will reach out to everyone, the world over,” one of the directors of the Edinburgh Book Festival tells me. We’re attending a reception at the National Gallery of Scotland to celebrate a loan of nineteen Dutch paintings from the seventeenth century, housed for many years in glorious isolation in a stately home on the Isle of Bute, along with the publication of Dutch writer Herman Koch’s new novel, The Dinner.

  • 'Are You the Tim Parks Who...?'

    August 30, 2012

    I am known in England mainly for light, though hopefully thoughtful non-fiction; in Italy for polemical newspaper articles and a controversial book about soccer; in Germany, Holland, and France, for what I consider my “serious” novels Europa, Destiny, Cleaver; in the USA for literary criticism; and in a smattering of other countries, but also in various academic communities, for my translations and writing on translation. Occasionally I receive emails that ask, “But are you also the Tim Parks who…?,” Frequently readers get my nationality wrong. They don’t seem to know where I’m coming from or headed to.

  • Does Copyright Matter?

    August 14, 2012

    Do I, as an author, have the right to prevent people copying my books for free? Should I have it? Does it matter? Officially the idea is that the writer, artist, or musician should be allowed to reap the just rewards for his effort. This is quaint. There is very little justice in the returns artists receive. Somebody becomes a millionaire overnight and someone else cannot even publish. What we are talking about, more brutally, is preventing other people from making money from my work without paying me a tribute, because my work belongs to me. It’s mine. What we are talking about is ownership and control.

  • Does Money Make Us Write Better?

    July 20, 2012

    Let’s talk about money. In his history of world art, E. H. Gombrich mentions a Renaissance artist whose uneven work was a puzzle, until art historians discovered some of his accounts and compared incomes with images: paid less he worked carelessly; well-remunerated he excelled. So, given the decreasing income of writers over recent years—one thinks of the sharp drop in payments for freelance journalism and again in advances for most novelists, partly to do with a stagnant market for books, partly to do with the liveliness and piracy of the Internet—are we to expect a corresponding falling off in the quality of what we read?

  • The Chattering Mind

    June 29, 2012

    By far the main protagonist of twentieth century literature must be the chattering mind, which usually means the mind that can’t make up its mind, the mind postponing action in indecision and, if we’re lucky, poetry.

  • Most Favored Nations

    June 11, 2012

    About 56 percent of Europeans speak a second language, and for 38 percent of them that language is English. In Scandinavia and the Netherlands the figure is more like 90 percent. Even where the percentage is smaller we are nevertheless talking about the most educated part of the community, those more likely to be reading novels, particularly literary novels. Inevitably, as the number of people speaking English increases, so do the sales of novels in English. But not enormously. The surprise is that increased knowledge of English has also brought a much more marked increase in sales of literature written in English but read in translation in the local language.

  • In the Chloroformed Sanctuary

    May 23, 2012

    “Walk around a university campus,” fumed Geoff Dyer in Out of Sheer Rage, “and there is an almost palpable smell of death about the place because hundreds of academics are busy killing everything they touch.”

  • Fear and Literature

    May 11, 2012

    Is the novel a space of intense engagement with the world, of risk and adventure? Or is it a place of refuge, of hanging back from life?

  • Why Readers Disagree

    April 25, 2012

    “I love the new DeLillo.”
    “And I hate it.”

    It’s a familiar conversation: like against dislike with no possible resolution. Or alternatively: “I can’t see why Freedom upsets you so much. I didn’t like it either, but who cares?” Interest against disinterest; as when your wife/brother/friend/colleague raves about some Booker or Pulitzer winner and you feel vaguely guilty. “Sure,” you agree, “great writing, intriguing stuff.” But the truth is you just couldn’t find the energy to finish the book. Is there anything we can say about such different responses?

    Or must we just accept De gustibus non disputandum est? The fact is that traditional critical analysis, however brilliant, however much it may help us to understand a novel, rarely alters the color of our initial response. Enthusiasm or disappointment may be confirmed or attenuated, but only exceptionally reversed. We say: James Wood/Colm Tóibín/Michiko Kakutani admires the book and has given convincing reasons for doing so, but I still feel it is the worst kind of crowd-pleaser. Let me offer a possible explanation that has been developing in my mind over a decade and more.

  • The Mind Outside My Head

    April 10, 2012

    “There are no images.” This was the first time I noticed Riccardo Manzotti. It was a conference on art and neuroscience. Someone had spoken about the images we keep in our minds. Manzotti seemed agitated.

  • Do We Need Stories?

    March 26, 2012

    Let’s tackle one of the literary set’s favorite orthodoxies head on: that the world “needs stories.” “There is an enormous need,” Jonathan Franzen declares in an interview with Corriere della Sera (there’s no escape these days), “for long, elaborate, complex stories, such as can only be written by an author concentrating alone, free from the deafening chatter of Twitter.” But what is the nature of this need? What would happen if it wasn’t met?

  • Why Finish Books?

    March 13, 2012

    Are there occasions when we might choose to leave off a book before the end, or even only half way through, and nevertheless feel that it was good, even excellent? That we were glad we read what we read, but don’t feel the need to finish it? I ask the question because this is happening to me more and more often. Is it age, wisdom, senility? I start a book. I’m enjoying it thoroughly, and then the moment comes when I just know I’ve had enough. It’s not that I’ve stopped enjoying it. I’m not bored, I don’t even think it’s too long. I just have no desire to go on enjoying it. Can I say then that I’ve read it? Can I recommend it to others and speak of it as a fine book?

  • The Writer's Job

    February 28, 2012

    Since when did being a writer become a career choice, with appropriate degree courses and pecking orders? In the last thirty or forty years, the writer has become someone who works on a well-defined career track, like any other middle class professional, not, however, to become a craftsman serving the community, but to project an image of himself (partly through his writings, but also in dozens of other ways) as an artist who embodies the direction in which culture is headed. In short, the next big new thing. Does this state of affairs make any difference to what gets written?

  • E-books Can't Burn

    February 15, 2012

    It is all too easy to defend the e-book. We can buy a text instantly wherever we are in the world. We pay less. We use no paper, occupy no space. Kindle’s wireless system keeps our page, even when we open the book on a different reader than the one we left off. But I want to go beyond practicality to the reading experience itself, our engagement with the text. What is it that literary men and women are afraid of losing should the paper novel really go into decline?

  • Can Italy Change?

    January 31, 2012

    What would it mean for a country to change, profoundly? What real news would we get of that and how would it feel to its citizens? Would it necessarily be a good thing? A few months ago, when the Greek crisis made it clear that being a member of the Eurozone did not mean having access to unlimited credit on equal terms with countries like Germany and France, Italy was suddenly in trouble. Snoozing for years in a debt-funded decadence, all at once the country found lenders demanding unsustainable interest rates, as if this were some shaky third-world economy trying to borrow in a foreign currency. Very soon something would have to give.

  • Writing Adrift in the World

    January 19, 2012

    If there is a problem with the novel, and I’m agreed that there is, it is not because it doesn’t participate in modern technology, can’t talk about it or isn’t involved with it; I can download in seconds on my Kindle a novel made up entirely of emails or text messages. Perhaps the problem is rather a slow weakening of our sense of being inside a society with related and competing visions of the world to which we make our own urgent narrative contributions; this being replaced by the author who takes courses to learn how to create a product with universal appeal, something that can float in the world mix, rather than feed into the immediate experience of people in his own culture.

  • Translating in the Dark

    November 30, 2011

    Let us remember our most intense experiences of poetry in our mother tongue, reading Eliot and Pound as adolescents perhaps, Frost and Wallace Stevens, Auden and Geoffrey Hill, then coming back to them after many years, discovering how much more was there than we had imagined, picking up echoes of other literature we have read since, seeing how the poet shifted the sense of this or that word slightly, and how this alters the tone and feeling of the whole.

    Now imagine that, having a poet friend who wishes to translate these authors, you offer a literal translation of their poems in your second language. Maybe you read The Four Quartets out loud, line by line, to give him the cadence. But does our translator friend, who doesn’t know our language well, hear what we hear when we read aloud?

  • What's Wrong With the Nobel Prize in Literature

    October 6, 2011

    So the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer wins the Nobel prize for literature. Aside from a couple of long poems available on the net, I haven’t read Tranströmer, yet I feel sure this is a healthy decision in every way. Above all for the Nobel jury. Let me explain.

  • Your English Is Showing

    June 15, 2011

    If one suggests that the international literary market is also a power game where different nations set their cultural and political might against each other in bestseller lists and international prizes, one inevitably arouses a certain amount of hostility from those who like to think of literature as operating in a more idealized world of noble aspiration and expression.

  • Franzen's Ugly Americans Abroad

    May 11, 2011

    Often it feels like Jonathan Franzen’s characters only exist as an alibi for what is really a journalistic and encyclopedic endeavor to list everything American.

  • FIFA’s Foul Play

    July 15, 2010

    For any practitioner of Zen who imagines he has achieved a state of detached equanimity, the ultimate test must be to watch his national side play at soccer’s World Cup. That England’s team is dull, I tell myself after the first game, I can handle; that they are truly dire, I reflect after the second and third, is perhaps only par for the course. When, in their first knockout match, England goes 2–0 down to a fluent and attractive Germany, it seems the perfect opportunity for resignation and acceptance.

  • The Dull New Global Novel

    February 9, 2010

    Not all writers share the same sense of whom they are writing for. Many may not even think they are directing their work at any audience in particular. All the same, there are clearly periods of history when, across the board, authors’ perceptions of who their readers are change, something that inevitably leads to a change in the kind of text they produce. The most obvious example is the period that stretches from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century when writers all over Europe abandoned Latin for the vernacular. Instead of introducing their work, as before, into an international arena presided over by a largely clerical elite, they “descended” to local and national languages to address themselves to an emerging middle class.

  • Beauty and the Brain: The Puzzle

    October 27, 2009

    What happens in the brain when we look at a painting, listen to music, read a book? This was the subject of Neuroesthetics: When Art and the Brain Collide, a workshop conference at IULM University Milan bringing together a mix of neurobiologists and art historians. The atmosphere was tense and expectant, the art folk anxious that they wouldn’t understand a word, the biologists concerned that their work would seem underwhelming and wrongheaded.