December 4, 2020

David Mitchell’s Vast and Tangled Universe

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On the cover of this week’s Book Review, Daniel Mendelsohn writes at length about not just David Mitchell’s new novel, “Utopia Avenue,” but the entire career of the author of “Ghostwritten,” “Cloud Atlas” and other books. On the podcast, Mendelsohn discusses Mitchell and his work, and some larger ideas about the nature of a literary career.

“For most writers, and I’m sure myself included, there comes a point at which you’ve said what you have to say,” Mendelsohn says. “And that doesn’t mean you’re going to stop writing, it just means you’re not expanding anymore. And you can handle that in different ways. One way is to be content with doing the thing that you know you can do. And another way is to sort of flail, and try to do more extravagant gestures in order to feel that you’re still being creative. I don’t think there are that many people probably in the history of literature who have managed to keep growing until they drop dead.”

Maria Konnikova visits the podcast to talk about her new book, “The Biggest Bluff,” in which she recounts her unlikely entry into — and then success in — the world of high-stakes poker, and what the game can tell us about our emotional relationship to risk.

“At the beginning I was losing a lot of money — finding everything very overwhelming — and at the lowest stakes, poker is not necessarily the most welcoming world for women, so I was experiencing a lot of negativity, a lot of sexism, it wasn’t particularly pleasant,” Konnikova says. “But the more I learned about the game, the more I discovered how fascinating it was, and how good it was at teaching me the skills that I’d been wanting to learn forever: how to teach me better decision-making, how to teach me to be in better control of my emotions. It taught me a lot about myself — about the kind of person I am, the kind of person I can be, and it gave me the skills to reach for that person. And as I started discovering that, I started falling in love with the game.”

Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what people are reading. Pamela Paul is the host.

Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

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