Posts Tagged ‘writing’
In his instructive book To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction, Phillip Lopate, essayist and Nonfiction Director at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, explores the form through a series of essays. In his introduction, Lopate poses a number of questions: where is the line between fiction and nonfiction? What are the ethics of writing about others? What are the techniques in essay writing? And, as the title alludes to, when, if ever, is it okay to tell?
Throughout the book, Lopate emphasizes the need for essayists to “think critically—to think against themselves,” to contradict themselves if need be. This is the message at the core of To Show and To Tell—that an essay is an attempt to come to an answer, not an opportunity to prove a rigidly held belief. By “thinking against oneself,” by being contrary, the essayist creates tension and suspense.
“All good essays are dialogues, and all partake of both exploration and argumentation,” Lopate writes. “In the best nonfiction, it seems to me, you’re always made aware that you are engaged with a supple mind at work.”
In addition to exploring philosophical questions about the craft, To Show and To Tell offers practical advice, such as how to turn oneself into a character (“you cannot amuse the reader unless you are already self-amused”), why one should research (“Research inspires curiosity, helps you break out of claustrophobic self-absorption”), and what’s gained by keeping a journal (“No one can expect to write well who will not first take the risk of writing badly”).
Lopate gives permission to do away with convention. For those who have trouble with endings, Lopate writes:
A common mistake students make is to assume they need to tie up with a big bow the preceding matter via a grand statement of what it all means, or what the life lesson to be drawn from it is … Readers should be left with some things to work out on their own.
The final section is a study of key essayists; Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, and James Baldwin are just a few writers Lopate highlights. Lamb “had the quintessential personal essayist’s ability to see his own personality as problematic, and to dramatize the resulting tensions.” According to Lopate, he saw people as actors and the streets of London as a stage. Hazlitt showed that essays can change direction and Baldwin’s “Notes on a Native Son” is “A twenty-page miracle, a masterpiece of compression.”
To Show and To Tell is an inspiring book on the art of the essay. The reader will come away with a richer understanding of the form and motivated to put theory into practice.
Buy To Show and To Tell from your local bookstore
Read an interview with Phillip Lopate at Harper’s Magazine
Read an interview with Phillip Lopate on Beyond the Margins
Read an interview with Phillip Lopate at Poets & Writers
Listen to an interview with Phillip Lopate on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show
Here are just a few awesome things I came across in the past few days.
KCRW’s music director, Jason Bentley, has brought back Metropolis, his radio talk show featuring electronic music pioneers. Before going on hiatus in 2008, he spoke with such legends as Daft Punk, Paul Oakenfold, James Lavelle, The Crystal Method, and Thievery Corporation.
In a recent interview with Cool Hunting, Bentley talks about what made him start his show in the late 90s.
I was just attracted to underground dance music and culture, European dance culture, house music and trip hop. All of this stuff that was percolating was really exciting to me. At that point it was just really fresh and had not been categorized. Growing up through the club scene and rave scene was really exciting. It was always sort of renegade. I still have close friends from those days. It was such a transformative time to grow up in this really creative space of the club. The cool thing about the club scene and the underground is everybody is looking for something—who they are, their identity, their purpose, their creative side. Everyone is trying to figure out who we are and why are we here. For me finding the community in this very creative world of club scene and dance music was incredibly important.
On a show that aired in late March, Bentley talks with legendary drum and bass producer and DJ Photek. If you were at all into the jungle scene in the 90s, you’ll want to listen to it. Photek talks about the early days of the genre, when everything was groundbreaking, when sounds, styles, and technology were just developing.
Alec Baldwin, a few episode ago on his show Here’s The Thing, spoke with Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke about his new album Amok with the group he put together for the project, Atoms of Peace. The two talk about how Radiohead started, how it was touring with Michael Stipe, and his kids.
the nicest bit about the creative thing – the nicest bit about recording and writing is this sort of weird limbo in between scratching away, scratching away, nothing really happening, nothing really happening, and then something wants to be built and starts to get built. You just have to let it happen.
There’s been a lot of celebration surrounding the announcement of Granta’s once-a-decade “Best of Young British Novelists” list. As always, it includes 20 British writers under the age of 40. Although it includes well-known authors such as Zadie Smith, Helen Oyeyemi, and Adam Foulds, there are a few writers on there who are just starting out: one author being Taiye Selasi whose first book, Ghana Must Go, is being published this month in the US by Penguin Press.
There have been a number of articles discussing the selection process. The BBC takes a look at what the list means to publishers, in The Telegraph judge Gaby Wood discusses the selection process, and Granta editor, John Freeman, speaks with the National Book Critics Circle for an interview on their blog.
This month kicked off a worldwide tour surrounding the list’s publication. Check out Granta’s website to see if anything is happening near you. Also on the site are articles by and interviews with the winners.
Also exciting for book people, particularly those who enjoy translated fiction, is the Best Translated Book Award run by Three Percent, the website of The University of Rochester’s literary publishing house, Open Letter Books. The longlist was announced in March and since that time there’s been a review of each book with the sole purpose of explaining why that book deserves to win. On the Three Percent podcast, which I highly recommend you subscribe to in iTunes, Chad Post of Open Letter and Tom Roberge of New Directions discuss the books.
E VS. INK
As the publishing world continues to march head on into the digital age, much of the talk surrounding print books vs. eReaders can get reductive. I have my own opinions, which are of the middle-of-the-road sort so I will spare you. However, if you’re interested in theses competing (and complementary) mediums, this article in Scientific American about the brain science of reading might offer a nice break from the typical discussions taking place.
Understanding how reading on paper is different from reading on screens requires some explanation of how the brain interprets written language. We often think of reading as a cerebral activity concerned with the abstract—with thoughts and ideas, tone and themes, metaphors and motifs. As far as our brains are concerned, however, text is a tangible part of the physical world we inhabit. In fact, the brain essentially regards letters as physical objects because it does not really have another way of understanding them.
Over on the New York Times Opinionator blog, Drafts, author Ben Dolnick writes about the dangers of reading too many interviews with writers about craft.
Speaking of author interviews, Other People podcast spoke with essayist and critic Michelle Orange. For those interested in the two genres, they will be well-served by listening. And anyone who’s been tapped into the intersection of teen blogging and fashion will be aware by now of Tavi Gevinson, most recently the founder of the teen-focused website Rookie. She spoke with AdWeek about her rise to notoriety and how she balances work, school, and a personal life every teen should be allowed to have. Perhaps not surprisingly, she’s well-adjusted for someone as busy as herself. In fact she says, “for the most part, I’ve kind of figured out a way to do everything I want without exhausting myself.”
Here are just a few paperbacks coming out in February that have my attention. Tell me what I’ve missed in the comments section.
Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do edited by Meredith Maran
Twenty of America’s bestselling authors share tricks, tips, and secrets of the successful writing life.
Anyone who’s ever sat down to write a novel or even a story knows how exhilarating and heartbreaking writing can be. So what makes writers stick with it? In Why We Write, twenty well-known authors candidly share what keeps them going and what they love most—and least—about their vocation. Read Jennifer Egan’s essay.
18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev
Distraught over the sudden disappearance of his wife, Zack tries to drown his grief in Tijuana, then returns to the U.S. with a stolen stash of marijuana. Using this as an impetus to change his life, Zack sets off for New York with the weed and a vintage Nikon. Through the lens of the old camera, he starts rediscovering himself by photographing an America we rarely see. His journey unleashes a series of erratic, hilarious, and life-threatening events interspersed with flashbacks to his relationship with Stella and life in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s.
A suspenseful, darkly funny love story, 18% Gray won both the Bulgarian Novel of the Year Award and the Flower of the Readers Award when it was first published in 2008, and received the praise of critics everywhere.
Finding Merlin: The Truth Behind the Legend of the Great Arthurian Mage by Adam Ardrey
Merlin: the very name summons up images of the wizard of Camelot — magician, prophet, and counselor to Arthur. The legend is famous but the truth is less well known: Merlin was a real historical figure, a champion of the old way of the Druids, a British man who hailed not from England or Wales, as traditional wisdom would have it, but from Scotland.
Adam Ardrey, who stumbled upon some of the hidden sources of Merlin’s life while researching the history of a Scottish clan, offers compelling evidence that links a very real Merlin figure into the histories of other real and prominent sixth century figures. “Finding Merlin” uncovers new evidence and reexamines the old. The places where Merlin was born, lived, died, and was buried are identified, as are the people surrounding him — his nemesis, the fanatic Mungo, and his friend, the hero Arthur. In this impressively researched and accessibly written book, Merlin leaps from the pages of legend into history.
Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau; Barbara Wright
Contributors: Ben Marcus, Blake Butler, Amelia Gray, Jesse Ball, Harry Mathews, Lynne Tillman, Shane Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Enrique Vila-Matas, Frederic Tuten.
Exercises in Style — Queneau’s experimental masterpiece and a hallmark book of the Oulipo literary group — retells this unexceptional tale ninety-nine times, employing the sonnet and the alexandrine, onomatopoeia and Cockney. An “Abusive” chapter heartily deplores the events; “Opera English” lends them grandeur. Queneau once said that of all his books, this was the one he most wished to see translated. He offered Barbara Wright his “heartiest congratulations,” adding: “I have always thought that nothing is untranslatable.Here is new proof.”
A new edition of the famous modernist story told ninety-nine different ways — with newly translated exercises by Queneau and contributions by some of today’s most acclaimed stylists.
Hat tip to Sarah Gerard, writer and bookslinger, for bringing this one to my attention.
How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them by Ben Yagoda
How to Not Write Bad uses this basic tenet — what Ben Yagoda calls “not-writing-badly” — to illustrate how we can all write better, clearer, and for a wider readership. Yagoda offers advice on crafting sentences that are correct in terms of spelling, diction, punctuation, and grammar and that display clarity, precision, and grace. He then moves on to the art of constructing whole paragraphs—focusing on cadence, consistency of tone, word repetition, sentence transitions, and length.
In a fun, comprehensive guide, Yagoda lays out the simple steps that we all can take to make our writing more effective, more interesting—and just plain better. As “lolspeak” and texts take over our linguistic consciousness, Yagoda emphasizes the lost art of grammar and the well-constructed sentence. He provides clear grammatical rules to help students and writers everywhere write better; this is a book for anyone who wants to improve his or her writing.
There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Love stories, with a twist: the eagerly awaited follow-up to the great Russian writer’s New York Times bestselling scary fairy tales
By turns sly and sweet, burlesque and heartbreaking, these realist fables of women looking for love are the stories that Ludmilla Petrushevskaya—who has been compared to Chekhov, Tolstoy, Beckett, Poe, Angela Carter, and even Stephen King—is best known for in Russia.Here are attempts at human connection, both depraved and sublime, by people across the life span: one-night stands in communal apartments, poignantly awkward couplings, office trysts, schoolgirl crushes, elopements, tentative courtships, and rampant infidelity, shot through with lurid violence, romantic illusion, and surprising tenderness. With the satirical eye of Cindy Sherman, Petrushevskaya blends macabre spectacle with transformative moments of grace and shows just why she is Russia’s preeminent contemporary fiction writer.
Exodus by Lars Iyer
A wickedly funny and satisfyingly highbrow black comedy about the collapse of Western academic institutions under the weight of neoliberal economics and crushing, widespread idiocy.
Lars and W., the two preposterous philosophical anti-heroes of Spurious and Dogma—called “Uproarious” by the New York Times Book Review—return and face a political, intellectual, and economic landscape in a state of total ruination.
With philosophy professors being moved to badminton departments and gin in short supply—although not short enough—the two hapless intellectuals embark on a relentless mission. Well, several relentless missions. For one, they must help gear a guerilla philosophy movement—conducted outside the academy, perhaps under bridges—that will save the study of philosophy after the long, miserable decades of intellectual desert known as the early 21st-century.
Granta 122: Betrayal
Without love there can be no betrayal – love of a country, a brother, a wife, a platoon mate, a family. In this issue of Granta, Janine di Giovanni witnesses a nation, Syria, betraying its people; Karen Russell imagines a soldier inscribing the memory of a fellow soldier on his back; and Colin Robinson writes about ancient brotherly friction resurfacing in a game of paddleball. From the playgrounds of New York City to the alleyways of Damascus, here is the theatre of betrayal.
This roundup’s strongest piece of journalism goes to Stephen Rodrick, contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine and contributing editor at Men’s Journal, for his piece Times, “Here is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie.”
Rodrick was given full access to the filming of Lindsay Lohan’s forthcoming low budget, Kickstarter-funded film, “The Canyons,” directed by Paul Schrader and written by Bret Easton Ellis. It reads as a fair piece, which, with Lohan as a subject, is a feat all on its own. What makes it so incredible, however, is that the writing is fantastic. It truly is a lesson in feature writing, to be printed, studied, and saved.
A bit of background:
Schrader wrote “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver” and has directed 17 films. Still, some fear Lohan will end him. There have been house arrests, car crashes and ingested white powders. His own daughter begs him not to use her. A casting-director friend stops their conversation whenever he mentions her name. And then there’s the film’s explicit subject matter. Full nudity and lots of sex. Definitely NC-17. His wife, the actress Mary Beth Hurt, didn’t even finish the script, dismissing it as pornography after 50 pages.
Noir-like description of Lohan:
“She was quite pale, her skin not on speaking terms with daylight.”
This article had been so popular with #longreads fans that they begged for an interview with Rodrick on their Longform Podcast. Rodrick discusses how the assignment came about, the access he had, and how writing stories for The New York Times works.
Another great interview in Longform’s growing archive is with Charles Duhugg, New York Times reporter and author of The Power of Habit. Here he talks about journalism, best practices for writing (and life), and (again) how The New York Times works.
On his approach to interviewing for a job, which can be applied to many other things:
You want to be surprising. People love surprises. That is how we stay interested.
On using edited material for “bonus features”:
The stuff that gets cut out gets cut out for a reason. The discipline of space is always a good discipline. If it deserves to be read, it shouldn’t be on the cutting room floor… If it ends up on the cutting room floor, there’s usually a reason why.
Parul Sehgal, Editor at the New York Times Book Review, former Books Editor at NPR, explores three essay collections in an essay of her own.
Invented in France by Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century’s great oversharer; perfected in England by Samuel Johnson and William Hazlitt; the essay found America very agreeable: “The United States itself — and even its name, according to some sources — is partly the outcome of the essayistic brilliance of the radical English artisan Thomas Paine,” Christopher Hitchens, one of its finest modern practitioners, wrote.
The Millions ran an argument in favor of reading fewer books in 2013:
This past year I read 56 books. That’s slightly off the pace of 60 books a year that I’ve set over the previous 12 years, but then I did read a lot of very long history books this year — yes, I’m looking at you, Robert Caro – and my wife and I did make a very time-consuming move to Canada late in the year. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. Maybe the real answer is that I’m just getting tired of trying to read so damn many books.
Podcast host extraordinaire Colin Marshall sat down with Los Angeles Review of Books founder and editor-in-chief, Tom Lutz. They talk about the LA literary scene, book reviewing, and what it’s been like running the Review. You can catch Colin Marshall regularly as host of Notebook on Cities and Culture, “a twice-weekly long-form conversation with cultural creators, internationalists, and observers of the urban scene around Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Osaka, Kyoto, and beyond.”
Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow had this totally adorable–and insightful–conversation via Skype (transcribed for print) about how they collaborate. It sounds like a very healthy relationship.
Apatow: You know, the show is run differently from other shows because we’re trying to really filter everything through you. My goal is to have you do as much work as possible without getting killed. So part of what I’m trying to do is pace you so you don’t collapse. For me, a lot of the work is just having a very fresh brain and set of eyes to read things and look for where there are holes or trouble and then trying to help fix that.
Dunham: I feel like you’re constantly monitoring my brainpower and body power, even when I’m not able to tell what I’m feeling.
And Lena Dunham was on Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin. Incredible conversation.
The Bob Marley documentary “Marley,” now streaming on Netflix, is beyond amazing. I hope to have a proper writeup in the near future but, in the meantime, watch it. Seriously.
I don’t believe this is a new phenomenon but I’ve noticed an overwhelming amount of quality journalism on the Internet lately. Here are a few pieces that made me think about creative nonfiction, links to more straightforward writing articles, and, of course, television shows and podcasts for when you’re done reading.
The Food That Ate Manhattan: The Implacable Rise of Frozen Yogurt Leaves Us Cold by Kim Velsey for The New York Observer
Anyone who knows me knows about my terrible frozen yogurt habit. I’ve memorized the locations of all the self-serve places below 14th street. I know the Tasti-d-Lites that surround the stores and coffee shops I frequent. I couldn’t go a day without it, or at least not easily. So, when I came across this fantastic article on the rise of frozen yogurt, specifically in New York City, and read its mocking, horrified tone, I was enthralled and wanted to share with everyone I knew.
It was not until one day in Union Square that I realized, in a moment of disquieting clarity, that frozen yogurt shops were everywhere. A Joyride frozen yogurt truck idled by the park, Diet Lite Ice Cream was visible just down 17th Street, and a Yelp search revealed that a Pinkberry, a Tasti D-Lite, a Red Mango, a 16 Handles, a Yoqua Bar and a Yogurberry were all within a five to 10 minute walk. None of which were deemed satisfactory by the friend at my side, who urged us on toward Flavaboom on Sixth Avenue, where one could get the nonfat flavors twisted together and heaped with cheesecake bites and cookie dough.
Nearly skipping with anticipation, she raved about frozen yogurt the whole way there. It was alarming. How could she be so into frozen yogurt? I wondered. How could anyone?
Saying Goodbye to Now by Thomas Beller for the New Yorker’s Culture Desk
Thomas Beller is an excellent observer. In this essay he looks at the difference between memories and photographs. At one point he asks, “Are [these memories] any more vivid to me because there are no photographs? Conversely, would photographing have taken me away and made it all less sharp in my mind?” But first he begins:
My daughter was now airborne. A flying monkey coming right at me, headfirst: straw-yellow hair, a blue skirt, blue spaghetti-strap shirt, apple cheeks, and lips garishly smudged with pink lip gloss within which is the whiteness of her bared teeth—
Stop! Right here, let’s freeze the frame. Here is an image that I will never see again, except in my memory. A girl in mid-flight, waves of green behind her, her face all bright with the colors —blue, pink, yellow, white—of joy and delight, and behind her, as though it was the place from which she had fled, an old, dignified mansion.
Right then, as she was airborne, my hand twitched and slapped my pocket, in the dim hope that I could locate my camera, pull it out, and shoot while the moment still held. But there was no camera, and anyway there was no time. I will never forget this image, though I may already be embellishing it. And you will never see it. You may picture it, but the picture itself was not taken. I had to fight off a sadness about this, because the moment, after all, was happening, and it was beautiful, and anything that detracted from my perception of that was a shame.
Deconstructed—Chris Ware’s Innovation by Steve Almond for The New Republic
Steve Almond is one of my favorite contemporary writers. I particularly like his nonfiction and usually find that his essays double as a writing lesson. In this review of Chris Ware’s epic graphic art experiment, Building Stories, Almond teaches us how to write about things of which we have no authority:
Let’s start with my qualifications as a critic of graphic novels: Putting aside an adolescent excursion into a stoner comic strip called the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, I have none. Worse yet, I tend to associate graphic novels with the regressive and haughty wing of hipsterism, the one that favors mope rock and off-brand beers. I guess what I’m getting at here is that I’m a nitwit.
There is no greater evidence of my nitwittedness (currently) than my initial reaction to the new release by the graphic novelist Chris Ware, who I have come to understand is something of a big deal in his field.
While this is totally hilarious, it is also getting at a problem that deserves attention–how do you write about something you haven’t got the slightest clue about? How do you look at a text, a work of art, a film, or listen to a piece of music and judge it, deconstruct it, and put to paper your thoughts and observations without context? Steve Almond breaks the taboo, touts his ignorance, and, inadvertently, champions the amateur.
Four hours with John McAfee by Adam Thomson for The Financial Times
This profile of John McAfee, a tech tycoon who went on the lam after his neighbor was murdered, is a story that got really weird, really fast. The first reporting I’d read was in the Financial Times when one of their correspondents met up with him in Belize to write a profile:
There was nothing serene or tranquil about McAfee. As soon as he closed the front door, he ditched the limp and the crippled arm. Then, hands trembling, he reached for one of several cigarette packets lying on the table.”
His distress, and that of Samantha, his feisty 20-year-old Belizean girlfriend – during the interview, she accused me of being scared: “I’m young and smaller than you and I’ve got more balls” – was more than understandable given the saga that their lives had become over the previous few weeks.
Apparently, VICE magazine was there as well and gave away McAfee’s location through an iPhone photo embedded with GPS coordinates. Something McAfee is now suing them for. However, as The New York Times Decoder blog reports:
Within 36 hours, he began an aggressive campaign to court and spin coverage of his story. … Mr. McAfee seemed to understand the dynamics of journalism well enough to know which assertions reporters would pass along without double-checking or qualifying — like his claim that he had eluded the police by burying himself in sand and positioning a box over his head — even as his self-created narrative veered ever further into the surreal.
WRITING and PUBLISHING
How to Write a Book Review from Daily Writing Tips
Why Netflix Makes You a Better Writer on LitReactor
Five Dos and Don’ts for Picking an Editor by Susan J. Morris for Omnivoracious
Should You Spend Money On Publicity & Marketing? by Randy Susan Meyers for Beyond the Margins
TELEVISION and PODCASTS
For those of you who don’t have cable, Lena Dunham’s show Girls is now available on DVD. While you’re at it, co-producer Judd Apatow’s show Freaks and Geeks (1999) is streaming on Netflix. And for his latest film, ‘This is 40,’ Apatow has been doing some interviews: The Nerdist with Chris Hardwick and Bullseye with Jesse Thorn.
Now that everyone’s caught up on Mad Men Season 5, you can listen to The Nerdist Writer’s Panel’s “Mad Men season five in review” episode with Creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner, showrunners Andre and Maria Jacquemetton, and writer Erin Levy.
Alec Baldwin spoke with Lapham’s Quarterly founder, Lewis Lapham, for his show, Here’s the Thing. Lapham has an excellent gravelly voice that makes his stories and wisdom even better, if that were possible. You can also read an interview Lewis recently conducted with Smithsonian Magazine that I meant to share last week.
To the Best of Our Knowledge spoke with autistic savant Daniel Tammet and it was mesmerizing. Daniel is one of the few people with autism who can express his thought process and explain what he experiences. To hear him tell the interviewer how he thinks was astounding.
Here are a few things I came across this week that were exceptional.
Perfect Day Publishing on Late Night Conversation
I’ve mentioned The Late Night Library’s podcast, Late Night Conversation, before but their interviews continue to be amazing, so, here we are again. This Portland-based organization is devoted to spreading the awareness of independent publishing. The show, hosted by co-founder Paul Martone, features debut authors and publishing professionals from small presses. Martone has the conversational style that makes podcasts so great. He’s thoughtful, informed, and curious.
The latest episode features Perfect Day Publishing founder Michael Heald and author Lisa Wells, whose book Yeah. No. Totally was published by the press this year. I first came to hear of Perfect Day Publishing through a previously self-published book they’d reprinted after it gained some attention. Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life is one of the best books I read in 2012.
In other podcast news, Alec Baldwin talked to Billy Joel in July and I just got around to listening to it. It was pretty great.You’ll probably enjoy it more if you’re from Long Island. A personal favorite, Teju Cole was on CBC’s Writers & Company, one of the best author interview shows out there today.
This weekend I came across an article by Blake Butler on HTMLGIANT called ‘22 Things I Learned from Submitting Writing.” At first glance I expected it to be snarky. While the site is typically earnest, there’s a level of sarcasm lurking underneath. This piece from Blake, however, was truly generous. Here are a few of my favorite points:
4. Often editors who reject you are doing you a favor. Either the piece isn’t great and needs work (thus saving you face of looking back later like whyyyyy did I publish this) or taking a strong piece and making it stronger because of force of will.
5. Some pieces are you learning. Some never get it right. Don’t publish your homework.”
13. Don’t lose sight of someone you love in the midst of this.
19. Be a person, not an email address with a social profile and an onslaught.
Also of note is writer Brad Leithauser’s essay about the different ways we read fiction–mainly two ways, like a critic and like a child. He recalls the time he and his then 15-year-old daughter had a conversation about Rachel from Daphne du Maurier’s “My Cousin Rachel.”
I’m eyeballs deep in noir at the moment and came across this great essay by Raymond Chandler called “The Simple Art of Murder.” I’m sure many crime fiction fans have already stumbled on this, a few possibly owning a highlighted copy in their drawer somewhere, but for the rest of us…
Every detective story writer makes mistakes, and none will ever know as much as he should. Conan Doyle made mistakes which completely invalidated some of his stories, but he was a pioneer, and Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue.
The Los Angeles Review of Books has quickly become the place to go for in-depth, thoughtful coverage of the arts. Their front page has a triptych that changes at least twice a week. Recently, I came across their LARBart Tumblr where the work is displayed and explained.
While the name suggests heavy coverage of books, LARB has able people writing about other topics as well. Recently, they ran an interview with Ellen Lupton, one of the curators of “Graphic Design: Now In Production,” now on view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Ellen runs the MFA design program at the Maryland Institute College of Art and is the author of Thinking with Type.
Today, every designer is a production artist — setting type, retouching photos, and making endless updates for clients. The convergence of design and production gives us more direct control over the outcome of a project, while also loading us with an ever-growing list of skills and tasks to master. … Many designers today are using their knowledge of production techniques to become publishers, authors, editors, and instigators.
The term “graphic” has long been a point of contention in our field. … I like the word “graphic” because it connects us to the world of text, as well as to the “graphic arts” — the processes of printing and production. Typography is always about writing, and writing is a graphic phenomenon.
I usually roll my eyes at algorithms, those computer generated recommendations, but the other night while I was clicking through Netflix I noticed a British program from the 80s that was highlighted for me, The Comic Strip Presents, a sketch comedy show featuring Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson of The Young Ones and Jennifer Saunders, who later went on to create and star in Absolutely Fabulous. If you’re a fan of any of the above, you should stop reading now and add it to your queue. For those more familiar with Portlandia, this is their long lost British forebear.
Every year Tin House, a literary journal and independent publishing house, coordinates a Summer Writer’s Workshop, a “weeklong intensive of workshops, seminars, panels, and readings.” Together with today’s most respected American authors of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, Tin House editors teach a small group the ins and outs of writing and publishing.
This year’s instructors include Steve Almond, Karen Russell, Jim Shepard, Dana Spiotta, Jess Walter, Cheryl Strayed and D.A. Powell–a dream lineup if you love independent presses and literary imprints.
The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House is a collection that stems from these yearly meetings; essays on character development, pace, editing, and other elements of storytelling offer those who can’t attend a glimpse inside the classroom walls.
Steve Almond explains good and bad sex writing; Kate Bernheimer discusses the four elements of fairy tales and “the reductive spectrum of mainstream and avant-garde writing;” Dorothy Allison describes “place” as it relates to “All the stuff you’ve got that you don’t see;” and Chris Offutt talks about revising, a skill that “requires a cruel and ruthless objectivity” and, to him, is akin to performing “surgery on yourself without anesthesia.”
Instead of a “how-to” guide, The Writer’s Notebook is as Lee Montgomery, Associate Publisher and Editorial Director of Tin House Books and Executive Editor of the magazine, describes it in her introduction: “like intimate conversations, like a notebook.” She further explains:
I suppose there are those who find prescriptive advice about writing helpful, writers who can look at a project, identify a structure, use an outline, and get to writing One, two, three … poof! But I cannot imagine a world where this is true, a world where one creates great characters in five steps, a world in which one pops books out like laying eggs. In my world, writing is difficult and short cuts are few. The only real way to learn how to do it is to read the work of authors who write well and to, well, write–a lot. Along the way, of course, it is always helpful–and interesting–to talk or listen to writers discuss their process and the work of other writers.
In his essay, “The Telling that Shows,” Peter Rock says:
I very rarely understand talking about writing or writing about writing as discourses that intersect with writing itself. I don’t believe that wisdom can be dispensed to writers in this way. How lovely if it were so, and how boring. Instead, I’m always hoping to provoke, to let writers weigh my assertions or learn from my mistakes.
It’s this philosophy–or honesty–that sets The Writer’s Notebook apart from all others on the writing reference shelf. Here are a few excerpts that resonated with me.
Rick Bass, “When to Keep it Simple”
In “When to Keep it Simple,” Rick Bass explains what to do “when you get too wrapped up in a lofty thought and you can’t quite make the ends of a sentence or paragraph hook back up”.
Try cleaning up the words and diction first … and if that doesn’t work, then begin breaking apart the truths, or purported truths, which are probably shrouded in windiness … Say it straight … as if in conversation … Lay that much-simpler and less-ambitious sentence down like a tiny placeholder.
Susan Bell, “Revisioning the Great Gatsby”
Susan Bell’s essay, “Revisioning the Great Gatsby,” looks at the relationship between author and editor. While writing “The Artful Edit,” Bell read the biography of legendary editor Max Perkins, the man who worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Wolfe. She also reread The Great Gatsby, this time as a “tour de force of revision.”
She starts off, “Gatsby is what Michael Ondaatje called ‘that seemingly uncrossable gulf between an early draft of a book … and a finished product’–in other words, editing.”
The writer had gone far enough on his own with Gatsby and was ready for the latest editorial push–one he freely admitted he was incapable of envisioning alone … It helped to have an editor as astute and courtly as Perkins and who knew how to balance general commentary with specific suggestions. …
Many consider editing as either the correction of punctuation (copyediting) or the overhaul of a book such as Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel. The editing of The Great Gatsby sits between these extremes–a testimony to a writer’s discipline to edit himself and his wisdom to let himself be edited by someone worthy: that is how he crossed the gulf.
Generally, we are taught to value content over form, to have something to say and then “find a form for it” as if one part of what we produce is our stuff and the other is a suitcase we bought to put the stuff in. You find the form to “suit” your content, your material. This is not an unhelpful way to think about things, but it is not the only way.
Jim Krusoe, “Le Mot Incorrect”
According to Wikipedia, Gustave Flaubert “believed in, and pursued, the principle of finding ‘le mot juste’ (‘the right word’), which he considered the key [to achieving] quality in literary art.”
While Krusoe “understand[s] the great magnetism of ‘le mot juste,’” he says that there are advantages to using the wrong word:
Wrong words help us stray off the path, not by producing a new path, but by throwing us into the thicket … in writing, correctness not only stops the conversation between the writer and the reader, it also stops it between the writer and her or himself. To have no questions is to cease to explore. A poor piece with all the right words has nowhere to turn. Wrong words, however, put us into a different relationship with our sentences and our work.
Margot Livesey, “Shakespeare for Writers”
A more straightforward lesson to be learned from Shakespeare’s plots is the virtue of having subplots … a successful subplot is one that is interesting and compelling in its own right, resonates with the main plot appropriately, and intersects with it at the perfect moment.
I fear I can no longer avoid the most obvious and the most impossible lesson we can learn from Shakespeare: namely, what can be accomplished by the magnificent, melodious, rigorous, energetic, boisterous, vivid, inventive use of language.
The notion of a painter who isn’t interested in paint is baffling, but many writers (I exclude poets) don’t actually seem that interested in language. They are convinced that the interest of their work lies in characterization, plot, and theme. But the plays I’m discussing have survived, in large measure, due to the language Shakespeare invented and put in the mouths of his characters.
The Writer’s Notebook II is out this month and Tin House will be accepting applications for their 2013 workshop starting January 1st.
Buy The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House
Buy The Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin House
Apply for the 2013 Workshop (applications accepted starting January 1, 2013)
Tin House Podcast: Listen to authors discuss writing
Tin House website
November is upon us and the paperback releases are looking good. This month, keep your eye out for this excellent crop of new books—mostly originals.
The Ballonist by MacDonald Harris with an introduction from Philip Pullman
As in the best of Jules Verne or Albert Sanchez Pinol, “The Balloonist” is a gripping and surreal yarn, chilling and comic by turn, that brilliantly reinvents the Arctic adventure.
It is July 1897, at the northernmost reach of the inhabited world. A Swedish scientist, an American journalist, and a young, French-speaking adventurer climb into a wicker gondola suspended beneath a huge, red-and-white balloon. The ropes are cut, the balloon rises, and the three begin their voyage: an attempt to become the first people to set foot on the North Pole, and return, borne on the wind. Philip Pullman says in his foreword: “Once I open any of MacDonald Harris’s novels I find it almost impossible not to turn and read on, so delightful is the sensation of a sharp intelligence at work.
Kafka in Love by Jacqueline Raoul-Duval
Kafka was an attractive, slender, and elegant man–something of a dandy, who captivated his friends and knew how to charm women. He seemed to have had four important love affairs: Felice, Julie, Milena, and Dora. All of them lived far away, in Berlin or Vienna, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons that he loved them: he chose long-distance relationships so he could have the pleasure of writing to them, without the burden of having to live with them. He was engaged to all four women, and four times he avoided marriage. At the end of each love affair, he threw himself into his writing and produced some of his most famous novels: Amerika, The Trial, and The Castle.
In this charming book, author Jacqueline Raoul-Duval follows the paper trail of Kafka’s ardor. She uses his voice in her own writing, and a third of the book is pulled from Kafka’s journals. It is the perfect introduction to this giant of world literature, and captures his life and romances in a style worthy of his own.
Granta: The Best Young Brazilian Novelists edited by John Freeman
Since Granta’s inaugural list of the Best of Young British Novelists in 1983 – featuring Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Martin Amis and Julian Barnes – the Best of Young issues have been some of the magazine’s most influential and best-selling. In 2010, Granta looked beyond the English-speaking world with Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists.
Now, in an issue fully translated in partnership with Granta em Português, the magazine celebrates emerging talent from Brazil, many translated into English for the first time. Authors include Cristhiano Aguiar, Vanessa Barbara, Carol Bensimon, Javier Arancibia Contreras, J.P. Cuenca, Miguel del Castillo, Laura Erber, Emilio Fraia, Julian Fuks, Daniel Galera, Luisa Geisler, Vinicius Jatoba, Michel Laub, Tatiana Salem Levy, Ricardo Lisias, Chico Mattoso, Antonio Prata, Carola Saavendra, Leandro Sarmatz, and Antonio Xerxenesky.
Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin
Day after day the Russian asylum-seekers sit across from the interpreter and Peter—the Swiss officers who guard the gates to paradise—and tell of the atrocities they’ve suffered, or that they’ve invented, or heard from someone else. These stories of escape, war, and violence intermingle with the interpreter’s own reading: a history of an ancient Persian war; letters sent to his son “Nebuchadnezzasaurus,” ruler of a distant, imaginary childhood empire; and the diaries of a Russian singer who lived through Russia’s wars and revolutions in the early part of the twentieth century, and eventually saw the Soviet Union’s dissolution.
Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair is an instant classic of Russian literature. It bravely takes on the eternal questions—of truth and fiction, of time and timelessness, of love and war, of Death and the Word—and is a movingly luminescent expression of the pain of life and its uncountable joys.
Hush Hush: Stories by Steven Barthelme
If you’re up $16,000 at the casino and missing dinner with the woman you love, how do you find the strength to drive away? If you give up your career and your beautiful wife and find yourself drinking vodka and fixing cars for a living, is that necessarily a step down? In Hush Hush, Steven Barthelme gives us a simultaneously twisted, heartbreaking, and hilarious account of learning to quit when you’re ahead.
The collection, which includes the Pushcart Prize-winning “Claire,” exposes the surprising dignity in lying on your belly in the pouring rain, in ringing your ex-girlfriend’s doorbell at 4 A.M., in sleeping with your dead wife’s best friend. Co-author with his brother Frederick of the brilliant and devastating casino memoir, Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss, Steven Barthelme seems to cast an eye at his own history and the characters he’s known. These are men and women who are down — but stirringly, not quite out. An unmissable, arresting book from one of the most seminal short story writers of the last twenty years.
The Other Side of the World by Jay Neugeboren
Charlie Eisner is a journeyman whose friend Nick convinces him to move to Singapore, where he falls in love with the vibrant and endangered world of nearby Borneo. One night, at a party in Nick’s Singapore apartment, Nick dies mysteriously, prompting Charlie to return to New England, where he discovers that Seana O’Sullivan has moved in with his father, Max, a retired professor with a beguiling and antic disposition. Seana, one of his father’s former students, is a wildly successful and provocative writer who is equally wild and provocative in life. Together, she and Charlie set out on a road trip, first to pay respects to Nick’s parents, and then on a journey where “weird things happen if you make room for them.”
From the forests of Borneo to the mean streets of Brooklyn and the haunting towns of coastal Maine, The Other Side of the World is a grand, episodic novel and yet another virtuoso performance by one of America’s most revered living writers.
The Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin House with an introduction from Francine Prose
The Writer’s Notebook II continues in the tradition of The Writer’s Notebook, featuring essays based on craft seminars from the Tin House Summer Writer’s Workshop, as well as a variety of craft essays from Tin House magazine contributors and Tin House Books authors. The collection includes essays that not only examine important craft aspects such as humor, suspense, and research but that also explore creating fractured and nonrealist narratives and the role of dream in fiction. An engaging and enlightening read, The Writer’s Notebook II is both a toolkit and an inspiration for any writer.
Moranthology by Caitlin Moran
The follow-up to Caitlin Moran’s breakout hit, How to Be a Woman–A hilarious collection of award-winning columns, available to American readers for the first time ever.
Possibly the only drawback to the bestselling How to Be a Woman was that its author, Caitlin Moran, was limited to pretty much one subject: being a woman. Moranthology is proof that Caitlin can actually be “quite chatty” about many other things, including cultural, social, and political issues that are usually the province of learned professors or hot-shot wonks–and not of a woman who once, as an experiment, put a wasp in a jar and got it stoned. Caitlin ruminates on–and sometimes interviews–subjects as varied as caffeine, Keith Richards, Ghostbusters, Twitter, transsexuals, the welfare state, the royal wedding, Lady Gaga, and her own mortality, to name just a few. With her unique voice, Caitlin brings insight and humor to everything she writes.
Errantry: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand
No one is innocent, no one unexamined in Shirley Jackson award-winning author Elizabeth Hand’s new collection of stories. From the mysterious people next door to the odd guy in the next office over, Hand teases apart the dark strangenesses of everyday life to show us the impossibilities, broken dreams, and improbable dreams that surely can never come true.
The Right Way to Do Wrong by Harry Houdini with an introduction from Teller
Originally published in 1906, The Right Way to Do Wrong was a masterclass in subversion conducted by the world’s greatest illusionist. It collected Houdini’s findings, from interviews with criminals and police officers, on the most surefire ways to commit crime and get away with it.
This volume presents the best of those writings alongside little-known articles by Houdini on his own brand of deception: magic. Revealing the secrets of his signature tricks, including handcuff and rope escapes, and debunking the methods of his rivals, he proves himself to be just as clever and nimble a writer as he was a magician—and surprisingly free with trade secrets! All of which makes this unique selection of works both the ultimate anti-etiquette guide and proof that things are not always as they seem.
While I do have a few book reviews lined up–including one about dark fantasy short story collections I think you should read–I’ve come across so many awesome non-book things in the past week or so that I needed to put those on the backburner in order to share some other great stuff with you.
Anyone interested in publishing should get ready for this lineup. There were three great podcasts these past few weeks that go behind the scenes of the industry.
The online literary community Litopia interviewed Faber and Faber chief executive Stephen Page for their Naked Book podcast, a show devoted to “ripping the covers off print books and finding out what lies beneath.” It was a candid, informed conversation about print and digital publishing. Well worth saving after you’ve listened the first time.
On Other People, Brad Listi spoke with Steven Gillis, co-founder of the indie press Dzanc Books–who also has a new book out. Listening to Steven’s daily routine was awe-inspiring–and envy-inducing. The following week, he spoke with Paris Review editor Lorin Stein, who was once a book editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The two talk about work/life balance, literary publishing, and digital publishing. [Disclaimer: I’m the publicist working on The Paris Review book and set up the interview but it was so awesome I couldn’t help but share.]
You may have heard about Longreads, a site that finds the best of long-form stories on the Internet. Well, they now have a podcast called the Longform Podcast. Their interviews with The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates and author and journalist Gideon Lewis-Kraus are good places to start.
The Nerdist was on a roll with their interviews with actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hanks (interviewed separately, in case that’s not clear). I’m a huge fan of Gordon-Levitt’s not only because I think he’s talented at what he does but also because he always sounds so appreciative and gracious. This interview was no exception. Hanks as well, a huge talent and a guy who seems like he’s happy to be doing what he does, was hilarious. If you only listen for his impressions of foreign fans, it’ll be worth it. And, while we’re talking about The Nerdist, co-host Jonah Ray was on WTF with Marc Maron. It was great.
I picked up the new Kid Koala album, 12 Bit Blues, the other week in preparation of seeing him in November. I’m a longtime fan of the koala. His jazz and blues-meets-turntablism blows my mind and always look forward to what he’s up to. You should check out the official video for 8 Bit Blues on YouTube. It was excellent to hear him on NPR’s Weekend Edition.
While I wait for season 4 of Sons of Anarchy to free up on Netflix, and for Mad Men season 5 to release, I’ve been watching Grimm, the NBC show based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. It’s pretty good–creepy but not hard to watch at night, good characters, and an interesting storyline. The main character, Nick, a cop, turns out to be of the Grimm lineage and able to see the creatures that lie beneath seemingly average people. With his abilities, a unknowing partner on the force, and a reformed “Blutbad,” he solves crimes from week to week.
Also something worth watching, which is streaming on Netflix, is the Woody Allen documentary that came out in 2011. In the film, Allen remembers back to his childhood to tell how he came to filmmaking. He brings the camera crew on the tour of his old neighborhood and they interview the many people who played a part in his personal and professional life. Even if you haven’t seen all his films, this was a nice, intimate look at a great artist.
What I’ve been raving about however, is this quirky, little British television show that I came across serendipitously on Netflix, The Book Group, also streaming. An American girl, new to Scotland and looking for friends, forms a book group with a bunch of locals she’s never met. I fell in love with this show almost immediately and blew through the entire two seasons in a little over a week. If you like books, you should watch it immediately. You can thank me later.
Every Monday I look forward to Susan Moriss’s column, ‘Writers Don’t Cry’ on the website Omnivoracious. Every week Morris offers invaluable thoughts and tips on fiction writing. While I don’t write fiction myself, her column is so much fun to read I keep returning. This past week’s topic, keeping a “reading journal,” was so amazing, I printed it out, underlined choice sentences, and plan to take her advice.
As a blogger, predominantly of book reviews and essays based on the books I’ve read, finding a balance between reading and writing can be hard. “Should I read this morning or should I write?” is often a question I ask myself. Poignantly, Morris opens her column with “reading is not procrastinating,” an answer geared more toward fiction writers who don’t necessarily need to read books to work on their own stories. However, Morris–along with many other authors who often offer advice–begs to differ.
Reading, Morris says, “is an important part of maintaining and honing your skills, staying inspired, and keeping in touch with why you write.” She continues with a practical application which, honestly, sounds like a whole lot of fun:
To take the best advantage of your reading for your writing, I recommend keeping a reading journal. In it, you can keep track of what you like, play with particular paragraphs to figure out how they work, and experiment with the styles and ideas you read about to improve your own writing.
I won’t spoil the article for you, you really need to read it for yourself … and then, Mondays, set your calendar.
I’ve been reading so many great books lately that after finishing each one I’m tempted to call it The Best Thing Ever. I’ve also seen some incredible movies, gotten hooked on TV shows, and listened to music that I think everyone needs to hear. Not to mention the podcasts … and the essays. Well, you get the idea.
This week, I’ve decided to round up some of The Best Things Ever. Feel free to share yours in the comments.
I just finished the essay collection Karaoke Culture by Dubravka Ugresic. After reading that the book had won an award, and being a fan of Open Letter, I went out and bought it that day. At first I was nervous that a majority of it would be devoted to karaoke–the title esay is about a third of the book–but Ugresic makes it known early on that karaoke is just a metaphor for explaining larger cultural and political events. A longer, more thoughtful review of Karaoke Culture is to come but in the meantime, imagine if Chuck Klosterman wrote a column for The Nation and you’ll have a pretty good idea of Urgresic’s style.
As we’ve all heard by now, some of us ad nauseum, the literary community is concerned, one way or another, with niceness in their book reviews. We’ve heard it, read it, and discussed it all–however, here are two points I’d like to make. First, there were a few great articles that came out of the debate that dove deeper into the role of criticism and the critic. One article that found its way to my printer for a closer read was Daniel Mendelsohn’s essay A Critic’s Manifesto that ran on the New Yorker’s Page-Turner.
In the essay, Mendelsohn begins by telling us that he dreamt not only of becoming a writer but more specifically, a critic. He found criticism “exciting” and thought the critics he’d studied “admirable.” While still a young kid, he went further than reading their work … he studied it.
By dramatizing their own thinking on the page, by revealing the basis of their judgments and letting you glimpse the mechanisms by which they exercised their (individual, personal, quirky) taste, all these critics were, necessarily, implying that you could arrive at your own, quite different judgments—that a given work could operate on your own sensibility in a different way. What I was really learning from those critics each week was how to think. How to think (we use the term so often that we barely realize what we’re saying) critically—which is to say, how to think like a critic, how to judge things for myself. To think is to make judgments based on knowledge: period.
He continues, “For all criticism is based on that equation: KNOWLEDGE + TASTE = MEANINGFUL JUDGMENT. The key word here is meaningful. People who have strong reactions to a work—and most of us do—but don’t possess the wider erudition that can give an opinion heft, are not critics.”
The other point I’d like to make is, as Jacob Silverman, the author of the Slate article which caused this mighty uproar, mentions on the Three Percent Podcast, we have a tendency to move on from these discussions quickly, thinking that we’ve exhausted the conversation, when in reality, discussions like these should be on-going. As someone who can’t read or hear enough about the process of criticism, maybe this is a selfish request.
John Freeman, editor of Granta magazine was on Radio National’s Book Plus program to discuss his essay collection, How to Read a Novelist. In the interview he graciously shared a few personal stories about interviewing authors. For anyone interested in journalism, these few minutes will save you agony later. After an incident with a writer early in his career, a mistake anyone of us could make, John came to this conclusion: “While we have access to writers and their books, and as journalists we have to them in person, there is a limit to it”.
If there’s one word that comes to mind when I think of Teju Cole, it’s “mesmerizing.” His writing envelops you; one second you’re in your kitchen reading, the next you’re walking down a London street. Recently, he told of a dinner he was invited to for the writer V.S. Naipaul, “Natives on the Boat,” for New Yorker‘s Page-Turner. This week he spoke with The Guardian about it. After the quick Q&A he reads the piece in full, which is, as it turns out, also mesmerizing.
For some reason I love listening to trip hop in the fall–maybe it’s the darker nights that put me in a brooding mood. This fall, just like last, I’m again amazed that I can go back to the music I listened to in the late 90s, early 2000s, and not be embarrassed. Three artists that always make an appearance are the Sneaker Pimps, DJ Shadow, and Tricky.
Modeselektor has been in heavy rotation for a few months now and neither of their albums, Monkeytown from 2011, nor the mix they put out on their label in July of this year, Modeselektions Vol. 2, are getting old. A review of the band and their music is to come but what makes Modeselektor difficult to write about succinctly, or even talk about with friends, is that they are hard to define. If you like tweaky electronic music–some electro with your dubstep–these guys are a must. Check out Berlin and Evil Twin and let me know what you think.
FILM and TV
I finally saw the movie Drive, a “neo-noir crime drama,” as Wikipedia categorizes it. The film features Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stuntman by day and getaway car driver for hire. Key performances also from Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks. Drive is one of the rare films that begs to be watched over and over. It’s dark, brutal, and beautifully done.
Not yet ready to leave the world of gritty crime dramas, I found the 2007 film Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. Another brutal movie, this one with a Greek tragedy-like plot. I’ve also started watching Boss, the political drama with Kelsey Grammer where he plays the corrupt mayor of Chicago. Grammer does an incredible job playing pure evil. There’s a Roman opulence to this one.
ADVENTURES IN LITERARY NIGHTLIFE
Last night I kicked off Brooklyn Book Festival Week (my unofficial title) at BookCourt with a panel discussion called “Who Gives a Sh*t about Literary Magazines?” Obviously, I do. It was a conversation between Lorin Stein, editor of The Paris Review, John Freeman, editor of Granta, and Rob Spillman, editor of Tin House, moderated by Randy Rosenthal, editor of The Coffin Factory. Both The Paris Review and Granta are in the process of launching apps, in part hoping to ease the current challenges of international distribution. All three have, to varying degree, created some sort of free, online content on their websites–all of which uphold the quality of the print magazine. The topic might seem like a well-trod one but the way these four guys are thinking about the technology available to them, the conversation went into new territory.
As a book blogger, I’m always on the lookout for well written reviews and books on the craft of nonfiction writing. I particularly enjoy pop culture essay collections, finding them ripe for dissection and emulation. There are few critics out there whose style is more entertaining than Nick Hornby’s when he writes his book column, “Stuff I’ve Been Reading,” for the Believer, a literary magazine known for it’s kindly reviews and quirky content.
Hornby’s column is not so much a review of books as it is a conversation about reading books. In fact, in one essay he calls it “a monthly column about reading” so I seem to have understood it correctly. More often than not he mentions no fewer than three books he’s read the previous month, with it not uncommon to have one or two unfinished at the time of writing.
In the first essay in More Baths Less Talking, the latest collection of these columns spanning two and a half years (May 2010 to Nov/Dec 2011), Hornby admits, “I am less than a third of the way through Austerity Britain, but I have read enough to know that this is a major work of social history: readable, brilliantly researched, informative, and gripping.” For anyone who write about books there are no words to express the sense of freedom that washes over you after a sentence like that.
Each column begins with a list of books bought that month and, immediately following, a list of books read. As many readers will understand, books from the former don’t always make it into the latter. Getting in the way are “Other books, other moods, other obligations, other appetites, other reading journeys,” he says. At first it was tempting to flip ahead, to read the tops of each column to see what I could look forward to–I blame this on some primal attraction to lists that we humans have–but then I realized I was ruining the fun, denying myself the anticipation of an unspoken narrative unfolding sequentially.
After a few columns I began to give myself a moment to process which books I’d hoped he’d read before jumping to see what I could expect to see discussed. It quickly became an interactive experience–full of hope, excitement, and disappointment.
As Hornby promises in the introduction, he reads read widely and, I would add, unpredictably. For fellow bookshelf adventurers, the serendipitous nature of Hornby’s literary promiscuity is easily recognizable. The current month’s crop of books read lead to books bought in the next. A subject or brief mention inevitably brings about new curiosities, however tangential, and inspires subsequent shopping trips.
Throughout his columns, Hornby is aware of his audience, and sometimes addresses them directly. To go back to Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 by David Kynaston, a book you’ll remember from above that he hadn’t finished at the time of the writing the column, he mentions that it will be “of no interest whatsoever to the readership of this magazine.” That may be true but he also knows his readers well enough–you get the sense they are closely allied with his own tastes–that he plucks out some fascinating details perfectly suited to Believer subscribers: “Two of the most distinctive looks in rock and roll were provided by the NHS, by the way, John Lennon’s specs of choice were the 422 Panto Round Oval; meanwhile, Elvis Costello favored the 524 Contour.”
While I admit to buying a few books mentioned (Peter Pan being one of them oddly enough), “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” is not about recommendations per se, instead it’s about observing and, if you allow yourself, sharing in a bibliophile’s journey. Hornby’s process makes you think about your own. You’ll soon analyze why you jump from one book to another and consider both the calculation and randomness at play in your own reading choices. For Hornby, sometimes he needs to read for work, other times he follows through on a suggestion, or, as was the case in this particular collections, sometimes a book is a gift. These varied reasons lead to humorous, and sometimes enlightening, commentary, bound to echo your own experiences:
Surely we all occasionally buy books because of a daydream we’re having–a little fantasy about the people we might turn into one day, when our lives are different, quieter, more introspective, and when all the urgent reading, whatever that might be, has been done. We never arrive at that point, needless to say, but Fishing in Utopia–quirky, obviously smart, quiet, and contemplative–is exactly the sort of thing I was going to pick up when I became someone else.
More Baths Less Talking will make you want to keep lists, it will make you look at books differently, and most importantly, it will make you want to approach reviewing as Hornby does–conversationally, with clever anecdotes, and a personal touch rarely seen in traditional criticism. Buy it, study it, read, write.
For all my fellow podcast junkies, or those who don’t know where to start, I highly recommend these shows that recently graced my ears. In no particular order, other than my memory:
Other People podcast with Brad Listi: Karl Taro Greenfeld
Karl Taro Greenfeld is the author of, most recently, Triburbia, a debut novel that follows his career in journalism and his previous memoir about his autistic brother. In this interview with Brad Listi, Greenfeld talks about his career in magazines, the trouble with memory and how it translates on the page, and levels of fabrication in works of nonfiction. After you’ve listened, you can read his Q&A with the Daily Beast.
Girl on Guy with Aisha Tyler: RuPaul’s drag race, drag u, supermodel of the world
Aisha Tyler’s near-2-hour interview podcast is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Not only is she funny in this adorably nerdy way, she knows how to have a conversation. In a recent episode Tyler sat down with the legendary RuPaul, best known as the drag queen made famous by the 1993 song “Supermodel (You Better Work)”.
In the interview Ru talks about his beginnings in California, moving to Atlanta, coming to New York City and making a name for himself in the club scene, first dressing in “punk drag” (think David Bowie), then “black hooker drag,” and finally moving on to the upscale diva he is today.
Nerdist Writer’s Panel: TV Fantasy Goes Mainstream
Live from the ATX Television Festival, Nerdist Writer’s Panel host, Ben Blacker, moderates a panel discussion with Jeff Davis (creator, Teen Wolf and Criminal Minds); Jane Espenson (Once Upon a Time; Husbands; BSG; Buffy); Richard Hatem (creator, Miracles; Grimm); Jose Molina (Firefly; Terra Nova; Vampire Diaries); Ben Edlund (creator, The Tick; Firefly; Supernatural).
A show geared towards those looking to get into the television industry on the creative side, although highly enjoyable for all who love the inner workings of the entertainment industry, this all-star lineup discusses how they’ve pitched shows, mistakes they’ve made, and the climate for fantasy in television today.
Bookrageous: Stream of Consciousness Edition
For all of you unfamiliar with Bookrageous, this is one of the best book podcasts out there. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it simply because I think everyone should listen to it. Twice a month friends Jenn, a bookseller in Brooklyn, Rebecca, a book blogger in Virginia, and Josh, a blogger and bookseller in Maine, get together by Skype and talk about books. They start with what they’re reading—because all three have access to advance copies from the publisher, every so often a title to yet available sneaks in, which is good for other bloggers or readers who like to know about books early—and next they move on a topic for discussion.
Topics in the recent past have included essay collections, funny books, and the books they’d bring with them to a desert island.
For their most recent episode they came up with topics on the fly and it was just as enjoyable as their planned shows. Listen to what they have to say about parody books, books they haven’t read yet but wish they had, and “high fantasy” recommendations to the group from science fiction and fantasy expert Jenn.
Book Based Banter: Book Groups, Top Summer Reads, and Are You Literary Enough?
Another excellent book podcast. In this episode Gavin and Simon discuss book groups. They mention one in particular that instead of picking a specific book they choose a topic and everyone in the group reads a book within that theme. For example, Paris or a circus. I thought that was a great idea. They also ask themselves, and their listeners, what it means to be “literary”. What is a literary book? If you like to think about books, definitely listen to this one.
NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour: On Fall TV And Whether Criticism Is Too Nice
The Pop Culture Happy Hour is always fantastic but this week they discuss the recent article that ran in Slate about Twitter ruining literary criticism. This roundtable of three pop culture critics have some interesting things to say on the topic, but first Linda Holmes talks about upcoming television shows and after they all rave about “what’s making [them] happy this week”. Great show, you should subscribe now so you don’t miss an episode.
SF Signal: Steampunk Roundtable
If you like science fiction, and steampunk in particular, you won’t want to miss this round table discussion with authors, reviewers, and editors Cherie Priest, Jay Lake, Gail Carriger, Paul Di Fillipo, Phillipa Ballantine and Tee Morris. Listen to them hash out a definition, talk about the history of the movement, and discuss books within the genre.
Bookworm: Sheila Heti
Interview Editor for The Believer magazine, novelist, and Canadian Sheila Heti sat down in Los Angeles with Michael Silverblatt to discuss her latest novel, How Should a Person Be?. What transpires is a great conversation about writing fiction from real life.
Sound Opinions: Jack White
Even if you’ve never heard one chord of Jack White’s music from his now defunct band The White Stripes, you will still want to listen to this incredible interview with the talented and bright musician. Throughout this oral history of White’s life getting into and being in the business are clips of his songs. Heading up one of the best shows about music on the air, Sound Opinions’ hosts Jim and Greg are perfect for getting White to open up about the things that matter—music, music, and music. Check out this gossip-free interview with an incredible musician.
Last month, The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP), a service organization for independent literary presses and magazines, hosted its annual GIANT Lit Mag Fair at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in downtown Manhattan. For one day hundreds of literary publications cover tables and fill rolling carts throughout the store. For $2 each, regardless of original price and without limit, people can buy journals they normally wouldn’t have easy access to.
Among the titles available are those that are well-known, such as Granta and Conjunctions, as well lesser-known journals and obscure zines. The fair is an excellent place to discover new writing with little monetary risk.
Each year literary fans descend on the bookstore with multiple tote bags and oversized backpacks and often don’t leave until they are full. Others come to meet representatives of the journals who stand around answering questions. Whatever one’s intention for being there, it’s hard to walk away empty handed.
This year, I came across an interesting flash fiction journal caught my eye. NANO Fiction, currently on its 10th issue and in its 10th year, with its glossy cover, stood out from many others. The illustration, a woman standing in a dark forest with three rabbits in her arms, reminded me of the 50s style drawings of pulp comics. In fact, in the middle of the book, there’s a statement from the artist, Michael C. Rodriguez, where he explains that much of his inspiration for the work comes from fashion illustrations of women from the 1940s to the 60s. He goes on to say:
This series of images is composed of romantic narratives with underlying themes of love, isolation, deprivation, and man’s destructive nature. They represent life as a journey full of difficulties that are often hidden by the exterior illusions we choose to share with each other. The work illustrates this perspective by contrasting the mix of beautiful/romantic imagery with destructive undertones.
One could say the same of the stories included in the issue. Taken as a whole, there is a poetic darkness to the issue. From the gruesome description of the butchering of a deer after a hunt to hints of incessuous feelings towards a cousin, these stories are subversive in varied ways. Although the stories maintain their quality from beginning to end, my favorite remains the first, “Her Favorite Color is Light,” a piece that describes a synesthesiac experience.
Nora thinks the air and smell are one. You breathe in sweet or sour, musty or moldy or wet-dog or chicken-broth scented. You breathe out your own smell, and this is how animals know you. She’s five and reads the number one as white as snow, the number two is bluer than a dead man’s lips, the number four as orange-red like the tips of flames. Five is green as grass. Ask her to add two and five, and she’ll say a dead man’s lips and green grass equal a funeral that lasts seven hours.
In addition to the printed product, NANO Fiction’s website offers a weekly feature, a mixture of stories from the print edition, writing prompts, interviews, and reading suggestions. The editors also run an annual flash fiction contest with a $500 prize. Their current call for submissions closes August 31st, with the winner announced in September.
If the latest issue of NANO Fiction is any indication to what the journal is like as a whole, you should set yourself a reminder to look for the next one in the fall.
Aspiring pop culture critics today have an abundance of material to study when determining how to approach a story in a personal yet crafted style. As noted in a recent essay in Slate, there’s a rise in “criticism as memoir,” an approach where reporters inject their memories, thoughts, and actions into the piece they are writing.
In the tradition of New Journalism, pioneered by Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, and Joan Didion in the 60s and defined by Wikipedia as “an artistic, creative, literary reporting form with three basic traits: dramatic literary techniques; intensive reporting; and reporting of generally acknowledged subjectivity,” this new crop of writers — Jonathan Lethem, Chuck Klosterman, Geoff Dyer, and, the subject of this review, Tom Bissell — are carrying on the tradition of personalized reportage.
Bissell’s new essay collection, Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation, which takes works from the Believer, the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, and the Virginia Quarterly Review–among other publications–is an excellent resource for writers looking to profile both the lauded and the obscure. Meanwhile, for pop culture enthusiasts it’s an entertaining look inside America’s quirky landscape.
Magic Hours opens with “Unflowered Aloes,” an essay that ran in the April/May 2010 issue of the Boston Review, and that questions of “literary destiny: the faith that great literature will survive and achieve recognition commensurate to its value.” A once-publishing insider, an editor at W.W. Norton, Bissell, after five months with the company, was asked to join the publisher’s paperback committee. He’d just read an essay by Jonathan Franzen in Harper’s Magazine where he’d mentioned Paula Fox’s then out-of-print book Desperate Characters. After fruitless searching, Bissell wrote to Franzen asking where he could find a copy. Franzen, in turn, put Bissell in touch with Fox who sent him one of hers. Bissell brought the book to the attention of his colleagues and wondered if it was worth republishing. To his surprise the publisher didn’t need much convincing and even went so far as to sign up her other out-of-print novels.
From this experience, Bissell concludes that rescuing books from the dustbin of history is serendipitous in nature:
I could not stop reflecting upon how arbitrary–how unliterary–the whole business was. Desperate Characters’ republication, despite the book’s greatness, seemed merely the yield of an inert aggregated chance. I felt something akin to what I imagine haunts the recipient of a Hail Mary touchdown pass. Not only was the ball not meant for him, it was not meant for anyone. The joy of victory is cut with a terrifying void. Outcome is particulate; modulating the tiniest variable can spell ruin. In football, we accept this. But for writers, editors, and readers who view literature itself with quasi-religious reverence, this is intolerable.
At first I wanted to argue with Bissell — and in my mind I did. After all, it was because of his passion and curiosity for literature that led him to Franzen’s essay, not some random stumbling. Not to mention it was Franzen’s passion and curiosity for literature that not only led him to Fox’s work but inspired him to write about it. As someone who works in publishing I would like to believe that I am surrounded by thousands of people who are just as passionate as myself, Bissell, and Franzen when it comes to the literary arts — keeping a careful, almost obsessive, watch on the culture at large. While it may be that obscure literature has an army of foot soldiers on its side, Bissell ultimately makes a convincing argument.
He goes on to name books torched in kitchen ovens when kindling wasn’t at hand, political movements that burned texts in public squares, and books now considered classics–unquestionably so–that were brought out of obscurity after the authors were long dead: Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Melville’s Moby-Dick, and Emily Dickinson’s poetry.
What, then, do we have to thank for the survival of American literature’s three greatest figures? Remaindered copies bought from book peddlers. A man, sitting at his desk, an oxidized copy of a forgotten novel beside him, cobbling together an essay with no idea of what it would accomplish. The lovely devotion of solitary women and men. Essays published at the right time, in the right journals or books, noticed by the right people. Clearly, these are not the props of fate. They are, rather, the stagecraft of chance.
Like I said, convincing. Also convincing is Bissell’s essay, “Writing About Writing About Writing,” in which he skewers the how-to writing book industry (with humor and poignancy). “. . . most people who frequent the how-to-write section will never become writers,” he says, claiming that the books are “mostly useless.” Before you can argue, huffing and puffing that x, y, or z book has changed your life (believe me, it came to my mind as well), Bissell, once again, stops you cold.
Look around the how-to section. To your left: books on how to garden. To your right: computer programming. Down the way a bit more: How to Play Five-String Banjo. Most of the people who buy these books will not become professional gardeners or computer programmers or banjoists either. … Dreams, after all, are many, often mundane, and their private pursuit is the luxury of every dreamer.
Bissell continues, “Can writing be taught?” Answering his own question he says, “All human activity is taught,” but adds this caveat: “Writing can be taught, then, yes–but only to those who are teachable.”
Moving away from book publishing and writing, Magic Hours includes the profiles of two filmmakers who couldn’t be more different. In December of 2006, for Harper’s Magazine, Bissell wrote a piece about Werner Herzog called “The Secret Mainstream.” Although Herzog remains an active filmmaker to this day, having put out films since the feature’s publication, the article remains relevant and still stands as a guide to understanding the man behind the camera.
Setting the tone for those who might not be familiar with all of Herzog’s work, Bissell writes that although the films are “heterogeneous in technique, genre, and breadth [they] scarcely seem the work of one man.” In 2010 Herzog explored France’s Chauvet Cave, documenting the oldest human-paintings, and in his 2011 documentary, “Into the Abyss,” about a triple murder in Texas, he interviews the convicted killers, their relatives, the victims’ families, and law-enforcement officials. Although Herzog is a documentarian of heavy subjects, Bissell is quick to point out that he is “an artist, not a journalist.”
In a style that makes him appealing to young writers, Bissell divulges part of the interview that could have been left out if he were eager to protect his ego. Instead, he offers a cautionary tale: “I hoped–in retrospect, stupidly–to impress Herzog by pointing out a continuity error I had noticed in one of his films.” We’re told that this briefly derails the conversation as Herzog questions the inconsistency. This humbling confession by a respectable feels like a favor to future feature writers.
Two essays later, in “Cinema Crudite,” Bissell tackles the obscure filmmaker Tommy Wiseau whose film “The Room,” has reached cult status, he has seen more than twenty times. You’d think Bissell’s choice to spend this many hours with one movie would mean it was a masterpiece yet he goes on to say that “‘Bad’ and ‘good’ are incapable of capturing” how he feels about it. This mixture of high and lo-brow, Herzog and Wiseau, is testament to how deep Bissell will dig into his own experiences to find material for a story. Everything has potential to become an article.
Praising Bissell’s essays are easy, among them the profile of Chuck Lorre, creator of “The Big Bang Theory” and “Three and a Half Men,” and one on Jennifer Hale, the voiceover actress behind Commander Shepard of the wildly popular video game Mass Effect, but the joy of reading Magic Hours is discovering the eclectic subject matter on one’s own. Bissell’s style is refreshing and inspiring, making Magic Hours a handbook for every pop culture explorer who travels with pen and paper.
Buy Magic Hours at IndieBound or your local bookstore
Interview with Bissell at BookForum
Interview at Salon
Interview at The Rumpus
Poets & Writers profile
Slate article on “criticism as memoir”
“Unflowered Aloes” in the Boston Review
Tom’s playlist for his short story collection, “God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories”
Last week at McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore based in the heart of SoHo, Austin Kleon, artist and, most recently, the author of Steal Like an Artist, brought together three fascinating minds on the internet today. Joining him in conversation about creativity and curation were Maria Popova of the website Brainpickings, Maris Kreizman of the mashup Tumblr Slaughterhouse 90210, and cultural critic Maud Newton.
One of Austin’s ideas that I find most interesting is “creative lineage,” those who influence your work, whose fingerprints can be seen in your creations. For Maud Newton, Muriel Spark is woefully underrated; Maris raved about fiction writer Lorrie Moore and recommended Self Help and Anagrams; Maria named Susan Sontag along with Winnie the Pooh and The Little Prince; Austin, a fan of Midwesterners who include pictures with their writings, named Kurt Vonnegut and Lynda Barry.
Here is a profile I wrote and a Q&A I conducted with Austin early in April when his book first came out. It originally ran on The Nervous Breakdown. You can also read my riff on Austin’s analog vs. digital approach to creating, posted in March on this site.
Below are links to all the various places you can find Austin and the panel participants on the internet, along with more recommendations mentioned throughout the discussion.
“It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to” –Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist
In 2005 Austin Kleon experienced a bad case of writer’s block. Right out of college, after having studied creative writing, he was struggling to write a short story. To break out of the rut he took a Sharpie to nearby newspapers and started crossing out sentences, leaving only a few words and large swaths of black ink in his wake. Unknowingly, he created something he calls Newspaper Blackout Poems.
But as he said on the phone one Saturday morning before embarking on a major US tour to support his latest book, Steal Like an Artist — the title a riff on a popular saying in the creative world often misattributed to Picasso — “nothing comes from nowhere.” It was soon after creating these blackout poems that Kleon traced the style’s origins back 250 years to a former next-door neighbor of Benjamin Franklin’s. More recently, William Burroughs had done something similar with his cut-up technique.
Far from disappointed by his findings, Austin developed a philosophy, one that he celebrates in the book. “All creative work builds on what came before,” he continued. Whether it’s our subconscious at play or a dedicated effort, we all have influences whose work guides our own. Austin encourages us to embrace and cultivate them rather than see our mashup style as fraudulent.
“Just as you have a familial genealogy, you also have a genealogy of ideas. You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see.”
Although his “family tree” is always changing, Austin named four influences who have stuck with him over time. Lynda Barry, his favorite cartoonist, showed Austin he could make a career out of pairing words and pictures. He believes her book What It Is should be required reading for high school students. Austin’s work is highly visual, the book features drawings throughout, so it was no surprise to hear him mention two other artists: Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame and Saul Steinberg, an illustrator best known for his work with The New Yorker. Acclaimed fiction writer George Saunders also made the list.
Although the influences he mentions appear cohesive, leading one to assume his work has a singular foundation, Austin says there’s no harm in variation. “Don’t worry about unity from piece to piece — what unifies all of your work is the fact that you made it,” he said.
The beauty of Steal Like an Artist is that it’s accessible, something that was important to Austin. As one can surmise from the subtitle, 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, a tagline that fits neatly into today’s culture of pared down how-tos, there’s a noticeable lack of technical jargon. Instead, Austin filled its pages with thought-provoking aphorisms and bite-sized insights. Structured around these ten simple rules, Steal Like an Artist offers a list that will most certainly transform the way you think about your work: use your hands; do good work and share it with people; be nice (the world is a small town); and be boring (it’s the only way to get work done) — to name a few.
Unlike many big thought books, Steal Like an Artist doesn’t leave you stranded: putting ideas in your head without a practical plan for going forward. In the last few pages Austin offers tips on how to harness creative energy: take a walk, get yourself a calendar, start a blog, and take a nap. As an avid reader and someone who believe books hold many answers, he includes a reading list of other books that might help you along the artistic path.
Ultimately, Steal Like an Artist is an inspiring conversation, one worth returning to again and again as your creative process evolves over time.
Here are a few bonus questions I’d asked Austin after our phone call. Check out what he has to say about procrastination, serendipity, and Carl Jung.
You talk about finding one’s voice. I’m curious to know how you found yours — or if you think the search ever ends.
Voice always confused the hell out of me in school. I really had no idea what professors were talking about when they said “find your voice.” I still don’t have a handle on it real well, honestly. The closest I’ve been to understanding is through something Billy Collins said: you find your poetic voice by emulating about 6-8 different poets, and once they fit together, so you can’t tell what comes from who, you’ve discovered your voice. I don’t think the search ends, though — at least I hope not. To have one voice forever sounds boring to me.
Do you feel procrastination is an integral part to the creative process?
Oh yeah. Basically, I always have 3-4 projects I’m working on and when I get sick of one I bounce over to the other. At some point I’ll become obsessed with one and run on that energy until it’s dead, then I switch again.
As much as we like being productive, We also need time to sit around and do nothing. To stare at the wall and think, or do something routine and mundane with your body so your mind is freed up.
How do you procrastinate productively?
I like going for walks and doing the dishes — both get me ideas, but one makes me less fat and one gets the kitchen clean.
You say “Creative work is a kind of theater.” I love that. As an artist, how do you see your work — or creative work in general — as theater?
The stage is your workspace — your desk, or your studio, whatever. The costume is your smock, or your favorite sweatpants, or a funny hat you put on to think. The props are your tools — pens, welding torch, etc. — and the script is just plain old time set aside to work. You know, just like actors “get into character,” I think we can trick our minds into get into the zone, too.
You mentioned recently that you’ve been making more of an effort to step away from your computer — your chapter “Step Away from the Screen” is one of my favorites — and that you spend your time in the local university library looking through the stacks. What’s your take on serendipitous findings in the physical world versus the virtual/online world?
Yeah, you just can’t beat having books in a physical space. I call it the “serendipity of the stacks” — you go looking for a book with a certain Dewey Decimal number, and then your eye gets caught on another book’s spine, and pretty soon you’re reading that book instead of the one you went looking for.
The same thing can happen on the Internet, but it just doesn’t feel quite the same. Steven Johnson says, if you can’t find serendipity on the web, you’re not using it right.
I’d asked you about your favorite artist biography or memoir and you mentioned Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Did it change your life in some way?
I’m not sure it’s changed my life, but what I love about the book is how Jung is constantly on the edge between science and religion, rationality and mysticism, etc. it’s just a great story about one of our great minds coming into being.
Maria Popova: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr
Maris Kreizman: Tumblr, Twitter
Maud Newton: Website, Twitter, Tumblr, The Chimerist (A Tumblr about iPad reading, co-run with Laura Miller of Salon)
Perchance to Dream: an essay by Jonathan Franzen in Harper’s Magazine
Who is Mark Twain?: an animated conversation with John Lithgow at the New York Public Library
Artist Marc Johns on Pinterest
Maud Newton outlines her day at the Paris Review: Part I, Part II
Maria uses Evernote
Austin likes the show Justified, based on Elmore Leonard’s novels