19 February 2010
A *starred review* from Library Journal!
The title of Chung’s exquisite novel seems to be missing a word: “not long for this world” would be the easy, expected phrase. But little is easy or expected in this multilayered story of two brothers—one Korean and the other who chooses to become Korean American—and their scattered families, whose lives converge in a perfectly blended East/West house on a faraway Korean island. When Han Hyun-kyu unexpectedly arrives at his younger brother’s home, he is escaping an American life circumscribed by a detached wife and troubled son. His exhausted daughter, Jane, a renowned photojournalist of death and destruction, follows her missing father. Strangers that they are even among family, father and daughter are gratefully absorbed into a seemingly easy rhythm, but the temporary peace cannot ease inevitable tragedy. “Some people are not long for this world,” Jane remarks. “The rest of us survive.” VERDICT: Readers who enjoyed superbly crafted, globe-trotting family sagas such as Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows, Naeem Murr’s The Perfect Man, or Changrae Lee’s A Gesture Life will swoon over Chung’s breathtaking debut.
—Terry Hong, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, Washington, DC
17 February 2010
If I were to give one piece of advice to fiction writers aspiring to be published, or just now getting published, I would say, “You have to keep writing.” More than anything, I think that continuing to write consistently, in whatever routine works best for you, is the way to keep focused, and sane, and clear, and brave about your vocation and your commitment to the work.
And I’d say it’s especially important to keep writing when it’s hardest to keep writing. When life gets incredibly stressful or busy. I find that when I am in the work, everything is possible, and anxiety (about everything) subsides. Sarah Shu-Lien Bynum said in an interview with Charlie Rose a few years ago that, when you’re writing, the thing that fills your head is “how you’re going to get to the end of the sentence.” The poet Donald Hall calls this absorbedness, which he considers the root of contentment.
And so, through this time of anticipation and busy-ness before the March 2 release of Long for This World, I’m really making an effort to keep working on Sebastian and Frederick, and also a short story that is slated to be published at FiveChapters in April (the deadline is a good thing in this case). It seems so self-evident: writing is much more energizing than promoting; and yet it’s so much easier to fill your time with promoting. But promoting a book, so far, is a strange, out-of-bodyish experience at times, and can overrun you. My guess is that being overrun while on book tour is not a good thing. My goal is to keep writing even while traveling for book events (alone in a hotel room can be good for this, perhaps?); wish me luck.
14 February 2010
BBC News reports on a new study by psychologist Clay Routledge at North Dakota State University on the positive health effects of nostalgia. There is, apparently,
dedicated research in recent years suggesting that nostalgia is “good psychological medicine”.
Studies by Mr Routledge, along with colleagues at the University of Southampton, have found that remembering past times improves mood, increases self-esteem, strengthens social bonds and imbues life with meaning.
But then another dude named Damian Barr
fears the generation that reached adulthood in the 1990s and 2000s could find themselves handicapped by excessive nostalgia
“We are less prepared for our difficult present by having had a very easy time of it when we were very young,” he says. “We grew up in a boom – we are living in a bust.”
Facing a present defined by recession, the threat of international terrorism and warnings of environmental doom, young adults are fixated on the happy associations from a more hopeful past…
All of this by way of feasible explanation for why I’ve been playing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” on repeat all night long? (Don’t knock it ’til you try it…)
10 February 2010
Just over ten years ago, the Modern Library compiled a list of the 100 best novels of the twentieth century: only nine of them were by women, and Edith Wharton accounted for two books… When, in 2006, the New York Times ran a list of the best American fiction of the past twenty-five years, Toni Morrison’s Beloved was pronounced the winner; but she and Marilynne Robinson (forHousekeeping) were the only women out of twenty-two titles (and that’s counting Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy and McCarthy’s Border trilogy as a single book each). Just last September, when the international literary magazine Wasafiri solicited responses from twenty-five global writers about the work that has most shaped world literature over the past quarter century, just four women—Elizabeth Bishop, Mildred Taylor, Toni Morrison, and Quarratulain Hyder—were on the list. And this is in a world where women account for 80 percent of fiction readers[...]
Here’s the deal: men, without thinking, will almost without fail select men. And women, without thinking, will too often select men. It’s a known fact that among children, girls will happily read stories with male protagonists, but boys refuse to read stories with female protagonists. J.K. Rowling was aware of this: if Harry Potter had been Harriet Potter, none of us would know about her.
And we don’t change our spots when we grow up. Last year, I was one of nine judges awarding an international literary prize for a writer’s body of work. Each of us nominated a candidate, and five of us were women; but only one of our nominees—only one out of nine—was female. (I myself enthusiastically nominated a man.) Our cultural prejudices are so deeply engrained that we aren’t even aware of them: arguably, it’s not that we think men are better, it’s that we don’t think of women at all.
The stats are indeed shocking; but Messud’s explanation doesn’t sit right with me. First, the implication that my passion/admiration for the work of a number of male writers is rooted in some kind of mindless pre-programming strikes me as off-mark, even a little preposterous.
Second, we “don’t think of women at all”? I can’t think of any women writers or readers to whom this applies. So I really can’t say why Messud’s group of judges nominated only one woman.
A counterexample to Messud’s argument would be the case of the notorious 2004 National Book Award, where all five nominees were women; that year, the panel of judges was comprised of 3 men and 2 women, chaired by a man (Rick Moody). There was indeed hoopla over that, but as I recall, much of it had to do with the fact that the five writers were not “celeb” writers, i.e. none of them were household names with big sales numbers. (All of them were/are superb novelists.)
I recently had an interesting email exchange with an elder male writer whose work I admire a great deal. I asked him which female writers he admires; he provided the following (wonderful) list, “in no particular order,” which I share with you, I suppose, as part of the Yes We Do Think of Women campaign:
Simone de Beauvoir
Perhaps this particular writer has not been tapped often enough for awards committees…
5 February 2010
Thank goodness for Max Magee who’s always so good at making sense of book business developments for us lay folk. Here’s his take on the Amazon vs Macmillan e-book pricing wars.
I don’t know, folks — I’m a little disappointed in e-readers who are bristling about the possibility of e-book prices going up to $12.99-ish. If you love to read and you care about literature, is 13 bucks instead of 10 bucks really going to make a significant dent in your life? Is a book not worth 13 bucks, when many of us pay 3 bucks for a cup of coffee, 12 bucks for a movie? And if buying new books is a true financial hardship, I’m a big fan of the public library; if you keep up on what’s coming out in the near future you can usually get in line on the hold list and not have to wait too long. E-books are now downloadable (for a specified period of time) through libraries, and sometimes they are “always available” with no wait (although I suspect there will be resistance to this from publishers, understandably, with new books). I myself often read library books and then buy the book later, once I’ve decided it’s definitely a book I want to own.
Of course, as an author, I find it disturbing to see the prices for new books being driven down. In case it’s not already obvious to readers, it’s very difficult to make a living as a writer; and even more difficult to devote your time and energy to writing if you are having to worry more and more about how to make a living alternatively. I am also now an up-close witness to all the work that goes into writing, editing, designing, producing, and promoting a book. Truly, a labor of love.
Sometimes, the Tyranny of Convenience needs to be checked, I think.
4 February 2010
Congratulations to Karen Cooper on 38 years of building NYC’s venerable art house cinema, Film Forum! The Museum of Modern Art is honoring Karen/Film Forum with a special exhibition of documentary films that have premiered at FF, curated by Karen. The program opened last night and goes through Feb 20.
(FF is celebrating 40 years; Karen took over in its third year, in 1972. I worked with Karen for about four years doing fundraising for FF.)
If you’re not a NYC-dweller, you must certainly make time for a matinee or opening night at FF next time you’re in town. Both the new films and repertory programs are invariably fantastic. Where else can you see an unforgettable film about an old Korean man and his ox?
3 February 2010
Sometimes, yes, Things Fall Apart; but today, they come together…
27 days to release of Long for This World. This first shipment of hard covers are in, and tomorrow I’ll actually see it/hold it in my hand.
Press release, book group guide, events, hope for reviews, a book trailer (!) — things are happenin’. How about that.
A gratifying convergence: my mentor from graduate school David Shields has a new book coming out in February, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. Look out next week for a meaty two-part interview-conversation we put together for The Millions. It’s fun (for me) to see us criss-crossing on book tour, like here, at Brookline Booksmith (scroll down) and here at McNally Jackson.
Another piece of “coming together” good news is forthcoming; I could tell you right now, but then, well, I’d have to kill you. And that would be terrible.
2 February 2010
In case it wasn’t clear watching the Grammys the other night: hip hop/rap is at the dead center of the music industry. It’s still so bizarre to me watching kids in street gear riff and spit and spar on a gigantic, pyrotechnic, Hollywood stage in front of super-rich people in gala-wear. (I know the kids are rich too, now; but still…)
Even more bizarre… but in a totally different way… NPRs Planet Money covered a story about a TV producer and an economist getting together to make economics accessible and engaging. The result: a pretty-good rap song about Keynes and that other guy. Shmilarious. And impressively educational. Ya gotta see this.