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…