28 July 2010

At The Millions, I muse about different kinds of literary endings.  Commentors are offering their own terrific examples of favorite endings.

25 July 2010

I enjoyed Laura Miller‘s piece at Salon, “The Fine Art of Recommending Books.”  Says Miller, “In a review, I can expound at length, giving readers a pretty good sense of what I like so they can judge if my preferences align with their own. One-on-one, however, what really matters to me is what you like to read.”  The personal recommendation is almost always more reliable than the algorithmic one, especially if the recommender asks good questions of the reader.

Lorin Stein, editor of The Paris Review, says:  “I don’t think people read ‘for’ pleasure, exactly… Of course there is pleasure in reading. But mainly we do it out of need. Because we’re lonely, or confused, or need to laugh, or want some kind of protection or quiet — or disturbance, or truth, or whatever.”  Hmm…

I think I read primarily for absorption.  Without the regular practice of losing myself in the dream of a book, my mind grows dim, my spirit grows noisy and restless.  So I suppose I read to get smarter and to develop my literary imagination.

Nancy Pearl, Seattle-librarian and NPR commentator (the “Oprah” of librarians) lists three books she deems likely to please any reader: To Kill a Mockingbird, Larry McMurtry‘s Lonesome Dove, and Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner.  I find that fascinating.  I wonder what the common denominator is.  I haven’t read Lonesome Dove, but Angle of Repose, in particular, is an interesting inclusion.

I love recommending books.  In a way, there’s nothing more connective, more intimate.  Delicate, too — if you get it wrong, it’s like you’ve set someone up on a failed blind date.  Also, I’m a terrible recommendee.  It’s got to be the right book at the right time… to know this for me is to know me better than I know myself.

22 July 2010

Julian Schnabel is known for his ego — an artist who perhaps better than anyone inhabits/embodies the non-normative fullness of that word; neither “good” nor “bad,” just what it is.   He’s a polymath, and a talented one, and I confess that his ball-busting, I-could-give-a-fuck attitude intrigues me, despite myself.  Not to mention his just-do-it creative output.  I’m a wildly successful painter; I think I’ll make a movie now, and a really good one. And now another one, and another, and I think I’ll learn French so I can make this third one (and win Best Director at Cannes and at the Oscars)…

Flavorwire describes Schnabel as “one of the most motivated creative forces of the past 40 years.”

(It is not lost on me that my last post was about “the ambition of growing okra.”  Clearly, we are cut from different cloth, Mr. Schnabel and me. Likely the root of the intrigue…)

Now Schnabel has a new exhibit of large-format Polaroids, with accompanying monograph.  More info here.

Here’s a link to a radio interview with Elvis Mitchell from 2008.

21 July 2010

Hey, look — the okra is growing…

Just because I’d mentioned it as an ambition of mine — to grow okra — in a recent (self)interview I did at The Nervous Breakdown.  People say okra is difficult to grow in the north, generally grown in the south.  I’m happy to report that it is not impossible to grow okra in the northeast…

It’s too hot for gumbo, so we’ll pickle them.  Yum.

18 July 2010

Posting this a bit late, but found it rather surprising: Marilynne Robinson appeared on “The Daily Show” on July 8.

Surprising that Jon Stewart invited her (nothing particularly funny to talk about here), and surprising that she appeared (she agrees to interviews somewhat rarely). Hmm… hoping perhaps this means we’ll hear a little more from Ms. Robinson via interviews in the future.

Her new book, Absence of Mind, is about, among other things, the “unnecessary division” between science and religion. “The gladiators from both sides are inferior representatives of both sides,” she says.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Marilynne Robinson
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

15 July 2010

Tonight, a rare thing happens: I put on a dress, I go downtown.  It’s Opening Night of the annual Asian American International Film Festival.  33 years strong and still kicking.  The staff (I happen to know) work their butts off, and it shows…

Films screen throughout the weekend into next Wednesday night: acclaimed features and shorts from all over the world, by and about people of Asian descent.  At Chelsea Clearview Cinemas and the Quad, mostly, with a few programs at the new Museum of the Chinese in America (MoCA) in Chinatown.  There’s a special “New Taiwainese Cinema” series that’s supposed to be excellent.

Check it out — remember, movie theaters are air conditioned!

12 July 2010

1) Wherein I describe/disclose my physical work environment, at Open Letters Monthly-Like Fire, the “Strata” feature.

2) Wherein 4 debut novelists, myself included, discuss our novels, etc. with any of you who’d like to join the group at Goodreads.  The discussion occurs all throughout the week.  Panelists: Malena Watrous, Peter Bognanni, Emily Gray Tedrowe, and me.  Moderated by Katrina Kittle.

11 July 2010

I’m not planning on or interested in jumping on the Nicole Krauss-bashing bandwagon with regards to her recent jacket blurb kerfuffle.  I’m not even sure kerfuffle is the right word.  I do think that Laura Miller‘s piece in Salon, “Beware of Blurbs,” in the wake of all that, is worth a read: she doth speak the truth, I think (although, if I may, let me just say that I have no personal relationship with either of the wonderful authors who wrote blurbs for Long for This World).

What I would like to draw your attention to, a year after Michael Jackson‘s death, are a few recent homages (of sorts) to him that warmed my heart: one at Conversational Reading — a kind of side joke aimed, I suppose, at Nicole Krauss, but giving MJ his due nonetheless; another at The Millions, as part of Jon Sands‘s terrific commencement address to the Bronx Academy of Letters; and finally Nancy Griffin‘s excellent article in the current issue of Vanity Fair, “The Thriller Diaries.”

What can I say.  I was 10 years old when Thriller was released.  My sisters were 12 and 13.  MJ was our Beatles, our James Brown, our Elvis.  To some degree, our JFK.  From Griffin’s article:

To me, Thriller seems like the last time that everyone on the planet got excited at the same time by the same thing: no matter where you went in the world, they were playing those songs, and you could dance to them. Since then, the fragmentation of pop culture has destroyed our sense of collective exhilaration, and I miss that.

Me, too.  RIP, MJ.

10 July 2010

This goes out to all of you who aspire to send your kids to college…

I recently revisited the main library at the university where I went to college.  It was a breathtaking experience.  I truly felt as if I’d never been there before.  Granted, it’s been renovated and upgraded here and there, but essentially it’s the same grand, resource-rich Nirvana.

But back then I really had no idea.   How rich those resources were, how precious their availability.  I did what I had to do, studied where my friends were hanging out, ate too much greasy Chinese food, narrowed down my daily path to the bare minimum.  It was all about expediency in those days of youth, and the path of least resistance.

Consider a simple thing like work space.  For the last 15 years, I have lived in apartments and houses that lack for anything resembling privacy or a sanctuary of solitude.  Wandering the small study rooms and rare-book rooms and catalog rooms of the august aforementioned library, I was stunned by how many private nooks and crannies and mezzanines I found.  Beautiful church-like spaces, little ambulatory chapels of quiet.  Long tables, lounge chairs, private carrels, whatever your fancy — a place to work, a place to delve into your novel, your research, your manuscript, whatever it may be.

And then there are the little things you take for granted — until you go freelance and realize just how stressful it is to find an affordable copy place, to pay for your own printer toner, to find wi-fi connections when you are en route between here and there.   Everywhere I turned, there was a shiny new machine or a friendly plug-in spot ready and waiting.

And then of course… there are the books.  After printing out my one-sheeters from the catalog with titles and call numbers, I proceeded into the stacks.  Into the elevator, down to the 3rd floor, end of the row: bingo.  Back into the elevator, two floors up, a few rows in: bullseye.  And so on, to the 10th, 11th, and back to the 6th floors.  Up-down, in-out, everything I needed just where it was supposed to be.  Then happily on my way with the flick of a card; and NOT a credit card.  (Special thanks to the good people at Elliott Bay Book Co. for the gift of an extra large industrial canvass tote, which came in handy on this particular excursion.)

No kidding — it really was miraculous.  Reflecting on the contrast between then and now, I couldn’t believe that none of it struck me as particularly revelatory — or struck me really at all — when I was a student.  (And overall, I was a reasonably conscientious student.) I had a friend who had tacked up above his desk a number, as a reminder:  something like $142.27 (it was exact like that), what he’d worked out as representing how much each hour of class he skipped or snoozed through was costing him (he bore the loan responsibility himself).   He had the right idea.

What I’m saying is: education can be wasted on the young.  Consider — parents of would-be college students who’ve lived relatively comfortable lives — the Year-Off Plan, or the Two Years-Off Plan.  It’s worth them arriving at university with eyes to see, ready for miracles.

Also: at Bookforum’s “Omnivore,” links re: “What are Universities For?

9 July 2010

A lovely review of Long for This World at the Asian Review of Books.  Here’s an excerpt:

SONYA CHUNG’s debut novel LONG FOR THIS WORLD takes a familiar theme — the tensions within a family straddling new and old, modernity and tradition — and builds something… complex, detailed and illuminating…

The plot advances as much through a short paragraph about a singular memory as it does from an entire chapter told in present day. Chung uses both third and first-person narration, with Jane telling her story in her own voice: the narration switches are effective and transition with success and Jane’s life as a photographer and as a constant observer lend well to first-person narration.

Chung has written a moving debut, one that shows how hyphenated Asian fiction may make a greater penetration into the mainstream.

7 July 2010

At The Millions we’ve put together a “Most Anticipated” releases preview, with blurbs on all the books (well, clearly not all) you should be excited about in the next months.  Add your own in the comments.  My blurb contributions: Alex Ross‘s Listen to This and Milan Kundera‘s Encounter.

In addition to those two, I’m looking forward to more Bolano translations, Karen Russell‘s debut novel, and a new one from Michael Cunningham in which the notion that “everybody is a little bit gay” is explored.

1 July 2010

Thanks to the lovely ladies of Scarsdale for having me in for a reading and talk at the Scarsdale Public Library this week.

And with that, the Long for This World spring-summer book tour comes to a gentle close…  Back to Sebastian & Frederick, word count ~100,000.


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