16 August 2011
At the Publishers Weekly news blog, seven writers – Clyde Edgerton, Alix Ohlin, Clancy Martin, Jonathan Evison, Sam Lipsyte, Duane Swierczyski, and yours truly – share summer music stories and lists. Mine is all about the year 1983, which I am starting to think was the most significant year of my life.
4 August 2011
At the Hindustan Times, Sanjay Sipahimalani calls The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books “a breath of fresh air” and quotes my essay in the final paragraph of the review.
It’s Sonya Chung, though, who strives to look at the present in just the right manner. The pendulum will swing back one day, she writes, but meanwhile, “…whether you are optimistic or pessimistic, hopeful or dispirited, it is clear that our needs, desires, fears, and values are at stake; and what could be more exciting for literature?” A new age of Modernism could be around the corner, in other words. As that quartet from Athens, Georgia, might well have sung: It’s the end of the book as we know it, and I feel fine.
An R.E.M. comparison?! Definitely a first.
Read the entire review here.
13 July 2011
I was actually surfing channels looking for “The Voice“, because someone told me it was worth watching, but “America’s Got Talent” was on, and these adorable little kids were singing and dancing. This gal, I mean, you’ve got to have a heart of stone not to feel somethin‘.
9 July 2011
The Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (WHAT) on Cape Cod will be exhibiting the work of my very talented friend and portrait photographer Robin Holland this summer. If you’re in those parts, stop by the opening reception on Friday, July 15, 6-7:30.
Robin’s subjects include American and international independent filmmakers, Oscar- and other award-winning actors, musicians and composers, artists, architects, writers, political activists, journalists, politicians. Check out images on Robin’s amazing web site. The list is too long, but we’re talking everyone from Louise Bourgeois to Edward Albee to Jessica Simpson to Sapphire to Isabelle Huppert to Wong Kar-wai.
15 February 2011
I’ve been chewing on a few things Nicholson Baker said at a recent lecture:
1. Write short books. This extends, in his opinion, to “read short books.” There is, of course, some relief for me here. I’ve been thinking lately about how a big book in some ways has the same requirements as a short story, i.e. every word must be compelling. Otherwise, how will the reader persist? Middlemarch was compelling from beginning to end. War & Peace is my summer project (I am hopeful). 2666 lost me in the midst of the endless litany of murders. (Note: I am a slow reader; fast readers will find all of this inconsequential. The divide between fast readers and slow readers is enormous in terms of reading prioritization.) Short books, Baker contends, are each really part of the larger, singular work of an artist; in other words, all the books you write are of a piece, so why not make them compact.
2. Copy out writing that you admire – regularly, religiously. I’ve always done this but I am inspired by the “regularly, religiously.” It feels so inefficient to do this – it takes time, forces you to slow down (you should do it by hand, in my opinion) – but it isn’t. It seems almost too simple, i.e. teach yourself to write by writing someone else’s actual good words. But I do think there’s something else that happens, a kind of transference, when you actually engage physically with good/great words and sentences and ideas.
3. Block yourself off from the world. You have to get distance in order to get closer, is how Baker put it. And the goal of all good novels is to get closer – to the human experience, to life on earth. You can’t get closer from within, it’s like trying to capture the image of a person’s face when you’re nose to nose. As a matter of practical example, he often writes with headphones on, blasting music that floods his brain and functions as a buffer between his mind and his environment.
I don’t always get out for readings and lectures, but it’s good – especially the reminders that it’s supposed to be difficult. ”You can’t get what it means to write honestly until you’ve suffered something,” Baker said. We twist ourselves up when we lapse into the erroneous expectation that it should come easy.
9 September 2010
Flavorwire offers up 20th-century literary analogs to some hip-hop superstars. Har har. (Where are the ladies?)
26 August 2010
I’ve been re-reading a number of favorite books in preparation for teaching, including Nabokov’s Speak, Memory (this particular paperback copy will always and forever remind me of N. from grad school, who generously “loaned” the book to me — You’ll enjoy this, she said, and everything N. recommended I devoured — and from whom I guess you could say I ultimately stole the book. Although, N., if you’re reading, I’ll happily send it back to you).
Nature expects a full-grown man to accept the two black voids, fore and aft, as stolidly as he accepts the extraordinary visions in between. Imagination, the supreme delight of the immortal and the immature, should be limited. In order to enjoy life, we should not enjoy it too much.
I rebel against this state of affairs. I feel the urge to take my rebellion outside and picket nature.
This from the first chapter, also know as “”The Perfect Past,” originally published in the New Yorker in 1948.
Now I’ll make a hard turn toward pop culture: it’s official, I’m hooked on GLEE. Possibly what I love most is the name of the show. Glee! Supreme delight of the immortal and the immature! UNlimited. Completely over the top. Rachel with that perpetually constipated look on her face, both singing and talking. It’s all so urgent and too much. Nabokov might be pleased (there are cute girls in short skirts and knee socks, after all).
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.
18 June 2010
If you love both music and books and don’t yet know about largeheartedboy.com, you’re in for a treat. Music recs, book recs, free downloads of new releases, “Best of” lists — all curated by ravenous reader and music-listener David Gutowski.
Today my music playlist for Long for This World is featured in LHB’s Book Notes. This was very fun to write and has inspired me to re-ignite my music explorations, which were stuck on pause for a while. Thanks to David for inviting me to participate.
14 March 2010
I knew I was a lucky duck to have my author photograph taken by Robin Holland, but I’ve just been struck by just how lucky.
Check out Robin’s new Web site. Her portraits of well-known authors, artists, musicians, cultural thinkers, filmmakers, actors — over a period of some (I think) two decades — are just stunning. I’d mention a few “highlights” here, but honestly, every single photograph is amazing. Peruse the portfolio, and wonder why that other fella with no last name is doing all the portrait photography at the New Yorker.
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…)
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.