30 January 2012
This month, my Post-40′s Bloomers column at The Millions features Daniel Orozco, whose story collection Orientation will (in my humble opinion) both engage and inspire you.
26 December 2011
Phew — made it.
Every year, during the month that starts at Thanksgiving and ends after Christmas, I feel like an undersized running back at the two yard line (deep in my own team’s territory), working my way down the field. I keep hoping that the quarterback will hail-mary us to the end zone in one gorgeous, painless swoop; but it ends up being more like piecemeal progress, fending off tackles, a little achey and bruisey.
There’s just too much expectation around these holidays. Some of which I feel unable to meet, some of which I am unwilling.
In a few days my homage to Giuseppe di Lampedusa‘s The Leopard will go up at The Millions; and in it I write about how much I sympathize, and even empathize, with Don Fabrizio, the novel’s middle-aged Sicilian protagonist, a Prince circa 1860 no less. What could I possibly have in common with the Prince of Salina during Italy’s Risorgimento? Well, principally this:
I belong to an unfortunate generation, swung between the old world and the new, and I find myself ill at ease in both.
My family life is not conventional enough to conform to holiday expectations; and I suppose I am not (yet) unconventional enough at heart to truly feel free from all those expectations.
Anyhoo — officially, we (if you happen to relate to this) can now come out of hiding. It is okay to be doing non-holiday things — like work, correspondence, etc — without seeming too much like a sad weirdo. Here is a bit of what we did on Dec 25, here in Buenos Aires, Argentina:
Parque de la Memoria (for The Disappeared) — “To Think/Contemplate is a Revolutionary Act”
Kitschy Nativity Scene, outside Congreso
Quiet subway platforms — a gathering of tourists mostly!
Families fishing along the Rio de la Plata
Football (soccer) stadium, River Plate Team, the rich team (think Yankees)
In Once (OHNsay) – an immigrant neighborhood centered around a place called Plaza Miserere (yikes) that reminded me of Queens (and not really miserable at all)
And what did we eat? Leftover Chinese takeout, sauteed gai-laan, leftover peach pie (homemade, by a lovely young expat who hosted us for Christmas eve dinner), and flan from the corner bakery. Whiskey and soda, cheap Malbec. Good stuff.
26 Sept 2011
At The Millions today, the launch of a new monthly feature I’m working on, “Post-40 Bloomers,” which will (to quote myself, weirdly), “highlight authors – living and deceased, new-on-the-scene and now long-established – whose first books debuted when they were 40 or older.”
Check it out, offer suggestions, and, perhaps, if you are a post-40 writer, be encouraged.
24 September 2010
I’ve written a piece about Matthew Crawford‘s Shop Class as Soulcraft over at The Millions. Crawford was an academic philosopher/director of think tank before realizing he hated the abstraction of his work, and so he opened up a motorcycle repair shop. I really enjoyed the book and find myself more and more aware of my relationship with things – a different kind of materialism from mere ownership, but rather stewardship. This is not to say that I am especially handy (though I can handle a power tool or two), or that I will necessarily become more so. But there is something to be said for curiosity; for paying attention to how things work, and to longevity of function in an increasingly short-term society.
My essay was positioned in the header next to an article called “Coffee With James Franco.” Well, heck: you can guess which article most folks are clicking on when they get to the home page (though I’m sure it wasn’t intended that way). But I’ve been seeing Mr. Franco everywhere lately, and so does he really need to appear next to my essay about slowing down and paying attention and focusing on concrete work? Oh, the irony. Protest clicks in favor of Shop Class welcome.
15 September 2010
I’m doing a two-part “Staff Pick” for September at The Millions: two books about work. Today, a brief look at Donald Hall‘s Life Work, a book that’s been vital to me since my early years of “Am I a writer?” angst. Also, very much my inspiration for lighting out to the country and finding my (slow) rhythms for work. This, along with Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life would likely be among my top 5 desert-island books.
Next week, I’ll write about Matthew Crawford‘s Shop Class as Soulcraft — wherein ”a philosopher-motorcycle mechanic makes the case for the cognitive riches of manual work, for living concretely in an abstract world.”
11 August 2010
I’m catching up — on lots of things — but specifically on all the great writing at The Millions. Enjoyed this piece by JC Hallman about the ways in which writers repeat themselves (or not) in successive work, and the conundrum thereof. ”Do more of that,” an agent or editor might say or imply, after a literary success. Or, “That again?” readers might complain.
There are two kinds of repetition. There is the kind we find inside our work, the themes that burble up lava-like from our subconscious again and again, and which we cannot resist and should not, I think, criticize in others. And then there is the repetition that ought to be resisted, that which gives us a program, a strategy that can be applied to any subject. This we should criticize in others. Art should never be the result of habit, it should strive eternally for the fresh and the new even when we work in forms we did not invent. Craft, we should vigilantly remind ourselves, means to make something absolutely new where before there was nothing at all.
28 July 2010
At The Millions, I muse about different kinds of literary endings. Commentors are offering their own terrific examples of favorite endings.
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.
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.