Those of you out there who have your own websites have probably noticed how the sorts of things that send people your way from the search engines is very unpredictable. In July I wrote about a fantastic poem called “The Clerks Tale” by Spencer Reece which appeared in the New Yorker new fiction issue this past summer. So many people have come here looking for it that I thought it worth mentioning again, and also because it really is a terrific poem. Here is my original post. Here is the poem, and as an extra treat, here is a link to Reece reading the poem.
My friend Edan writes in to remind me about the latest issue of McSweeney's. Typically I find that McSweeney's are fun to look at, a mishmosh of interesting design and writing that doesn't stick to your bones, but I'm genuinely excited about this McSweeney's in a way that I haven't been excited about any previous issue. This one is their comics issue with a cover designed by Chris Ware and comics by R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Daniel Clowes, Lynda Barry, and others as well as essays by Michael Chabon, Ira Glass, John Updike, Chip Kidd, and others. These are all favorites of mine in the world of comics and books. I'm looking forward to reading it. Edan also told me to have a look at The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture, which she describes as "awesome and big." I would have to agree. Go here and click on "look inside" to check it out.I also got a note from my friend Emre who really wants me, and everyone, to read Italo Calvino. He is a most trusted fellow reader so I feel confident when I pass along his Calvino recommendations: "pick up a copy of The Baron in the Trees and indulge in it. The Nonexistent Knight is pretty good too, Invisible Cities is ok, or maybe I couldn't get into it because I read it on the subway." Thanks Edan and Emre!
When I was a graduate student working in the philosophy department at Rutgers University, an old academic offered some advice: “don't talk about your book until it's published.” Like most other English graduate students, I was writing a novel. I offered that information while giving the man a tutorial on using Microsoft Outlook. My job that semester was to teach the typewriter-clinging philosophers how to use their desktop computers (in 2005). I had started to tell him that my manuscript was a historical novel set in the American Southwest, but he held up his hand and told me to stop. He said the worst thing a writer could do was talk about his work before it was finished. “You’ll talk about it enough after that.” He said this was also true for works of scholarship, even though chapters had to be published on their own. But that seemed like a necessary evil for him. He was adamant that a fiction writer should never talk about his book until it hits the shelf. “Otherwise,” he said, “you’ll kill it.” When Esquire published a story of mine a few years after that, I offered a proclamation in my bio note: “he’s working on a novel set in southern Vermont.” That was true. I was working on it, in the sense we devote significant hours of our lives to books. I taught during the day, went to an MFA program in the evening, and wrote late into the night. I typed, drafted, revised, printed, tore-up, trashed, and re-started a book. But I never published that book. Like other ditched efforts, it sits in a folder titled “Vermont Novel” on an abandoned laptop in my basement. It shares that electronic graveyard with the historical novel, hundreds of short stories, and a few poetry collections. Between 2011 and 2015, I had 7 books published by small and scholarly presses. It is fun to say that you are having a book coming out. It is fun—and more than a little self-affirming—to share images of your book contract, your cover design, and your page proofs. During those years, I was always working on a new book. To have a forthcoming book meant to be alive as a writer. Publishing is not writing. Writing is what you do at midnight. Writing is what you do, as William H. Gass says, “to entertain a toothache.” Writing is casting your voice into a world already filled with noise. Writing is an act of faith, rebellion, and hope. Publishing is a world outside of yourself. In many ways, that is a good and necessary thing. Writers need editors. Editors help writers turn their ideas into stories; they help writers reach audiences. Yet publishing is also a place where writers must learn to cede control and embrace patience; a place where failure is likely. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. When your book comes out, shout it and sing it from the rooftops. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Don’t worry about people being sick of hearing about your book—you’ve scrolled through their daily posts about food and politics. They can handle some literature. But until your book is published, don’t talk about it. That old academic was right: you risk sucking the life out of your book. If you talk about your book, it stops belonging to you, and starts belonging to the world. You’ll have to explain it to people you sit next to on the train, distant cousins at family reunions, or people at work. When the soul of your book hits the air, it will dissipate without its physical body. Until then, hoard your manuscripts. Keep your secrets. Delete your tweets about your work in progress. Play coy in your bio notes. Be devoted to your book, and resist the urge to whisper about your relationship to others. Stay committed to that book, and one day—when the time is right—you can tell the world. Am I writing a book now? That’s between me and my hypothetical manuscript. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut, hunker down, and get to work. Image Credit: Flickr/Josh Janssen.
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Last year, we took a look at the affinity for Twitter in certain quarters of the literary world. A handful of well-known authors have acquired big followings on the platform, a result not just of their name recognition but of their mastery of the tweet, as well. Readers now also turn to twitter for book news and comment from a number of sources who are active on Twitter. Our previous piece looked at the very first tweets of these now-popular practitioners. Nearly all were halting "Hello World" efforts, and none seemed likely to win over those unconverted to the various (and admittedly sometimes maddening) wonders of Twitter. So, to present literary Twitter in its best possible light, we are returning again to those most widely followed on literary Twitter, but this time, looking at which Tweets got the most favorites, we are highlighting each literary Twitterer's best tweet. Here you'll find much wry humor, gossip, lots of politics, Margaret Atwood flirting with a Twitter-famous comedian, and even a surprising amount of insight crammed into 140 characters. They may be enough to win over some fresh converts. (For the Twitter regulars out there, we found that tweets with more RTs tended to be more about disseminating news to fans, while tweets with more favs captured some essence of the Twitterer, so we went with the latter when compiling this list. Also, if you find tweets by these folks with more favorites than the ones we've listed, let us know and we'll swap them in.) Why do people keep telling us to "get a room," @robdelaney? What's wrong with our usual dumpster out back of the #etobicoke MacDs? Cheaper!— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) November 13, 2013 Every 60 seconds in Africa, a minute passes. We can put a stop to this. Please retweet.— Teju Cole (@tejucole) May 9, 2012 Fox is now like, "What if we took states that Obama has already won and gave them to Romney - how would that change the map?"— colson whitehead (@colsonwhitehead) November 7, 2012 As #AWP13 starts today, it's a fine time for @VQR to post my massive treatise on the biz of lit http://t.co/CpDNN96iOp Thx 2 @JaneFriedman— Richard Nash (@R_Nash) March 7, 2013 Ironic that I am a judge for the Truman Capote award when Capote in a druggy interview said he hated me & that I should be executed. LOL.— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) October 14, 2013 For those curious about the mystery event that happened in my parlor last night, here's a clue. http://yfrog.com/gy3ugpj— Ayelet Waldman (@ayeletw) January 3, 2011 On a positive note, both can pronounce the word "nuclear".— Dani Shapiro (@danijshapiro) October 23, 2012 Kid at our door in a suit and tie. "What are you?" we asked. Him: "The 1 percent."— Dwight Garner (@DwightGarner) November 1, 2011 Next Schoolhouse Rock song is called "How a Bill Becomes a Law and Then Gets Held Hostage by Sore Losers Willing to Destroy Our Economy."— Ron Charles (@RonCharles) October 1, 2013 Thomas Pynchon's new novel BLEEDING EDGE will be published on September 17, deals with Silicon Alley between dotcom boom collapse and 9/11.— Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) February 25, 2013 Wouldn't it be fun to just totally ignore Ann Coulter? It would drive her crazy.— Susan Orlean (@susanorlean) October 23, 2012 A hard essay for me to write, and to publish. On being heartbroken and putting on a good show, on @the_millions. http://t.co/suPkVkkx65— Emma Straub (@emmastraub) July 11, 2013 Because I can lie beautiful true things into existence, & let people escape from inside their own heads & see through other eyes. #whyIwrite— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) October 20, 2011 Goodbye, my beloved friend. A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops. Christopher Hitchens, April 13, 1949-December 15, 2011.— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) December 16, 2011 Sad day, man. I never really understood how sad the book is until now. Why did I make it so sad? Why have so many people read it?— John Green (@realjohngreen) September 25, 2013 Found this genius quote on Reddit today: Getting offended is a great way to avoid answering questions that make you sound dumb.— Doug Coupland (@DougCoupland) September 2, 2012 Affordable Care Act means health care for artists, writers, poets, dancers, filmmakers, and others in the arts without insurance now.— Amy Tan (@AmyTan) October 1, 2013 The gorgeous and talented Charlie Hunnam will be Christian Grey in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey.— E L James (@E_L_James) September 2, 2013 This Twitter post, from @JohnDonoghue64 last week, still makes me laugh. Sometimes Twitter really does amuse. pic.twitter.com/yQ5yXrtp3W— Erik Larson (@exlarson) January 4, 2014 Whitney Houston: Yes, somewhere tonight Patrick Bateman is weeping, shocked but not surprised, and ordering three hookers instead of two...— Bret Easton Ellis (@BretEastonEllis) February 12, 2012 People who feel safer with a gun than with guaranteed medical insurance don't yet have a fully adult concept of scary.— William Gibson (@GreatDismal) October 2, 2013 Not doing #twittersilence b/c I don't think the response to those who want feminists to shut up and go away is to shut up and go away.— Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner) August 4, 2013 Want to become a better writer? Then read this free essay: 'Developing a Theme' by Chuck Palahniuk - http://bit.ly/aNRUqk— Chuck Palahniuk (@chuckpalahniuk) October 12, 2010 Via @SciencePorn This is what a child's skull looks like before losing baby teeth. pic.twitter.com/pr7nF7w82G: [Happy Holidays, Love, Joe]— Joe Hill (@joe_hill) November 27, 2013 I'm going to wash Joe Biden's car tomorrow. With my tears of gratitude.— Gary Shteyngart (@Shteyngart) October 12, 2012 o no i mistook mascara for concealer again! My eye sockets are black and greasy also idk what's going on in Eritrea. Can a website help plz— Emily Gould (@EmilyGould) August 14, 2013 100 Notable Books of 2011 http://t.co/1UtIx68O— New York Times Books (@nytimesbooks) November 22, 2011 How to write fiction: Andrew Miller on creating characters http://t.co/JpcwgIoO— Guardian Books (@GuardianBooks) October 16, 2011 Sun Ra used to perform for catatonic schizophrenics. One broke a years-long silence to ask, “Do you call that music?” http://t.co/YZuaLW29kZ— NY Review of Books (@nybooks) October 11, 2013 Little, Brown to publish JK Rowling adult novel— Publishers Weekly (@PublishersWkly) February 23, 2012 The New Yorker brings back Haruki Murakami story for Japan issue http://lat.ms/h0rix6— L.A. Times Books (@latimesbooks) March 21, 2011 Library acquires ENTIRE Twitter archive. ALL tweets. More info here http://go.usa.gov/ik4— Library of Congress (@librarycongress) April 14, 2010 Print free 'Go Away, I'm Reading!' book covers for Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games & more: http://t.co/dQjrR0Iz— GalleyCat (@GalleyCat) March 17, 2012 SO FUN: A First Read of @bjnovak's new story collection w/readings by Novak, Emma Thompson, and Mindy Kaling! http://t.co/cP0ggj9mFp— NPR Books (@nprbooks) January 21, 2014 Our average member has read 7 of the #ALLTIME100 Best Non-Fiction Books. How about you? http://t.co/WrdBSlI http://t.co/4OMY4CY #BestBooks— goodreads (@goodreads) August 31, 2011 “Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person."-Nora Ephron #RIP— The Paris Review (@parisreview) June 27, 2012 Incredible landscapes carved into books: http://t.co/jJcvdAAe // @twistedsifter— Electric Literature (@ElectricLit) January 2, 2012 An unpublished shorty story by David Foster Wallace has been posted on tumblr: http://bit.ly/aa7B38— The Rumpus (@The_Rumpus) October 29, 2010 (•_•) <) )╯I've actually / \ \(•_•) ( (> Read / \ (•_•) <) )> Infinite Jest / \— The Millions (@The_Millions) January 9, 2014 This picture is so important. pic.twitter.com/aQmlq9XE— Nick Moran (@nemoran3) October 17, 2012
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A couple of weeks passed and I had the urge to read another novel, so using a trip to Chicago as the good chance it was, I picked up J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey. Again, I was amazed at the ease with which Salinger grasps the reader's attention and pulls him into the dialogues of Franny and Zooey. The Glass family is extraordinary in many ways and Zooey's rants reminds me of an older version of Vince Vaughn. I could not finish the novel on my flights to and from Chicago, which is just as well, because on Monday, after I got home from work I filled the tub a la Zooey, lay in it for half an hour, and finished the book. A friend of mine once mentioned that it was his favorite piece growing up and he'd read it once every week, I understand and respect his mania now. I think I shall turn to The Catcher in the Rye next and keep reading the genius that Salinger is.I traveled to Charlottesville and back via train in the same week. During the thirteen hours I spent on the Amtrak couch, I luxuriously started and finished Orhan Pamuk's Sessiz Ev (silent house, La Maison du silence). I really like Pamuk, he is a pretentious, rich, aristocratic bastard in life but his novels are for the most part very successful in grasping certain periods of Turkey's modern history. I am afraid that Sessiz Ev has not been translated into English but you can read it in French if you so desire. In this second novel of his, Pamuk describes the visit of three siblings to their grandmother's residence an hour east of Istanbul. It is the summer of 1980, three months before the military coup, the youngest brother, now a senior in high school, wants to continue his education in the U.S. and has high capitalistic ambitions, the sister, a junior in college, is an ardent communist and would like nothing better than to see the fascists beat, and the older brother, a thirty-four-year-old drunken history professor, is aloof to everything and resembles his father and grandfather in his disconnect to the world. Sessiz Ev is a very interesting study of an important period in Turkey through common, unhappy and disgruntled characters.My last pick of the year is a serious undertaking, Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote. I am almost halfway through and enjoy the story, language, and the other novellas inserted in the middle. Clearly there is much to be said about Don Quixote but I will keep my reserve until I am done reading the whole novel.And last but not least, I also picked up Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Lord Henry Wotton's opinions have forced me to put Don Quixote on hold and indulge in the vanity that Lord Henry propagates. Of course, more on The Picture of Dorian Gray once I am done, but let it suffice to say that I am currently thrilled by its brilliance.[Thanks for sharing your year in reading, Emre]Previously: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
The bad news is that the intensity of my grad school program is forcing me to post links in lieu of more substantial efforts. The good news is that I have really good links to tell you about.Some of you may see yourselves in "Thomas H. Benton" an assistant professor whose book collecting is "more than a gentle madness."A remarkable collection of the top 100 American speeches of all time. There's a transcript available for each one, and, in many cases an mp3 of the audio.Do you remember diagramming sentences in elementary school grammar class? I sure do. If only there had been a computer to do it for me. (use "guest" for login and password so you don't have to register.)As I was mentioning before, grad school is getting to be very time-consuming, and, since I want to keep The Millions viable, I am currently soliciting the services of guest posters. It could be a one time thing or you could be a regular. If you're interested, email me and we'll discuss.
My friend Brian read yesterdays musings on libraries and wrote in with a couple of addenda...two things:1) you need to include tam tam books in your links... not only b/c it's tosh [a co-worker and the founder of Tam Tam Books], but b/c it's a very idiosyncratic, interesting, eccentric, and different site (much like the man himself...)2) loved the piece about "library angels and book fairies", and very happy to see mention of borges (one of my all-time favorties), but you must make specific mention of his story "The Library of Babel" which is, without a doubt, the greatest story about a library ever written -- the library... as a/the universe. a magical story that when i first read on the NYC subway, on my way downtown from hunter college, caused me to miss many a stop... i found myself in brooklyn, and so caught up in a borgesian daze and full of inspiration was i, that i chose not to go back the other way, but exited the subway in a strange part of town and explored, got myself dinner at a greek restaurant, chatted up a one-eyed drunk, then hopped back on the train and went home late that night, all hopped up on borges... (oh, how i miss the whirlwind that is nyc life!) - anyway, if you haven't read this story, it's short and ESSENTIAL. enjoy! [see page 112 of Borges' Collected Fictions]Heard on the RadioToday while I was running errands, I was pleasantly surprised by some decent mid-day public radio that mentioned a couple of books that sound pretty interesting. First, I caught the end of a show that airs twice a month on KCRW called DnA. It's devoted to design and architecture issues. Today's guest was design writer Michael Webb who talked about his new book Brave New Houses: Adventures in Southern California Living. According to Webb, over the course of the last century, cutting edge architects have used the single-family home as a kind of laboratory in which they could try out some of their more avant-garde ideas on a smaller, less risky scale. Since, in comparison to most cities, Los Angeles is a very new place, it is home to many of these houses. RM Schindler, Richard Neutra, and Frank Gehry all built single family homes in L. A., and Webb's book is a photographic record of this adventurous ground-breaking architecture.After spending a considerable amount of time in the post office, I got back in my car in the middle of an interview with compilers of another interesting-sounding book (I think the show was The World, by the way). Embedded: The Media At War in Iraq is an oral history of the journalistic experience of the war in Iraq. During and after the war, the two writers, Bill Katovsky and Timothy Carlson wandered from Kuwait City to Baghdad to Amman, and interviewed every journalist they crossed paths with. As they tell it, the resulting book inculudes many tales of both danger and poignency, which, taken as a whole, represent a singular record of the journalistic experience on the front lines.