I’ve decided to reinvent The Millions. The blog world is crowded. I cannot possibly add to or improve upon the innumerable blogs out there that are about music or politics. So many of the things that I have a casual interest in are covered so obsessively in the blog world that it is hard to find something to write about in any sort of compelling way. Nor do I have much interest in cataloging my daily life. I know from experience that my life is capable of producing, tops, a paragraph or two of mildly amusing reading every few weeks, which does not a blog make. Plus, I would like to try to lure some people into reading what I write, and writing about what I ate for lunch today will likely not do the trick. As for the two of you (you know who you are) who read this blog regularly, I hope you will not be disappointed by my change away from that format. And finally, after some thinking, I have figured out what these changes will be. The Millions will be about books. For a book lover without a whole lot of free time (not to mention money) it can be very hard to consistantly find new and interesting books. To do so, in my experience, requires reading dozens of book reviews weekly and trolling book stores looking for the new and interesting (or the old and interesting). The internet improves this process slightly, mainly by cutting out some of the time required, but it offers little help in locating a book that you might like to take a look at. I have yet to find anyone that has had much luck with Amazon’s recommendations. I recently realized, though, that I am singularly qualified to write a blog about books. I work in a great little book store and therefore, in pursuit of my paycheck, I see with my own eyes the hundreds of books that come out weekly and I read reviews in dozens of newspapers and magazines. Finally, I have always loved books and I have always loved telling people about books, and now I have myself a little blog that can serve both of these loves. I hope to update several times a week, if not daily, and hopefully this thing will be chock full of interesting books at all times. So there it is… it feels good to get started on this thing, and if anyone has any comments, questions or suggestions let me know.
Sonya Chung is a freelance writer and creative writing teacher who nourishes her split personality by living part-time in the S. Bronx and part-time in rural PA. She writes and grows vegetables in both places. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Threepenny Review, BOMB Magazine, and Sonora Review, among others. Her first novel, Long for This World, is forthcoming from Scribner in March 2010. You can find her fiction and blog-chronicles (adventures in publishing a first novel) at sonyachung.com.I.When a friend admits to me - usually a bit sheepishly, knowing that I am a literary writer and reader - that she is reading a paperback romance novel, or, even "worse," a series of them, I laugh it off and say, as sincerely as I can muster, Good for you, I'm sure you need the relaxation and escape, and we move on to the next topic.In my fiction classes, I always ask students to fill out a brief survey on the first day of class so I can get a feel for their reading interests; invariably, a number of students list Dean Koontz or Dan Brown or Nora Roberts or (most recently and markedly) Stephenie Meyer as their touchstones. When I see these writers' names or hear them mentioned in class, something goes thud in my stomach and a low-grade dread begins to buzz in my head.II.Am I just an insufferable snob? Possibly. If you think so, feel free to stop reading now; we may be at an impasse.III.A spiritual war rages between art and entertainment, elitism and populism, the difficult pleasure and the mindless escape, complex meaning and convention-driven predictability... literary fiction and genre fiction.Or not. On the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, a new "Summer Thriller" series - featuring, this past Sunday, a story (or serial installment?) by Dean Koontz. The protagonist is a whipsmart hostage negotiator who faces off with a Hannibal Lecter/Buffalo Bill-esque psychopath (he "displays" his dead [raped] female victims after dipping them in polyurethane). In a zippy plot twist (SPOILER alert), the hostage (ah coincidence!) turns out to be the negotiator's savvy wife; the revelation elicits a "gasp" from the psychopath.In The New Yorker this week, a profile by staff writer Lauren Collins on prolific romance novelist Nora Roberts. I haven't read the full profile, but it's got Slate's XX Factor blogger Willa Paskin (presumably not currently a romance reader) ready to pick up a Roberts novel - "Collins makes the case, without ever overselling, that Roberts' books might not be totally devoid of artistic merit" - and eager to hang out with Roberts herself, who "comes across as a down-to-earth, foul-mouthed, self-deprecating, extremely grounded, extremely disciplined woman."IV.What is going on here? Are we in the literary and genre camps laying down our arms and reaching across the proverbial aisle to hold hands and work together? More importantly, is "not totally devoid of artistic merit" some kind of newly-acceptable standard for reading selection? (Like how the standards for "organic" loosen to near-meaninglessness as big farming corps get into the business?)To anyone feeling ready to click away from this post in a huff: I feel a little like Sherman Alexie, who said last week in a follow-up to his feather-ruffling comments about the Kindle being elitist that he felt like David being mistook for Goliath.With its obligatory happy endings, strict conventions, formula elements, and, above all, comforting predictability, genre fiction will always garner a wider audience than literary fiction. Which is another way of saying that more people buy books and spend time with the words in them to evade the (messy, complicated) world as it is than to see it more truly - in all its mystery, pain, complexity, and beauty. Resistance - perhaps opposition is not too strong a word - to genre fiction for a writer and reader of literary fiction is, in my opinion, a literary ecosystem imperative.V.Why do The New Yorker and The New York Times want me to rethink my dividing lines? Are my soul or my artistic integrity at risk of atrophying if I don't see the light and embrace a new political correctness that's deemed formulaic genre writing and literary writing more alike than they are different?Let me, for the sake of this essay and the ensuing discussion, take a (overstated, survival-driven) hardliner's position: pure genre writing invites and indulges engagement and validation of our lesser, lazier, unthinking, hedonistic selves; well-wrought literary fiction affords, in the critic Harold Bloom's words, a difficult pleasure and illuminates the truths of the human soul, for better or for worse, thus opening the engaged reader to the possibility of courage, intellectual and emotional honesty, wisdom. Popular genre writing and literary writing represent diametrically opposed visions of the value and necessity of reading books; they are as different as lust and love, band-aids and surgery. To imply otherwise is to cop to hysterical anti-intellectualism and give credence to the same sorts of "elitist!" cries that sought to make Barack and Michelle Obama appear out of touch and John McCain a man of the people.There are real stakes here. What you read matters.VI. But enjoy your genre books, I say. Life is tough, we all seek ways to effectively distract and soothe ourselves. Consume your genre series with gusto and pleasure, like a drippy, juicy bacon burger; kick back and let them carry you away weightlessly, like an after-midnight Wii session. But do not imagine or attempt to argue that they play a vital role in augmenting the human experience. They allow for, are designed for, reader passivity and thus do not do what Joe Meno described eloquently in Edan Lepucki's profile this week:Books have a different place in our society than other media. Books are different from television or film because they ask you to finish the project. You have to be actively engaged to read a book. It's more like a blueprint. What it really is, is an opportunity... A book is a place where you're forced to use your imagination.VII.So with Roberts and Koontz now occupying prized real estate in the pages of The New Yorker and the New York Times, it's fight or flight as far as I can tell. Recently, I've been developing a list of what I call "bait n switch" books - books that bring together the strengths of both the genre and literary forms: suspense, sexual tension, absorbing dialogue, compelling plots, characters you come to love like your favorite pets; and fresh and inventive language, complex characterization, settings you can taste touch and smell, consequential ideas, ambiguity and surprise and mystery. I've given these as gifts or recommended them to people who tend to read only genre fiction or little fiction at all; with good response. My ultimate mission: to convert the unbelieving to the (crucial, soul-shaping) fact that you needn't ingest bad or "not that bad" writing in order to be entertained and/or absorbed by a book. For anyone who'd like to suit up for the battle:Sarah Waters's Fingersmith (for erotic thriller lovers)Pam Houston's Cowboys Are My Weakness and Lorrie Moore's Self-Help (for chic lit readers)Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, Chekhov's "The Lady With the Pet Dog," and really anything by Henry James (for romance readers)E.L. Doctorow's World's Fair and Ragtime (for Harry Potter and other boy-adventure fans)Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son (for manly men who are into horror)Poetry by Jane Kenyon and Rilke (for people "intimidated" by poetry)The following two are a little riskier, but I'd like to try inflicting one or both of them on a poor unsuspecting soul one of these days:Annie Dillard's The Maytrees (a simple, universal story of love/breakup/love again)Roberto Bolaño's Last Evenings on Earth (pure storytelling, you hardly know what hit you)And, if all else fails, well: there's always "The Wire."[Image Credit: Randen Pederson]
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My friends and family were more likely to hear about Beyonce’s miscarriage than mine. After all, Beyonce’s sad news was broadcast to the world (albeit much later, after the successful birth of their daughter Blue Ivy) in a Jay-Z song. Sure, Beyonce is one of the most famous women in the world, but it was still extremely private information made public. My miscarriage was kept quiet, so quiet that many people will only hear of it now, a rare feat in the age of social media. And yet, the facts: I sold my first novel on a Monday. That Friday, I found out that I was pregnant. My husband and I had only been trying for a couple of months, and we were shocked. The timing was hilarious, as if our good fortune knew no bounds. I took it as a sign from the universe -- that the sentimental sentient being knew how long it had taken for me to sell a novel (almost 10 years) and was making up for it by giving me a baby in a flash. The feeling of giddy overabundance didn’t last. Early in the pregnancy, I did a reading and wore a beautiful dress I was sure wouldn’t fit me for much longer, and when it was over, I noticed that I had begun to bleed. Over the course of a few days, when the bleeding and cramping increased, I knew it was over. My husband went to a 24-hour drugstore to buy me a heating pad at 3 in the morning, and listened to me moan through the bathroom door. A trip to the doctor confirmed the loss, the OB/GYN so cavalier about it that I too tried to play it off like it wasn’t a big deal. She asked me why I hadn’t taken any pain medication, and it sounded so stupid to tell her that I hadn’t taken any Aleve because you’re not supposed to take blood thinners while pregnant. My husband cried, because he is a crier, which is a very good quality in a husband. No one talks about the physical pain of miscarriage. Not that people talk much about miscarriages at all, and certainly not in public, but if there is any acknowledgment, it is of the psychic pain, the emotional toll. That I saw coming. What I didn’t anticipate (for who would anticipate such horrors) was the actual pain. I panted, I groaned. I clutched that heating pad to my abdomen and wept. And then I put on a dress and some lipstick and went to have my photo taken for a fashion magazine. I introduced my favorite author at the bookstore where I worked, claiming to have had a virulent stomach flu, or maybe food poisoning, I can’t remember. (Food poisoning is a very reliable go-to replacement for more personal problems, because everyone knows how awful it is, and how little you want to get into the details.) My husband and I cancelled all the plans we could cancel, but there were still things to be done. Those days immediately following the loss are fuzzy to me now, the way one remembers life as seen through a feverish haze. I operated as normally as I could, because I felt like it was expected of me. Not that there was pressure from the outside world, mind you. There wasn't even a hint of it -- because the outside world didn’t know. On a very small scale, it was my job to be Emma Straub, Author, Happy Person. I shudder at the thought of what Beyonce had to do in those days and weeks -- shoot music videos? Go on talk shows? It was hard enough being a writer in Brooklyn, going from bookstore to bookstore, from reading to book party. I spent the next two years trying desperately to get pregnant again. It took me a year and a half to find a good doctor, to find someone who could diagnose the problem (a colony of monstrous fibroids living inside my uterus) and offer a solution (two surgeries -- two because there were so many fibroids that my doctor couldn’t remove them all during the first four-hour surgery.) During this time, the novel I’d sold was edited, copy-edited, jacketed, and published. There were parties galore, with champagne cocktails. I went on a nearly three-month long book tour, my husband at my side the entire time. He would have come anyway, I know, but with everything we’d been through, there was no way he would have let me go alone. Not knowing what’s going wrong inside your own body is powerless, frustrating feeling, and for most of those two years, I smiled and had my picture taken and answered questions and climbed into bed exhausted every night, anemic and spent. Grief and disappointment rose and fell in my chest even as I was satisfying my lifelong dreams. As easily as one dream is satisfied, another one appears. My gratitude for the publication of my book did not lessen the blow of another period, another month lost, another year gone by. At the time, I didn’t want everyone to know what I was going through. It was my sadness, my medical problem, my heartbreak. There are those who share sad feelings continuously online, complaining about things large and small, but I am not one of them. I prefer to keep a stiff upper lip in public, because, as I’ve learned over the last number of years, being friends on the Internet is not the same as being friends in real life, though the former can certainly lead to the latter. This stiff upper lip has caused people to think of me as a smiley face, a "Like" button. Never has the division between my public persona and my personal life been so clear -- I’d been working so hard on my book’s behalf that I sometimes lost sight of that, but there it was, clear as day. I had a personal life and a public one, and they were not the same. Nevertheless, it’s hard to have a sad secret when everyone expects you to be happy all the time, and so my husband got more than his fair share of my melancholy. In response, he sang me songs about our cats, kissed me day and night, and yes, cried. This year -- arguably the most difficult in our 11 together -- has also been the best. I knew I would write about my miscarriage, and my struggle to get pregnant. I just didn’t want to do it in tiny little bites, spread over status updates and tweets. And most of all, I wanted to hold off until it was behind me. Unlike in fiction, I didn’t get to decide where to end the story. I had to wait and see what would happen next. Even once I did get pregnant again, I didn’t want to share the news until I felt safe that it would stick. Some of my friends post ultrasounds early on, so thrilled that they can’t wait to share it with the world. My news felt too precarious for that, for all those clicks and comments. I waited five months before I let a photo slip through onto the Internet, and longer still before I said the words. Many women struggle far longer than I did, and require more medical interventions, in order to get pregnant. Some aren’t able to get pregnant at all. I still think of myself as lucky, lucky to experience what is happening inside my body, and lucky to have had the trouble getting here, because now I appreciate it all the more. Part of me still wants to keep all of this private until after the baby is born, but at this point, with my belly big enough that strangers offer me their seats on the subway, my secret is no longer a secret. As of this writing, I am 35 weeks pregnant, almost 9 months. I don’t take a single day of those weeks for granted, or a single kick of my baby, now so active inside me. He’s due to be born a month after my book’s paperback publication date, two and a half years after my first positive pregnancy test. It feels good to be able to share my happy, hopeful news. The fact that I’m going to be a mother is enormously exciting, as thrilling as selling my first novel, a fact that will change all the facts to come. I always wondered why pregnant women counted their time in weeks instead of months, but it makes sense to me now. My husband and I are both counting the days, treating my body like it is made of a substance rarer than gold and more fragile than glass. Life changes both quickly and slowly, sometimes simultaneously, and one needs to keep track as precisely as possible. Maybe that should be the lesson to me -- that keeping track requires a chronicling of the bad as well as the good, whether or not that information is shared. It’s always good to know that you’re not alone. When our companion of the last nine months finally makes his way into the world, we’ll be sure to tell him that. Image Credit: Flickr/Kables
I. Thirty-six. This is the number of books I will have read, or re-read, in 2010, by the end of October. I keep a “Reading List” page on my website, and the other day, I found myself counting up my 2010 reading. I also found myself dividing 36 by 43, which is the number of weeks between January 1 and Oct 31. It comes out to .84. This is my rate of reading. In 2010, I have read .84 books per week. Once upon a time I was good at math. If memory serves me right, I think I may have even gotten the highest score possible on a Calculus Advanced Placement exam. I wonder how different my life would be if I had become, say, an engineer; or an economist; or a CFO. II. But I am none of those things. I am a writer. I also teach fiction writing. A few weeks ago, partially in response to Elif Batuman’s essay in the London Review of Books, “Get A Real Degree,” Bill Morris wrote a piece here called, “Does School Kill Writing?” Morris wrote: “School wasn't my death as a writer, it was my birth… I’m dubious when people fret that school is killing writing – that college boys ruined newspapers and the growing horde of creative writing MFAs is ruining American fiction today.” One of the comments on Morris’s post came from Millions staff writer Emily St. John Mandel: I would be curious to read a piece on this subject someday from the POV of someone who actually teaches in one of these programs, someone who can talk about whether these programs are capable of transformation, or merely refinement […] whether they’re taking already-accomplished writers and just polishing them a little, or whether these programs can take merely capable writers and make them great. I think it would be an interesting perspective. III. “I think the single most defining characteristic of a writer,” I found myself saying to a friend the other day, when she asked my thoughts on the teaching of writing, “I mean the difference between a writer and someone who ‘wants to be a writer,’ is a high tolerance for uncertainty.” IV. Last week, I attended a “lecture on craft” given by Jennifer Egan for Columbia MFA students. After her talk, in which she mentioned that she is an “unconscious writer”—meaning that her first drafts, written by hand on legal pads in nearly-illegible handwriting, are wholly unthinking in regards to craft (it’s in revision that she shapes and carves away and applies conscious craft-thinking)—a student raised her hand and asked what sorts of goals she sets, given said unconsciousness. “Five pages,” she said. “Every day I aim for five pages. It doesn’t matter how much time I spend. I’m after the pages.” I saw a number of students scribbling in their notebooks. I thought I heard a collective exhale of relief. Five pages. Something concrete, something quantifiable. Especially after Egan had also mentioned that she never thinks about point-of-view (the voice of a character or narrator always “just comes to me, fully formed”) and that she has no idea where her prescience re: technological anthropology (evident in both A Visit From the Good Squad and Look at Me) came from, since she herself is “lame” and “behind the curve” as a technology user. V. When you teach writing, you have to have a sort of world-view about it, or else you’ll go a little nutty. Here’s mine: at a certain level, there is pretty-good writing (“capable,” in Emily’s words), there is really-good writing, and there is great writing. Most of us will move among these categories throughout our lives; we'll aim for greatness and more often than not land somewhere along the way. If you are earnest in this endeavor, if you understand that your pretty-good writing can and must always be getting better, then I can’t see why I, as a teacher, shouldn’t encourage and help you along as best I can. The truth is that your pretty-good writing may very well get published and make you famous; it’s happened before. Your great writing may never see the light of day. Your really-good writing may get published and be read by very few. You may write something great this time around and something pretty-good next time around and something not-very-good-at-all a few years down the road and never get published at all. It’s happened before. (Read this, and this, if you don’t believe me.) I don’t decide these things. I’m only here to help you write better, because I think it’s important and worthwhile. As readers, each of us will necessarily put different books into each of these categories, and we may even change our minds about certain books over time. So I never give my students the once-over and think that only those who comprise the top two categories can or should be encouraged. There are many paths to a writing life; those paths twist and turn and are haunted by the cruelties of subjectivity, along with the inevitably erratic application of our gifts. I can forgive anyone’s so-called mediocrity, mine included, as long as the writer herself is not satisfied with it. VI. A writer friend of mine used to always report to me his short story in-progress word counts. I found this funny and endearing. When I was about halfway through a novel draft, I started tracking my word counts and reporting them on my blog. It wasn’t funny to me, though, and probably not endearing to anyone else; I needed markers, a sense of how far I’d come and how far I thought I had to go. I was in the wilderness on this draft. Around the same time, another novelist friend started reporting his word counts on Facebook. I commented on one of his word-count posts: “Let’s make it en vogue to track and report word counts!” He replied, “Yes!” VII. Some anecdotes from the lives/careers of some authors I’ve read just this past month, which remind me of the uncertainty of the writing life: From the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of Tolstoy’s stories: “Of the eleven stories in this collection, only four were published in Tolstoy’s lifetime.” Hadji Murad, Father Sergius, The Devil, and Alyosha the Pot are among the stories published only posthumously. (Hadji Murad!) Carson McCullers’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was published to wide acclaim when she was 23. She received two Guggenheim awards. Throughout her 20’s she suffered many illnesses and was paralyzed on her entire left side at the age of 31, shortly before she attempted suicide. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe was adapted into a play by Edward Albee (while she was alive), and later into a Merchant Ivory film (long after her death). While writing his luminous novel Light Years, James Salter wrote to Robert Phelps: I love this book. I'm writing it for myself and an audience composed of me's [...] It's going to have many beautiful jumps, sauts, perhaps it will be a ballet [...] Some things I love in it I love as one loves a woman. The book received mixed reviews - two bad ones in the NY Times - and sold modestly. Junot Diaz wrote, regarding the process of writing his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Life of Oscar Wao, five years into it: I started becoming convinced that I had written all I had to write [...] that maybe it was time, for the sake of my mental health, for me to move on to another profession, and if the inspiration struck again some time in the future... well, great. But I knew I couldn't go on much more the way I was going. I just couldn't [...] My fiancée was so desperate to see me happy (and perhaps more than a little convinced by my fear that maybe the thread had run out on my talent) that she told me to make a list of what else I could do besides writing [...] It took a month to pencil down three things. (I really don't have many other skills.) I stared at that list for about another month. Waiting, hoping, praying for the book, for my writing, for my talent to catch fire. A last-second reprieve. But nada. So I put the manuscript away. All the hundreds of failed pages, boxed and hidden in a closet. I think I cried as I did it. VIII. The thing I feel that I cannot exactly teach, but can only hope to model and emphasize to student writers, is this tolerance for uncertainty; for a life that is indeed characterized by uncertainty. As when you learn to drive a stick shift, there is a kind of “friction zone,” where your inner imperative to write and your tolerance for uncertainty cross each other, and the energy balance of that intersection either sets you off into motion, or you stall. I have seen many talented would-be writers stall (especially on steep inclines). Some find their way to restarting (as, of course, Diaz did); others give up for good, they trade in for an automatic. As a teacher, I try to exemplify and nurture a deep love of reading and of sentence-and-story-making—one’s only stay against doubt and the feeling of non-existence that will inevitably creep in. I try to give student writers enough “gas” to help them manage and master the friction zone, so that they come to know that feeling of ignition, of takeoff, both bumpy and smooth, and develop a liking for it, an abiding passion, even an addiction. When I sit down with a student and suggest that reading this book or that author may help him understand how to better execute a half-baked story idea, and that student eagerly seeks out those works, and keeps asking for more, I feel hopeful about that student’s future as a writer. On the other hand, when a student looks at me blankly and doesn’t even write down the suggestions—doesn’t seem to want to be nourished by literature and get better, but rather simply wants me to praise her originality as is—then I feel I can see the writing (trailing off) on the wall. IX. It’s hard to write well. But it may be even harder to simply keep writing; which, by the way, is the only way to write better. In the meantime, aim for five pages. Report your word counts. Track your rate of reading. Teach math on the side if you have to. Whatever you need to do. Hang in there. Image: Riforma della scuola via Funky64's photostream
Sara Michael is a Baltimore-based writer who spent two and a half years as a reporter for the Baltimore Examiner, most recently covering health and science. She has also covered technology for a national trade magazine, and earned her master's degree in journalism from the Medill School at Northwestern University. For more on Sara and her writing, visit www.saramichael.org.For weeks, and perhaps months, after the Baltimore Examiner launched nearly three years ago, people said it would fail. Some gave us six months, or a year, before folding. They expected it. There's no way a newspaper can launch from scratch and be delivered to roughly 250,000 homes for free, they said. There's no way a major city newspaper can sustain itself on ad sales alone.In the end, they were right. It did fail, but the Examiner was - and still is in Washington and San Francisco - an experiment in news delivery. As newspapers downsize staff, go online only and cut pages, the Examiner tried something different. And before the last edition hit doorsteps and newsstands last Sunday, we had managed to challenge the legacy paper in town and make a name for ourselves among readers and sources.The premise for the Examiner was targeted delivery six days a week to a specific number of homes fitting a profile, such as living close to a shopping center, having kids and making good money. There were also bright red news boxes around the area. The stories were shorter - between 300 and 400 words with longer features once a week - and ledes were punchy and headlines sexy.I started at the Examiner on Aug. 1, 2006 covering Howard County, a suburb about a half hour outside of Baltimore. I joined a staff of about 20 other reporters (an all-time high in staffing levels at the paper), all young and either just starting out in journalism or just a few years in. Already, just five months after the launch, about a dozen reporters had started and quit the Examiner, many fed up with the crushing hectic pace.Two stories a day, at least - that's what was expected of us. And these aren't press release rewrites; we're talking fully reported (three source minimum) news stories. I wasn't sure it was possible, and struggled a bit in the beginning to come through, but after a couple months, I was cranking out at least that much each day. It's amazing where you can find stories - though arguably, many of the stories I and others wrote didn't deserve even 300 words. I found myself covering the minutia of a Planning Board decision, the details of each interim report, and countless angry neighborhood associations miffed by some planned development.The pace was break-neck. The days flew by as we all scrambled to make calls, go to meetings and pressers and sum it all up in 350 words by 6 p.m. (That's right, add to the unreasonable story counts equally unreasonable deadlines.)Looking back, it's hard to say what kept me or any of the other reporters there. Many days - ok, most days, especially in the first several months - I would come home drained, emotionally and physically exhausted. Some mornings, I would arrive to the office only to see egregious errors in my story in the paper. I once wrote a story about a group of parents who wanted a stop sign at an intersection frequented by young kids and speeding drivers. They didn't want to see a child hit by a car, which had happened elsewhere in the county. The subhead? "Child hit by car at same intersection." I spent the morning fielding angry calls from county officials and neighbors.It's a start up, they kept saying. We're still working out the kinks with the copy desk. And some of it did smooth out.We were motivated by what I imagine motivates most newspaper reporters. There are stories that need to be told, deals that should be investigated, information that readers need. As we continued to ask tough questions and write complete, balanced stories, our reputation grew. Fewer people called to complain about the paper being dropped off each morning on their doorstep. Instead, they started to pick it up and liked what they read: interesting, well reported news stories, many that were overlooked by the Baltimore Sun, which had been the only paper in town for more than 20 years and was struggling with its own newsroom cuts.We all believed in being newspaper reporters in a town that needed that second voice.Ryan McKibben, the CEO of Clarity Media, the Examiner's parent company, blamed the closing on poor ad revenues, something about "synergies" with the DC paper that never materialized. He called it a "perfect storm" brought on by the collapsing economy. But did they have to throw in the towel before even hitting the three-year mark? I understand they were losing money hand over fist, but I am not convinced the powers that be tried everything they could to keep the paper alive, and perhaps that's because they weren't in the newsroom with us or even in the town affected by our presence. The paper in DC stays afloat because it gives the conservative owner Philip Anschutz a voice in Washington. But in Baltimore, we didn't have that security.Some readers suggested they would be willing to pay for the paper, but that's not the answer. Several months ago, we cut down home delivery to twice a week and upped the number of papers in the boxes. Why not go all online with a print edition once a week on Sundays or limit distribution just to the boxes? Regardless, I am sure we can all agree that starting up a print newspaper these days is an unreasonable venture, and in retrospect seems a little ridiculous. People barely read the print papers that have been around for 200 years, and most people get their news from aggregator sites or the online editions of major papers. As much as some of us like sitting down with the paper in the morning or taking it on the bus with us, those days are ending. Instead of tweaking the old model of news delivery, we need an entirely new model of news delivery.As a young journalist, my time at the Examiner taught me how to scrounge for stories and meet seemingly unreasonable deadlines. It also gave me an inside glimpse of what it's like to struggle to keep a paper going every day, but mostly I just hunkered down and worked hard, as did all the reporters and editors there. At least we can say we tried something different and even thrived at it for a time. And something more radical that launching a free daily newspaper has to be done to revive the public service that is news delivery.Each morning for the final two weeks of the paper, my editor sent out an email to the editorial staff aimed at motivating us to keep up the good work in the final days. In one, he seemed to sum up what the paper was to us, to Baltimore, and perhaps to the entire newspaper landscape. In his call for good stories, my editor wrote that we should keep putting out the news, "ensuring that when some media historian stumbles across an innovative newspaper named The Baltimore Examiner, that historian shall read our names and say, holy shit, this was a real newspaper."
Thanks to some friendly advice from LanguageHat, and seeing competing pronunciations flying around in the comments of the previous pronunciation post, especially for that pesky Goethe, I decided to go to the library and to do a little more Internet research to try to get some definitive pronunciations for these names, specifically printed references where available.At the library I took a look at Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature (EoL) - pronunciations aside, a very cool reference book - which was very helpful in giving me pronunciations for most of the names on our list. The problem is that the pronunciations are given using symbols that are not easily expressed in HTML, and thus are impossible to convey on this blog. Another problem is that the book was published in 1995, and thus leaves out some of the contemporary authors on this list.However, with some further digging online, I was able to find some sources, including Merriam-Webster Online (M-W), which uses simplified, Internet friendly notation. You can refer to the M-W pronunciation guide for help if you need it. I also looked at the online version of the The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (AH), whose pronunciations I've only linked to rather than copied because it uses images to convey pronunciation symbols, and I can't easily replicate them here on the blog. Best of all, these two sources include audio pronunciations, as well. Very helpful. Finally I also looked at Pronouncing Dictionary of Proper Names (PD), some names from which somebody has posted here.When none of those sufficed I used references from newspaper and magazine articles, hoping that their writers did the research and found out the correct pronunciations, ideally from the authors themselves.J.M. Coetzee - kut-'sE, -'si& (audio via M-W)Paul Theroux - both PD and EoL have it as thuh-ROOHenry David Thoreau - th&-'rO, tho-; 'thor-(")O, 'th&r-(")O (audio via M-W, via AH). The "Pronouncing Thoreau" sidebar on this NPR story goes into some further detail.John Le Carre - l&-kä-'rA (audio via M-W, via AH)Dan Chaon - I'm going to stick with my friend Edan's pronunciation - "Shawn" - since she had him as a teacher.Pulitzer - 'PULL it sir' (see #19 in the Pulitzer FAQ, audio via M-W and via AH, which also offers the "PEW" pronunciation as an alternative.)Donald Barthelme - There seems to be some disagreement on this one. AH has it with a "th" sound - see pronunciation and audio - while the EoL has it with a hard "t" sound. Not sure which is right.Michael Chabon - "Pronounced, as he says, 'Shea as in Stadium, Bon as in Jovi,'" according to this profile, though other news sources pronounce the last syllable ranging from "bun" to "bawn" to "bin"Thomas Pynchon - 'pin-ch&n (audio via M-W, via AH)Rainer Maria Rilke - 'rI-n&r Maria 'ril-k&, -kE (audio via M-W, via AH. AH does not offer the "long e" at the end as an alternative pronunciation, nor does EoL.)Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - Unfortunately not much of a definitive answer here. M-W prefers saying it with more of an "r" sound 'g&(r)-t& (audio), but offers 'g[oe]-t& as an alternative. AH prefers the latter, note the the subtly different audio. EoL has both of those but it calls the "r" sound "Anglicized." It also has a "long a" sound in the first syllable listed as Anglicized.Ngugi wa Thiong'o - His first name is pronounced "Googy," according to UC Irvine, where he teaches, while his last name is presumably pronounced phonetically. Eoin Colfer - The Seattle PI and Guardian both say the first name is pronounced "Owen." The last name is phonetic.Seamus Heaney - 'shA-m&s 'hE-nE (audio via M-W, via AH)Jorge Luis Borges - 'bor-"hAs (audio via M-W, via AH)Vladimir Nabokov - n&-'bo-k&f (audio via M-W, via AH. Both AH and EoL offer alternative pronunciations with a stress on the first syllable.)P.G. Wodehouse - 'wud-"haus (audio via M-W, via AH)Chuck Palahniuk - Lots of sources, including USA Today, say "Paula-nik."Michel Houellebecq - LA Weekly and many other sources say "Wellbeck."Jeffrey Eugenides - "yu-GIN-e-dees" according to the Houston Chronicle.Jack Kerouac - 'ker-&-"wak (audio via M-W, via AH)Colm Toibin - most sources, like the SF Chron have it as "toe-bean," but the Boston Globe says "Column to-BEAN."Bonus Links:The BBC Pronunciation Blog.Voice of America's guide to pronouncing challenging names in the news, and a Washington Post story about that guide.The really cool kids, however, prefer these pronunciations.