Tonight’s installment of the Pacific Standard Fiction series in Brooklyn is a special “NYFA night,” featuring three 2008 fiction fellows of the New York Foundation for the Arts. They are: National Book Award-nominee Christine Schutt, author of All Souls; Guggenheim honoree Paul LaFarge, author of Haussmann, or The Distinction; and me. Drink specials will benefit our sponsor, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, and we suggest a donation of one gently used book. The event is free, and if you are, too, it would be great to see you. (For directions, see Time Out.)
If you’re arriving here because of my appearance on Midmorning, welcome! By way of a little background, I started The Millions in early 2003 when I was a bookseller at an independent bookstore in Los Angeles. I’ve since moved on from there, but the blog has stuck around. We now have several contributors besides me, and we write daily about books and other cultural topics.Regarding the topic of today’s show, you can read some additional thoughts of ours in these posts.Bandaids for Broken Book SectionsThe Era of the Trusted Fellow ReaderAuthority, an Anniversary, and Book ReviewingWe also suggest that you take a look at our Book Review Index, which includes all the reviews ever penned for The Millions by both our regular contributors and our many, many guests. The reviews range from our longest considerations, to our briefest squibs, to appreciations and ruminations. And don’t miss our Year in Reading, our end-of-the-year series for which we asked dozens of well-known writers and bloggers to tell us about the best book they read all year.Finally, if you like what you see here, please bookmark the site or subscribe to our RSS feed. Thanks!Update: A link to listen to the segment should be up at the MPR site soon (I went on around minute 35). If you heard the segment, let us know what you thought. Leave a comment below.
I’ve added some fiction writing classes to the Writing Workshops Los Angeles fall roster. If you live in the LA area, and you’re interested in participating in any of these, please email me at [email protected] to reserve a spot. All classes will be held in my Los Feliz home, where refreshments (and the occasional gourmet cheese) will be served.I’m especially excited about the Novel Writing Workshop I’m teaching, a course I’ve been devising since the day I began my own beast of a book…Introduction to Fiction Writing: Weekend SeminarSaturday, September 6, 2008 and Sunday, September 7, 200810 am to 3 pm (includes one hour lunch break)In this seminar we will explore the major tenets of fiction writing, including characterization, narrative voice, prose style, point of view, scene and summary, dialogue, and structure. Over the course of the seminar, we will continually return to certain questions: How can we use language to capture the uncapturable? How can a bunch of words on the page move us, make us understand what it means to be human? How can form and technique help us to improve as writers? In an attempt to answer these questions, we will look to published fiction for guidance, and dive into various writing exercises. Students will leave the seminar with the beginnings of several promising projects, as well as the skills to follow through with them.No prior fiction writing experience is required for this course, although more experienced writers will also find the course useful.New student rate: $125/studentEnrollment Limit: 8 StudentsNovel Writing WorkshopMondays, September 8, 2008 to November 17, 2008 (11 weeks)7:30 pm to 9:30 pmBecause the novelist faces different struggles and joys than the writer of short fiction, I’ve created an 11-week course specifically designed for those students working on longer projects.We will begin this class by discussing The Great Gatsby from a writer’s perspective, analyzing how Fitzgerald constructed (or failed to construct?) his masterpiece. From there, we will alternate weeks between critiquing students’ novels-in-progress, and discussing craft as it pertains to novel writing – in particular, structure, voice, character, and pacing. We will workshop one manuscript (up to 100 pages) every other week, devoting an entire class to each student’s work-in-progress. In our craft discussions, the writings of Aristotle, John Gardner, E.M. Forster, and James Wood will be explored; we’ll also do a few in-class exercises. On these craft weeks, there will be no outside reading or writing assignments so that students can give attention to their own novels, and to the upcoming workshop manuscript.To qualify for this class, you must have at least 80 pages of a novel manuscript written before the class begins.New Student Rate: $385/studentEnrollment Limit: 5 StudentsAdvanced Short Fiction Workshop IThursdays, September 4, 2008 to October 16, 2008 (6 weeks—no class on 9/11/08)7:30 to 9:30 pmThis 6 week workshop will be a deeper exploration of various fiction techniques such as voice, character, structure and point of view. We will spend the first two weeks doing in-class writing exercises and reading published short fiction from a writer’s perspective. The remaining 4 weeks of the course will be devoted to workshopping student work in an intense yet respectful environment designed to challenge and inspire every member of the class. Each student will have the opportunity to workshop one short story manuscript.New student rate: $325/studentEnrollment limit: 8 studentsAdvanced Short Fiction Workshop II (Same class as above, just a second section)Thursdays, October 23, 2008 to December 4, 2008 (6 weeks—no class 11/27/08)7:30 to 9:30 pmThis 6-week workshop will be a deeper exploration of various fiction techniques such as voice, character, structure and point of view. We will spend the first two weeks doing in-class writing exercises and reading published short fiction from a writer’s perspective. The remaining 4 weeks of the course will be devoted to workshopping student work in an intense yet respectful environment designed to challenge and inspire every member of the class. Each student will have the opportunity to workshop one short story manuscript.New student rate: $325/studentEnrollment limit: 8 students
I find it hard to believe, but today is the one year anniversary of The Millions, making this little Blog About Books a veritable ancient in the “blog world.” Authoring this blog has been a great experience for me. It turned me from an unmotivated, but ostensibly “aspiring” writer, into someone who writes for an audience every day and can now seriously contemplate life as a writer without much dread. If there’s any folks out there who are contemplating a similar sort of writing life, putting together a blog is a great way to get the kinks out, not to mention all the web skills you pick up along the way.When I first started The Millions it wasn’t even a blog about books, it was just a… blog. My buddy Derek had had a blog for a while and was really into it. It looked like fun and I was getting tired of trying to muster up the energy to write in my journal each day, so I decided to give it a try. My first post appears to have been about politics, and I think it was my last post about politics. I kind of meandered along like that for a while, writing intermittently about art lectures and rock and roll shows and things like that until one day in the shower, where I have most of my epiphanies, I had an epiphany. A Blog About Books. “I’ve decided to reinvent The Millions…”, I wrote. A manifesto soon followed. And it was followed again and again by more and more manifestos. And of course I went bookfinding and bookspotting. And occasionally people read the blog and they seemed to enjoy it and some of them even left comments or emailed me or asked me a book question. It’s been fun. I hope to keep doing it, too. I don’t have a lot of readers, 30 to 60 a day, and most of those are family members, but I’m pretty addicted to it. This year brings lots of busyness and lots of changes. I’m getting married, moving, and going back to school, but maybe I’ll find the time to make it to The Millions anniversary #2 on March 24th, 2005; you’ll have to keep reading to find out.The anniversary might be a good time to post another manifesto, and since I think I may have written a (small) one today in responding to an email from a reader, I might as well put it up here:I lean perhaps too much on the side of being uncritical about books. In fact, I prefer to allow the books I read to be a jumping off point for conversation or to talk about the experience of reading a particular book. I feel like that there is so much qualitative judgment being passed on books (…and music…and movies) that it tends to drown out the other stuff… so I haven’t wanted The Millions to add to the din of the review culture. Having said that, I think it IS important to pass qualitative judgment on books, but it is far more important to single out (and try to get people to read) the good ones instead of knocking down the bad ones. I also fear that my usual positivity makes me seem like a corporate shill for Amazon, but I’m hoping that most of my readers aren’t so cynical. I just happened to have all of this on my mind since it turns out that today is the one year anniversary of The Millions.Thanks to all you trusted fellow readers!
The Millions was started on this day seven years, four urls, and umpteen layouts ago. Though it is now unrecognizable to anyone who hasn’t visited since nudging their Internet Explorer 6 over to that long gone blogspot address, the core mission that I developed in that first year for this project largely remains unchanged.
In those early months, when I was nearly broke and working at a bookstore, before I was married and went to grad school, and before I had much notion that this site would be anything at all (let alone what it is today), I wrote what would probably be the closest we’ve ever come to a manifesto (going against my subsequent preference to let The Millions’ larger purpose be self-evident). The nut: “Given that you and I will only be able to read a finite number of books in our lifetime, then we should try, as much as possible, to devote ourselves to reading only the ones that are worth reading, while bearing in mind that for every vapid, uninspiring book we read, we are bumping from our lifetime reading list a book that might give us a profound sort of joy.”
I’ve probably not lived up to that lofty goal in the years since, but it’s a nice sentiment to aspire to.
Funnily enough, at the end of that piece I wrote something that nearly seven years later is like a time capsule from an internet stone age: “Anybody know of any decent book blogs or websites about books?… I haven’t been able to find any besides Arts & Letters Daily and the various newspaper book sections, of course.”
Granted, this could be partially chalked up to my being an online neophyte at the time, but by any measure the last seven years have been a period of proliferating discourse about books and arts. And though the gloom in many corners of the publishing and media industries is sometimes warranted, I maintain that there’s never been a better time to be reader in terms of access to books and communities of fellow readers.
While this is a big day for The Millions, it’s nowhere near as big as August 16, 2009 was. That was the day that we relaunched The Millions in this new incarnation and the site, almost overnight, grew up and became something different (and thankfully our loyal long-term readers came along for the ride, in no small measure because our designer Sean Tice understood what The Millions was all about when he embarked on the design.) In future years, we may point to that date as when The Millions really came into being, everything up until then being a long period of gestation for the site you see today.
I wouldn’t have expected this, but two things happened right away after the redesign. First, the more magazine-like look unconsciously pushed us farther in the direction of focusing on standalone, long-form content. With the Curiosities section offering the perfect repository for interesting links and one-off observations, our writers set themselves to the task of putting out essays and reviews that (in my biased opinion) are with few peers in the world of cultural coverage. The Millions has never been shy about posting longer (if not always weightier) pieces, but this year the site seemed to find its calling as a regularly updated font of such things.
Second, pitches from writers all over the world began flowing into my inbox. It was as though the redesign was also a huge “writers wanted” sign. The Millions has long had a tradition of publishing terrific guest contributions, but since the redesign especially we have posted many dozens of thoughtful pieces by both talented “beginners” and established pros. A look at our “About” page reveals The Millions as a place where precocious college students (and younger) can be published alongside National Book Award winners. I don’t know what this means, necessarily, but it makes me happy.
With the redesign, the securing of our domain name just prior to that, and our ongoing commitment to paying our regular writers, this year also represented the first year of significant investment back into The Millions. Without caveat, this was made possible by the generous patronage of our readers and we sincerely hope that you’ll continue to lend your support going forward. Click here to find out how.
Finally, because anniversaries are a nice moment to look back, I’ll leave you with some of my favorite things from The Millions over the last year. Garth updated his “Walking Tour of New York’s Independent Bookstores” and we joined readers in taking the tour. Fun was had by all. We hope to do something like this again one day. Garth and I put together a three-parter on the future of book coverage online (starting here). We named our favorite reference books. We learned about finding Indie opportunity on the Kindle, the overseas frenzy over Haruki Murakami’s forthcoming opus, and what goes into getting your book cover designed. We tallied up the prizewinners and wrote an open letter to Kanye West. We asked, what’s your “just one book?”
We tried to determine the best book of the millennium (so far) and our readers helped. Edan ogled author photos, Emily M. worked the double shift, and Emily W. prized apert Twilight. We had our Year in Reading. I interviewed a book pirate and Anne interviewed John Banville. Kevin reflected on his parents’ bookshelves, Andrew his grandfather’s papers, and Edan her own. Lydia reviewed Pamuk and won a prize. And Patrick, once and for all, devised a unified theory of reality TV.
Look for more in year 8. Thanks for reading The Millions.