“People used to wish that life could be as it is in books—that it could have the beauty, drama, and shapeliness that writers gave it. Today, by contrast, we hope desperately that life is not really like our writers portray it; in other words, we hope that writers are not representative men and women, but unfit beings whose perceptions are filtered through their unhealth. It is necessary to hope this, because if life were as it appears in our literature it would be unlivable.” Adam Kirsch explores the downside of literary nostalgia.
“Why do we love our writing teachers so much? I think it’s because they come along when we need them most, when we are young and vulnerable and are tentatively approaching this craft that our culture doesn’t have much respect for, but which we are beginning to love. They have so much power. They could mock us, disregard us, use us to prop themselves up. But our teachers, if they are good, instead do something almost holy, which we never forget: they take us seriously.” George Saunders offers a timeline of his writing education over at The New Yorker.
In the world of selling books, it’s not all about the sentences. At Ploughshares, agent Eric Nelson argues: A fresh plot matters and unusual characters do, too. “The most interesting books have characters who do the opposite of what we’d do… Imagine Hamlet, if Hamlet took decisive action. Horror movies wouldn’t exist at all without the idiot who always suggests they split up.”
It’s not a commonly held opinion, but Hilary Mantel thinks Henry VIII was a romantic. In a brief interview with Jamie Sharpe, the Wolf Hall author dispels the common view of the oft-married king as a philanderer. “He thought that he had to shape his life and shape his kingdom for each woman,” she says. “Men didn’t think that way in those days.” You could also read Damian Barr’s interview with her at The Millions.