Considering the sheer volume of references in the cultural air, you probably believe you have a pretty good grasp of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. To this I say, hold up there, Straw Man Reader — Ye Olde Romance That Could has more to it than you think.
“It all adds up to a fascinating portrait-of-the-artist-on-the-make in the booming 1950s. And it makes you wish the stories were better.” Year-in-Reading alum Jess Walter reviews a new (911-page) collection of stories by Kurt Vonnegut. See also: “2 B R 0 2 B”, a “lost” Vonnegut story that first appeared in the sci-fi journal Worlds of If in January 1962.
Scientists confirmed recently that writers are more likely to struggle with mental illness (sometimes, as recently noted, due to syphilis). Since we’re so used to our alcoholic literary greats, and a smattering of suicidal ones (Plath, Woolf, Thompson, Wallace–and many more), this comes as no great surprise. On a happier note, a new study using fMRIs and MFA students has found that writers show different brain patterns than “normal people” just writing: in fact they resemble “expert” thinking patterns of all professionals doing what they’re best at–musicians, athletes, competitive Scrabble players. I don’t know if I’m happier to learn the fMRIs found no gaping black holes, or that MFAs do in fact teach you something.
If your characters go on a road trip, do you have to take one, too? When Mary Miller wrote The Last Days of California about a family driving from Alabama to California to meet the rapture, she hadn’t even been to the desert herself. To ensure it was accurate, though, she mapped important destinations on the route. “For Western Louisiana, I thought, ‘Is there actually a Waffle House within forty miles of this border?’ because I wanted it to be accurate. So I had maps, and I was tracking mileage,” she told Down & Out.
Jeff Sharlet traveled to Russia because he “wanted to see what ordinary LGBT life was like in a nation whose leaders have decided that ‘homosexualism’ is a threat to its ‘sexual sovereignty.’” What he found was unsettling and terrifying, but the courage of the LGBT community members he interviewed is also incredibly inspiring. Set aside time to read this one. It’s essential.
“I always think, ‘What if I can’t?’ Then I always think, ‘Oh shit, don’t think that.’ Because thinking about it can make it happen. Not like it’s happened that often. But I get scared about it. We all do. Anybody that tells you they don’t they’re full of it. They’re always scared it might happen.” There’s a lot of really bad writing about sex. This is a piece about some of the good stuff.