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.
“The myth of the full-time writer is a perniciously sticky one—and it doesn’t help that once in a blue moon a J.K. Rowling does come along, thereby entrenching the cultural delusion that being a full-time writer is a thing that could realistically happen. But the truth is that being a full-time writer is basically just the literary equivalent of a career in the NBA.” Liz Entman Harper talks with seven writers about the struggle to balance writing with a day job, and those interviews pair well with our own Emily St. John Mandel‘s look at “Working the Double Shift.”
Recommended Reading: Kayla Williams‘s overview of books about war written by women veterans. “Works have been published by women veterans from all four branches of service, officers and enlisted, active duty and reservists, and from multiple ethnic backgrounds. Their diverse voices can significantly deepen our understanding of both who volunteers to serve in today’s military and what they experience.”
Recommended reading: on dictionary-related panics from The New Yorker. Pair with our own Bill Morris‘s Millions essay “Prescriptivists vs. Descriptivists: The Fifth Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary.”
What drives the Year in Reading alum and Boy, Snow, Bird author Helen Oyeyemi? If we can believe her interview with The Globe and Mail, it isn’t just the enjoyment she derives from writing fiction. When asked why she wrote her new book, she said: “A few reasons, but mainly to see if I could…at this point, it’s perversity that keeps me writing.”
William T. Vollmann has a new book out, Riding Toward Everywhere about riding freight trains. In what must be a first for Vollmann, the Washington Post describes the book as a “modest little volume.”The New Yorker held a contest to reinterpret Eustace Tilley, its “iconic dandy.” The entries are posted on Flickr.The anxiety brought on by selling books to the used bookstore.The Atlantic website goes free. Everything back to 1995 is available.n+1 interviews a hedge fund manager. It’s surprisingly fascinating (if you skim the technical stuff).Also in the world of big money, a record was broken on Monday. As global markets plummeted, French bank Societe Generale was selling frantically. The bank had just discovered that an employee had fraudulently lost $7.2 billion, believed to be the most ever by a “rogue trader.”