Growing up in California, our own Michael Bourne didn’t have a full sense of his own privilege until 1981, when a chance encounter with a group of teenagers dressed up as skeletons woke him up to the realities of segregation in America. In a long essay for Orange Coast Review, he goes over the meaning of that incident, complete with meditations on Marin County, his abandoned early novel and his family’s history in Danville, Virginia. Pair with: Michael’s piece for The Millions on Tess Taylor’s The Forage House.
“She told the students not to explain too much, that they could throw in expressions in Igbo or Yoruba or pidgin and trust the reader to get it. She told them that even if a story was autobiographical it should be shaped—that, for instance, although in life you could have ten close friends, in fiction you could not, because it was too confusing. She told them to avoid inflated language—’never purchase when you can buy.'” A delightful (and somewhat rare) long profile of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the New Yorker.
In 1979, William Gaddis taught a course at Bard College on “The Literature of Failure,” examining works that somehow focused on personal failure or insufficiency. These included, among other books, Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays, as well as Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. In Bookforum, Casey Michael Henry takes on a related genre: the literature of obsolescence. You could also read James Cappio on meeting Gaddis in person.
Newsweek names “The Most Dangerous Man in Publishing.”Adam Kirsch interviewed about his new bio of Benjamin Disraeli.”Daily Routines: How writers, artists, and other interesting people organize their days.” (via Jacket Copy)David Horvitz discovers several pages of his writing in this year’s Dave Eggers-edited Best American Nonrequired Reading. He was not told that his work (pulled from his website) would be appearing in the book. Now he is peeved and has made several demands. (No permalinks, so check out the long Dec. 9 entry.) (Thanks Buzz)The LA Times unveils its Favorite Books 2008.Google’s year-end “Zeitgeist” of 2008 search activity. Breaking Dawn the unsurprising top search.Recently discovered aggregators of quality content: The Browser and Give Me Something to Read.This week’s Wikipedia treat: a gem of alternative punctuation: the “irony mark.” In the history section of that entry, take note of the “doubt point, certitude point, acclamation point, authority point, indignation point, and love point.”Scott gets to the bottom of the striking new cover designs on Dalkey Archive Press’ books.NPR features an excerpt from Firmin, a Millions favorite (and former LBC pick) that is soon to be published in a new edition by Delta, a Random House imprint.The Association of American Publishers teams with several celebs to create BooksAreGreatGifts.com and accompanying YouTube vid. “Books make great gifts because they are an amazing way to kill time while your web site is buffering.” – Jon Stewart. (thanks Laurie)
Last week, we discussed how Teju Cole has mastered literary Twitter, and that was before we knew that he tweeted a 4,000-word essay on immigration. “A Piece of the Wall” is composed of 250 tweets written during a seven-hour period and starts with: “I hear the sound of faint bells in the distance. It is like a sound in a dream, or the jingling at the beginning of a Christmas song.”
We have some bad news, writers. People actually dislike creative thinking. Despite how society celebrates creativity, most people are too risk averse to appreciate it, studies indicate. What’s the upside? Social rejection can bolster your creativity, but most writers probably knew that already.
Half of all restaurants that open close,” WORD owner Christine Onorati says. On the other hand, Red Lemonade publisher Richard Nash hopes former Borders employees can find ways to continue “operating as the matchmakers of the book ecosystem.”
“Writing difference is a challenge, particularly in fiction. How do men write women and vice versa? How do writers of one race or ethnicity write about people of another race or ethnicity? More important, how do writers tackle difference without reducing their characters to caricatures or stereotypes?” Roxane Gay reviews Joyce Carol Oates‘s The Sacrifice and simultaneously explains how to write difference well. Hint: it “demands empathy, an ability to respect the humanity of those you mean to represent.”