“I’m writing about people. Man involved in the human dilemma, facing the problems bigger than he, whether he licks them or whether they lick him. But man as frail and fragile as he is, yet he will keep on trying to be brave and honest and compassionate, and that, to me, is very fine and very interesting — and that is the reason I think any writer writes.” William Faulkner on why writers write in a rare recording from the University of Virginia, via Brain Pickings.
"Somehow, in my eagerness to honor these words, I’d tamed the political intentions behind their meaning. I’d reduced my icon’s truths into affirmational pick-me-ups rather than letting them sink deeper." Dianca Potts reflects on how to best to appreciate the fullness of Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison. We need to resist erasing their complexities in our haste to embrace them as icons or reduce them to inspirational quotes.
New this week: Karen Russell's new collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove; buzzed-about thriller The Dinner by Herman Koch; Harvest by Jim Crace; Fight Song by Joshua Mohr; the final novel of the late Maeve Binchy, A Week in Winter; Tara Conklin's debut The House Girl; and James Lasdun's non-fiction Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked.
“Despite a glut of English translations (well over a hundred, by my count),” writes Dante scholar Robert Pogue Harrison, “New versions of the entire [Divine Comedy] poem or individual canticles continue to appear in rapid succession—six in the last decade alone.” Over at the New York Review of Books, he investigates three of the latest: Dan Brown’s Inferno, Mary Jo Bang’s Inferno, and Clive James’s Divine Comedy.
The Atlantic interviews Erin Gruwell, a teacher whose methods for teaching her students about prejudice became the basis of a book (and subsequent movie) called The Freedom Writers. Named after a group of bus-riding civil rights activists, the students in her classes wrote lengthy journal entries -- many of them relating to their own personal traumas -- in order to compare them with diaries by historical figures. Writing journals, Gruwell says, helped her students learn to like schoolwork.
Last week, I directed you to a piece in The Atlantic by John Yorke on the substance of stories. His argument: that all stories have one thing in common–their plot. Now, Lincoln Michel at Electric Literature suggests that rather it is all story structure models that have one thing in common–and that thing is bullshit.
At The Morning News, a wide-ranging conversation with the writer Philip Graham, most recently the author of The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon. Included is his account of getting a story into the New Yorker off the slush pile, and a footnote touting The Millions and other online literary venues as places to find great book recommendations.