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What to Listen To: Longform Podcast

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Long-form journalism—creative nonfiction which is longer than a traditional article but shorter than a novel—is all the rage these days. Whether you believe the genre has made a comeback or you feel it had never gone away, it’s hard to ignore the growing excitement for recently developed sites such as Byliner, Atavist, Longreads, and Longform.

Earlier this year, Buzzfeed announced its long-form section, breaking from its forte, the listicle; and just this past summer, The New York Times announced it was developing a new, long-form digital magazine.

Those who seek these medium length stories will be happy to know that Longform has a weekly podcast.

Hosted by Longform co-founders Aaron Lammer and Max Linsky, and Founder and Editor of Atavist, Evan Ratliff, the show asks nonfiction writers and editors about their assignments, creative processes, and careers. These free-flowing conversations offer invaluable insight into the world of journalism and the writers who bring you the stories.

Whether you’re a writer or a media junkie, this podcast, with sixty-five episodes in its archive, will be a highlight of your week. Here are just a few places to start, in descending date order.

Gay Talese
Gay Talese began his writing career with The New York Times as their sports reporter in the late 50s. In the mid 60s he left to write full-time for Esquire. Talese is known for his profiles, most notably the one on Sinatra, “Sinatra Has a Cold,” which ran in Esquire in 1966.
Extra credit: Gay Talese, The Art of Nonfiction, No. 2; The Paris Review

Edith Zimmerman
Edith Zimmerman, Founding Editor of The Hairpin, talks about starting up the affiliate site to The Awl, running it, and handing it over to someone else. Known for unconventional approaches to writing profiles, she talks about her piece on Chris Evans, written for GQ, and what contributed to its originality.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper
Natasha Vargas-Cooper talks about crime reporting, her approach to perspective, trying to write a book in 30 days, and her interest in the human narrative. Her writing has appeared in GQ, Spin, New York, and on BuzzFeed.

Ann Friedman
Anyone familiar with Ann Friedman’s advice column on the Columbia Journalism Review’s website, #realtalk, won’t be surprised to hear that her episode is full of excellent tips for freelancers, like creating a weekly email newsletter and drinking with editors.
Extra credit: Ann writes a weekly column at The Cut on New York magazine’s website and recently wrote a piece about LinkedIn for The Baffler.

Emily Nussbaum
Emily Nussbaum, television critic for The New Yorker, talks about criticism today, how she chooses what to write about, and how Twitter helps her brainstorm.
Extra credit: Read Emily’s archive at The New Yorker. Follow her coverage on Twitter.

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Written by Gabrielle

October 29, 2013 at 6:29 am

New in Paperback for October

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It was near impossible keeping this month’s roundup short. Lots of good stuff coming out in October. Hit the bookstores! 

How to Read a Novelist by John Freeman
How to Read a NovelistFor the last fifteen years, whenever a novel was published, John Freeman was there to greet it. As a critic for more than two hundred newspapers worldwide, the onetime president of the National Book Critics Circle, and the current editor of Granta, he has reviewed thousands of books and interviewed scores of writers. In How to Read a Novelist, which pulls together his very best profiles (many of them new or completely rewritten for this volume) of the very best novelists of our time, he shares with us what he’s learned.

From such international stars as Doris Lessing, Haruki Murakami, Salman Rushdie, and Mo Yan, to established American lions such as Don DeLillo, Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, Marilynne Robinson, Philip Roth, John Updike, and David Foster Wallace, to the new guard of Edwidge Danticat, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen, and more, Freeman has talked to everyone.

What emerges is an instructive and illuminating, definitive yet still idiosyncratic guide to a diverse and lively literary culture: a vision of the novel as a varied yet vital contemporary form, a portrait of the novelist as a unique and profound figure in our fragmenting global culture, and a book that will be essential reading for every aspiring writer and engaged reader—a perfect companion (or gift!) for anyone who’s ever curled up with a novel and wanted to know a bit more about the person who made it possible.

Frequencies Volume 3
TFrequencies 3he latest installment of “Frequencies” follows Norman Mailer and George Plimpton to Vienna for a staged reading of “Zelda,” based on correspondence between Ernest Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds. D. Foy tracks krump, from street-art to reality television.Plus: Antonia Crane on being down-and-out in San Francisco, and a discussion between photographer Lynn Davis and husband, Rudolph Wurlitzer.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe
Marvel ComicsIn the early 1960s, a struggling company called Marvel Comics presented a cast of brightly costumed characters distinguished by smart banter and compellingly human flaws: Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men. Over the course of half a century, Marvel’s epic universe would become the most elaborate fictional narrative in history and serve as a modern American mythology for millions of readers.

For the first time, Marvel Comics reveals the outsized personalities behind the scenes, including Martin Goodman, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and generations of editors, artists, and writers who struggled with commercial mandates, a fickle audience, and–over matters of credit and control–one another. Marvel Comics is a story of fertile imaginations, lifelong friendships, action-packed fistfights, and third-act betrayals–a narrative of one of the most extraordinary, beloved, and beleaguered pop-cultural entities in America’s history.

The Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna
Revolution of Every DayIn the midnineties, New York’s Lower East Side contained a city within its shadows: a community of squatters who staked their claims on abandoned tenements and lived and worked within their own parameters, accountable to no one but each other. With gritty prose and vivid descriptions, Cari Luna’s debut novel, “The Revolution of Every Day,” imagines the lives of five squatters from that time. But almost more threatening than the city lawyers and the private developers trying to evict them are the rifts within their community. Amelia, taken in by Gerrit as a teen runaway seven years earlier, is now pregnant by his best friend, Steve. Anne, married to Steve, is questioning her commitment to the squatter lifestyle. Cat, a fading legend of the downtown scene and unwitting leader of one of the squats, succumbs to heroin. The misunderstandings and assumptions, the secrets and the dissolution of the hope that originally bound these five threaten to destroy their homes as surely as the city’s battering rams. “The Revolution of Every Day” shows readers a life that few people, including the New Yorkers who passed the squats every day, know about or understand.

What Are You Looking At?: The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art by Will Gompertz
what are you looking at?In the tradition of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, art history with a sense of humor

Every year, millions of museum and gallery visitors ponder the modern art on display and secretly ask themselves, “Is this art?” A former director at London’s Tate Gallery and now the BBC arts editor, Will Gompertz made it his mission to bring modern art’s exciting history alive for everyone, explaining why an unmade bed or a pickled shark can be art—and why a five-year-old couldn’t really do it.

Rich with extraordinary tales and anecdotes, What Are You Looking At? entertains as it arms readers with the knowledge to truly understand and enjoy what it is they’re looking at.

The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf
Black SpiderIt is a sunny summer Sunday in a remote Swiss village, and a christening is being celebrated at a lovely old farmhouse. One of the guests notes an anomaly in the fabric of the venerable edifice: a blackened post that has been carefully built into a trim new window frame. Thereby hangs a tale, one that, as the wise old grandfather who has lived all his life in the house proceeds to tell it, takes one chilling turn after another, while his audience listens in appalled silence. Featuring a cruelly overbearing lord of the manor and the oppressed villagers who must render him service, an irreverent young woman who will stop at nothing, a mysterious stranger with a red beard and a green hat, and, last but not least, the black spider, the tale is as riveting and appalling today as when Jeremias Gotthelf set it down more than a hundred years ago. The Black Spider can be seen as a parable of evil in the heart or of evil at large in society (Thomas Mann saw it as foretelling the advent of Nazism), or as a vision, anticipating H. P. Lovecraft, of cosmic horror. There’s no question, in any case, that it is unforgettably creepy.

The Dark by Sergio Chejfec
The DarkOpening with the presently shut-in narrator reminiscing about a past relationship with Delia, a young factory worker,The Dark employs Chejfec’s signature style with an emphasis on the geography and motion of the mind, to recount the time the narrator spent with this multifaceted, yet somewhat absent, woman. On their daily walks he becomes privy to the ways in which the working class functions; he studies and analyzes its structure and mindset, finding it incredibly organized, self-explanatory, and even beautiful. He repeatedly attempts to apply his “book” knowledge to explain what he sees and wants to understand of Delia’s existence, and though the difference between their social classes is initially a source of great intrigue—if not obsession—he must eventually learn that there comes a point where the boundary between observer and participant can dissolve with disarming speed.

The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth by Robert Graves
White GoddessThis labyrinthine and extraordinary book, first published more than sixty years ago, was the outcome of Robert Graves’s vast reading and curious research into strange territories of folklore, mythology, religion, and magic. Erudite and impassioned, it is a scholar-poet’s quest for the meaning of European myths, a polemic about the relations between man and woman, and also an intensely personal document in which Graves explores the sources of his own inspiration and, as he believed, all true poetry.

Incorporating all of Graves’s final revisions, his replies to two of the original reviewers, and an essay describing the months of illumination in which The White Goddess was written, this is the definitive edition of one of the most influential books of our time.

Leapfrog by Guillermo Rosales
LeapfrogLeapfrog depicts one summer in the life of a very poor young boy in post-revolutionary Havana in the late ’50s. He has superhero fantasies, hangs around with the neighborhood kids, smokes cigarettes, tells very lame jokes: “By the way, do you know who died? No. Someone who was alive. Laughter.” The kids fight, discuss the mysteries of religion and sex, and play games — such as leapfrog. So vivid and so very credible, Leapfrog reads as if Rosales had simply transcribed everything that he’d heard or said for this one moving and touching book about a lost childhood.

Leapfrog was a finalist for Cuba’s prestigious Casa de las Americas award in 1968. Years later, Rosales’s sister told The Miami Herald that Rosales felt he hadn’t won the prize because his book lacked sufficient leftist fervor, and that subtle critiques of cruel children and hypocritical adults throughout the playful recollections had clearly “rankled” state officials. In the end the novel never appeared in Cuba. It was first published in Spain in 1994, a year after Rosales’s death.

Written by Gabrielle

October 1, 2013 at 6:42 am

New in Paperback for September

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Here are a few new paperbacks to usher in the fall season, and some you might have missed in hardcover last year.

The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury by Sam Weller
Bradbury ChroniclesAccomplished journalist Sam Weller met the Ray Bradbury while writing a cover story for the Chicago Tribune Magazine and spent hundreds of hours interviewing Bradbury, his editors, family members, and longtime friends. With unprecedented access to private archives, he uncovered never–before–published letters, documents, and photographs that help tell the story of this literary genius and his remarkable creative journey. The result is a richly textured, detailed biography that illuminates the origins and accomplishments of Bradbury’s fascinating mind.

All We Know: Three Lives by Lisa Cohen
All We KnowEsther Murphy was a brilliant New York intellectual who dazzled friends and strangers with an unstoppable flow of conversation. But she never finished the books she was contracted to write—a painful failure, and yet a kind of achievement.

The quintessential fan, Mercedes de Acosta had intimate friendships with the legendary actresses and dancers of the twentieth century. Her ephemeral legacy is the thousands of objects she collected to preserve the memory of those performers and to document her own feelings.

An icon of haute couture and an editor of British Vogue, Madge Garland held influential views on fashion that drew on her feminism, her ideas about modernity, and her love of women. Existing both vividly and invisibly at the center of culture, she—like Murphy and de Acosta—is now almost completely forgotten.

 In All We Know, Lisa Cohen describes these women’s glamorous choices, complicated failures, and controversial personal lives with lyricism and empathy. At once a series of intimate portraits and a startling investigation into style, celebrity, sexuality, and the genre of biography itself, All We Know explores a hidden history of modernism and pays tribute to three compelling lives.

My Heart is an Idiot: Essays by Davy Rothbart
My Heart is an IdiotIn My Heart Is an Idiot, Davy Rothbart is looking for love in all the wrong places. Constantly. He falls helplessly in love with pretty much every girl he meets—and rarely is the feeling reciprocated. Time after time, he hops in a car and tears halfway across America with his heart on his sleeve. He’s continually coming up with outrageous schemes and adventures, which he always manages to pull off. Well, almost always. But even when things don’t work out, Rothbart finds meaning and humor in every moment.

Whether it’s confronting a scammer who takes money from aspiring writers, sifting through a murder case that’s left a potentially innocent friend in prison, or waking up naked on a park bench in New York City, nothing and no one is off limits. And it’s all recounted in Davy’s singular, spirited literary voice, “an intriguing hybrid of timeless midwestern warmth and newfangled jive talk,” in the words of Sarah Vowell.

A Schoolboy’s Diary and Other Stories by Robert Walser, introduction by Ben Lerner, translated from the German by Damion Searls
Schoolboy's DiaryA Schoolboy’s Diary brings together more than seventy of Robert Walser’s strange and wonderful stories, most never before available in English. Opening with a sequence from Walser’s first book, “Fritz Kocher’s Essays,” the complete classroom assignments of a fictional boy who has met a tragically early death, this selection ranges from sketches of uncomprehending editors, overly passionate readers, and dreamy artists to tales of devilish adultery, sexual encounters on a train, and Walser’s service in World War I. Throughout, Walser’s careening, confounding, delicious voice holds the reader transfixed.

High Tide by Inga Ābele
High TideTold more or less in reverse chronological order, High Tide is the story of Ieva, her dead lover, her imprisoned husband, and the way their youthful decisions dramatically impacted the rest of their lives. Taking place over three decades, High Tide functions as a sort of psychological mystery, with the full scope of Ieva’s personal situation—and the relationship between the three main characters—only becoming clear at the end of the novel.

One of Latvia’s most notable young writers, Ābele is a fresh voice in European fiction—her prose is direct, evocative, and exceptionally beautiful. The combination of strikingly lush descriptive writing with the precision with which she depicts the minds of her characters elevates this novel from a simple story of a love triangle into a fascinating, philosophical, haunting book.

Sunday Night Movies by Leanne Shapton
Sunday Night MoviesSunday Night Movies features Leanne Shapton’s watercolors of resonant moments in black-and-white cinema. Selecting a brief fragment of each chosen film, she creates an indelible image that is both a hand-painted movie still and a personal response to a fleeting celluloid moment.

Together, the seventy-eight paintings create a valentine to the world of cinema. Shapton’s journey through film history becomes a wistful celebration of the subtle moments in stories, which can often slip by unnoticed. What could be a simple title, still life, or portrait of an actor becomes both illusive and allusive through the medium of these personal paintings.

Shapton’s bestselling Petit Livre book The Native Trees of Canada took a decades-old government catalogue and reimagined it, employing bold colors and stark shapes to represent familiar trees in their majestic glory. The book was a sleeper hit and went through multiple printings. With Sunday Night Movies she brings her love of film to light, and the effect is restrained and fanciful, familiar and all new.

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D. T. Max
Every Love StorySince his untimely death by suicide at the age of forty-six in 2008, David Foster Wallace has become more than the representative writer of his literary generation—he has become a symbol of sincerity and honesty in an inauthentic age, a figure whose reputation and reach grow by the day. In this compulsively readable biography, D. T. Max charts Wallace’s tormented, anguished, and often triumphant battle to succeed as a novelist as he fights off depression and addiction to emerge with his masterpiece, Infinite Jest. Written with the cooperation of Wallace family members and friends and with access to hundreds of Wallace’s unpublished letters, manuscripts, and journals, this revelatory biography illuminates the unique connections between Wallace’s life and his fiction in a gripping and deeply moving narrative that will transfix readers.

Mira Corpora by Jeff Jackson
Mira CorporaLiterary and inventive, but also fast-paced and gripping, “Mira Corpora” charts the journey of a young runaway. A coming-of-age story for people who hate coming-of-age stories, featuring a colony of outcast children, teenage oracles, amusement parks haunted by gibbons, mysterious cassette tapes, and a reclusive underground rockstar.

With astounding precision, Jackson weaves a moving tale of discovery and self-preservation across a startling, vibrant landscape.

Written by Gabrielle

September 3, 2013 at 6:55 am

New in Paperback for August

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Whether they’re reissues, reprints, or originals, there are some great books coming out in August in paperback. Here are just a few.

Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (reissue)
CreativityThe classic study of the creative process from the national bestselling author of Flow.

Creativity is about capturing those moments that make life worth living. Legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reveals what leads to these moments—be it the excitement of the artist at the easel or the scientist in the lab—so that this knowledge can be used to enrich people’s lives. Drawing on nearly one hundred interviews with exceptional people, from biologists and physicists, to politicians and business leaders, to poets and artists, as well as his thirty years of research on the subject, Csikszentmihalyi uses his famous flow theory to explore the creative process. He discusses such ideas as why creative individuals are often seen as selfish and arrogant, and why the “tortured genius” is largely a myth. Most important, he explains why creativity needs to be cultivated and is necessary for the future of our country, if not the world.

My 1980s

My 1980s and Other Essays by Wayne Koestenbaum
Wayne Koestenbaum has been described as “an impossible lovechild from a late-night, drunken three-way between Joan Didion, Roland Barthes, and Susan Sontag” (Bidoun). In My 1980s and Other Essays, a collection of extravagant range and style, he rises to the challenge of that improbable description.

My 1980s and Other Essays opens with a series of manifestos—or, perhaps more appropriately, a series of impassioned disclosures, intellectual and personal. It then proceeds to wrestle with a series of major cultural figures, the author’s own lodestars and lodestones: literary (John Ashbery, Roberto Bolaño, James Schuyler), artistic (Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol), and simply iconic (Brigitte Bardot, Cary Grant, Lana Turner). And then there is the personal—the voice, the style, the flair—that is unquestionably Koestenbaum. It amounts to a kind of intellectual autobiography that culminates in a string of passionate calls to creativity; arguments in favor of detail and nuance, and attention; a defense of pleasure, hunger, and desire in culture and experience.

 Koestenbaum is perched on the cusp of being a true public intellectual—his venues are more mainstream than academic, his style is eye-catching, his prose unfailingly witty and passionate, his interests profoundly wide-ranging and popular. My 1980s should be the book that pushes Koestenbaum off that cusp and truly into the public eye.

Necessary Errors by Caleb Crain
Necessary ErrorsAn exquisite debut novel that brilliantly captures the lives and romances of young expatriates in newly democratic Prague It’s October 1990. Jacob Putnam is young and full of ideas. He’s arrived a year too late to witness Czechoslovakia’s revolution, but he still hopes to find its spirit, somehow. He discovers a country at a crossroads between communism and capitalism, and a picturesque city overflowing with a vibrant, searching sense of possibility. As the men and women Jacob meets begin to fall in love with one another, no one turns out to be quite the same as the idea Jacob has of them—including Jacob himself.

Necessary Errors is the long-awaited first novel from literary critic and journalist Caleb Crain. Shimmering and expansive, Crain’s prose richly captures the turbulent feelings and discoveries of youth as it stretches toward adulthood—the chance encounters that grow into lasting, unforgettable experiences and the surprises of our first ventures into a foreign world—and the treasure of living in Prague during an era of historic change.

The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley
Haunted BookshopVolumes disappear and reappear on the shelves, but the ghosts of literature aren’t the only mysterious visitors in Roger Mifflin’s haunted bookshop.

Mifflin, who hawked books out of the back of his van in Christopher Morley’s beloved Parnassus on Wheels, has finally settled down with his own secondhand bookstore in Brooklyn. There, he and his wife, Helen, are content to live and work together, prescribing literature to those who hardly know how much they need it. When Aubrey Gilbert, a young advertising man, visits the shop, he quickly falls under the spell of Mifflin’s young assistant, Titania. But something is amiss in the bookshop, something Mifflin is too distracted to notice, and Gilbert has no choice but to take the young woman’s safety into his own hands. Her life—and the Mifflins’—may depend on it.

Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s by Peter Doggett
Man Who Sold the WorldIn The Man Who Sold the World, acclaimed journalist Peter Doggett explores the rich heritage of David Bowie’s most productive and inspired decade. Viewing the artist through the lens of his music and his many guises, Doggett offers a detailed analysis—musical, lyrical, conceptual, social—of every song Bowie wrote and recorded during that period, as well as a brilliant exploration of the development of a performer who profoundly affected popular music and the idea of stardom itself.

Twin Cities Noir edited by Julie Schaper and Steven Horwitz
Twin Cities NoirLaunched in the summer ’04, Akashic Books continues its groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies. Each book is comprised of all-new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the city of the book.

Brand-new stories by John Jodzio, Tom Kaczynski, Peter Schilling Jr., David Housewright, Steve Thayer, Judith Guest, Mary Logue, Bruce Rubenstein, K.J. Erickson, William Kent Krueger, Ellen Hart, Brad Zellar, Mary Sharratt, Pete Hautman, Larry Millett, Quinton Skinner, Gary Bush, and Chris Everheart.

The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman
Rise of Ransom CityIn The Half-Made World, Felix Gilman took readers deep into a world on the cusp of forging an identity. The Line, a cult of Industry, and the Gun, a mission of Chaos, were engaged in a war for dominance. The Line was winning city by city, enslaving the populations it conquered. A doctor of psychology, Liv Alverhuysen, was caught in the middle, unknowingly guarding a secret that both sides would do anything to have.

Now Liv is lost on the edge of the world with Creedmor, an agent of the Gun, and the powerful Line will stop at nothing to find them. But Harry Ransom, half con man, half mad inventor, is setting the edge of the world aglow. Town by town he is building up a bankroll and leaving hope in his wake because one of his inventions is actually working. But his genius is not going unnoticed, and when he crosses paths with the two most wanted outlaws in the “unmade world,” his stage becomes even larger and presents an opportunity more lucrative than any of his scams or inventions combined.

*Descriptions for these books have been provided by the publishers. 

Written by Gabrielle

July 30, 2013 at 6:48 am

The Difficulty of Being Jean Cocteau

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Difficulty of BeingJean Cocteau, who died at the age of 74 in 1963, was a man of many talents—a poet, a novelist, a filmmaker, and an artist. He wrote the libretto for Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex and was best known for his 1929 novel Les Enfants Terribles and the 1946 film adaptation Beauty and the Beast. After his death, in 1965, he was named the Honorary President of the Cannes Film Festival.

I once read that if you’re in a rut, creative or otherwise, you should read a biography of someone who did great things. Benjamin Franklin comes to mind, as does any social movement leader, but when I saw The Difficulty of Being, Cocteau’s collection of biographical essays—written in 1947— I was curious to know what this polymath had thought about life. As I thumbed through the copy in the bookstore, I noticed that the chapter headings read like Montaigue: “On conversation,” “On my style,” “On friendship,” “On death,” and “On beauty” are just a few.

In his introduction to Melville House’s Neversink Library edition, Geoffrey O’Brien, a critic and the Editor-in-Chief of the Library of America, notes that the book is written in “a mood of detached self-examination” and that Cocteau “makes himself his own portraitist … determined to work out some basic definitions.” He goes on to say, “It is most fundamentally a work of criticism, in which by paying close attention to his own writing process he creates a different kind of writing, opaque and deliberate.”

From my own reading, I found a poignancy in many of the questions Cocteau seeks to answer and the observations he puts on the page. Here is a very small selection of what is a great read—whether you choose to go from cover to cover or open at will.

On Reading

I cannot read or write. And when the census form asks me this question, I am tempted to say no.

Who knows how to write? It is to battle with ink to try to make oneself understood.

Either one takes too much care over one’s work or one does not take enough. Seldom does one find the happy mean that limps with grace. Reading is another matter. I read. I think I am reading. Each time I re-read, I perceive that I have not read. That is the trouble with a letter. One finds in it what one looks for. One is satisfied. One puts it aside. If one finds it again, on re-reading one reads into it another which one had not read.

Books play the same trick. If they do not suit our present mood we do not consider them good. If they disturb us we criticize them, and this criticism is superimposed upon them and prevents us from reading them fairly.

What the reader wants is to read himself. When he reads what he approves of he thinks he could have written it. He may even have a grudge against the book for taking his place, for saying what he did not know how to say, and which according to him he would have said better.

The more a book means to us the less well we read it. Our substance slips into it and thinks it round to our own outlook. That is why if I want to read and convince myself that I can read. I read books into which my substance does not penetrate. In the hospitals in which I spent long periods, I used to read what the nurse brought me or what fell into my hands by chance. … you often hear a tubercular patient say of Thomas Mann’s book The Magic Mountain: ‘That is a book one couldn’t understand if one hadn’t been tubercular.’ In fact Thomas Mann wrote it without being this and for the very purpose of making those who had not experienced tuberculosis understand it.

We are all ill and only know how to read book which deal with our malady. This is why books dealing with love are so successful, since everyone believes that he is the only one to experience it. He thinks: ‘This book is addressed to me. What can anyone else see in it?’

On the Rule of the Soul

We cannot run from place to place without losing something, suddenly move all our goods from one place to another and change our work all in a moment just as we please. Nothing takes so long over its journey as the soul, and it is slowly, if it detaches itself, that it rejoins the body. Hence those who think themselves speedy are thrown into confusion, badly reassembled, since the soul, joining them little by little and having rejoined them when they departed, is found by them to perform the same exercise in reverse. IN the end they come to believe they are, and are no longer.

The same thing applies to the discomfort of passing from one work to another, since the finished work goes on living in us and only leaves a very confused place for the new work. It is important, in regard to a journey, to wait for the body to reassemble itself and not to rely on an appearance in which only those who do not know us well can have any faith.

In regard to one’s works, it is important to wait after each one, and let the body free itself of the vapours which remain in it and which may take a long time to disperse. … In my estimation it takes a month, after a work or a journey, to regain control of one’s individuality. Until then it is in limbo. … Each time I find myself in this intermediate state, I wonder if it is permanent. It upsets me to the point of making me exaggerate the void it creates and convinces me that it will never be filled.

Here I am then between two rhythms, unbalanced, weak in body and lame in mind. Woe to him who rebels against this. An attempt to bypass it would only make things worse. … What is one to do against this fear of emptiness? It dries me up. One must forget it. I practise doing so. I go to the point of reading children’s books. I avoid any contact which might make me aware of the passing of time. I vegetate. I talk to dogs.

On Words

I attach no importance to what people call style and by which they flatter themselves that they can recognize an author. I want to be recognized by my ideas, or better still, by the results of them. All I attempt is to make myself understood as succinctly as possible. I have noticed that when a story does not grip the mind, it has shown a tendency to read too quickly, to grease its own slope. That is why, in this book, I turn my writing around, which prevents it from sliding into a straight line, makes one revise it twice over and reread the sentences so as not to lose the thread.

Whenever I read a book, I marvel at the number of words I meet in it and I long to use them. I make a note of them. When I am at work this is impossible for me. I restrict myself to my own vocabulary. I cannot get away from it, and it is so limited that the work becomes a brain-twister.

I wonder, at every line, if I can go any further, if the combination of these words that I use, always the same ones, will not end by seizing up and compelling me to hold my peace. This would be a blessing for everyone, but it is with words as with numbers, or with the letters of the alphabet. They have the faculty of rearranging themselves differently and perpetually at the end of the kaleidoscope.

Reprinted from The Difficulty of Being by Jean Cocteau; English translation ©1966 Elizabeth Sprigge; Published by Melville House

::[Links]::
Buy The Difficulty of Being from your local bookstore
Read an interview with Jean Cocteau in The Paris Review
Explore the Neversink Library collection

Written by Gabrielle

June 18, 2013 at 6:49 am

Posted in books, excerpt

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Books for Writers: To Show and To Tell by Phillip Lopate

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To Show and to TellIn his instructive book To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction, Phillip Lopate, essayist and Nonfiction Director at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, explores the form through a series of essays. In his introduction, Lopate poses a number of questions: where is the line between fiction and nonfiction? What are the ethics of writing about others? What are the techniques in essay writing? And, as the title alludes to, when, if ever, is it okay to tell?

Throughout the book, Lopate emphasizes the need for essayists to “think critically—to think against themselves,” to contradict themselves if need be. This is the message at the core of To Show and To Tell—that an essay is an attempt to come to an answer, not an opportunity to prove a rigidly held belief. By “thinking against oneself,” by being contrary, the essayist creates tension and suspense.

“All good essays are dialogues, and all partake of both exploration and argumentation,” Lopate writes. “In the best nonfiction, it seems to me, you’re always made aware that you are engaged with a supple mind at work.”

In addition to exploring philosophical questions about the craft, To Show and To Tell offers practical advice, such as how to turn oneself into a character (“you cannot amuse the reader unless you are already self-amused”), why one should research (“Research inspires curiosity, helps you break out of claustrophobic self-absorption”), and what’s gained by keeping a journal (“No one can expect to write well who will not first take the risk of writing badly”).

Lopate gives permission to do away with convention. For those who have trouble with endings, Lopate writes:

A common mistake students make is to assume they need to tie up with a big bow the preceding matter via a grand statement of what it all means, or what the life lesson to be drawn from it is … Readers should be left with some things to work out on their own.

The final section is a study of key essayists; Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, and James Baldwin are just a few writers Lopate highlights. Lamb “had the quintessential personal essayist’s ability to see his own personality as problematic, and to dramatize the resulting tensions.” According to Lopate, he saw people as actors and the streets of London as a stage. Hazlitt showed that essays can change direction and Baldwin’s “Notes on a Native Son” is “A twenty-page miracle, a masterpiece of compression.”

To Show and To Tell is an inspiring book on the art of the essay. The reader will come away with a richer understanding of the form and motivated to put theory into practice.

::[Links]::
Buy To Show and To Tell from your local bookstore 
Read an interview with Phillip Lopate at Harper’s Magazine
Read an interview with Phillip Lopate on Beyond the Margins
Read an interview with Phillip Lopate at Poets & Writers
Listen to an interview with Phillip Lopate on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show

Written by Gabrielle

May 21, 2013 at 6:49 am

New in Paperback for May

with 4 comments

May is here and there are lots of new paperbacks on the shelves. Here are just a few that have my attention.

The Last Interview: and Other Conversations Jorge Luis Borges
The Last Interview_BorgesDays before his death, Borges gave an intimate interview to his friend, the Argentine journalist Gloria Lopez Lecube. That interview is translated for the first time here, giving English-language readers a new insight into his life, loves, and thoughts about his work and country at the end of his life.

Accompanying that interview are a selection of the fascinating interviews he gave throughout his career. Highlights include his celebrated conversations with Richard Burgin during Borges’s time as a lecturer at Harvard University, in which he gives rich new insights into his own works and the literature of others, as well as discussing his now oft-overlooked political views. The pieces combine to give a new and revealing window on one of the most celebrated cultural figures of the past century.

A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims
A Question of ShapeMazoch discovers an unreturned movie envelope, smashed windows, and a pool of blood in his father’s house: the man has gone missing. So he creates a list of his father’s haunts and asks Vermaelen to help track him down.

However, hurricane season looms over Baton Rouge, threatening to wipe out any undead not already contained and eliminate all hope of ever finding Mazoch’s father.

Bennett Sims turns typical zombie fare on its head to deliver a wise and philosophical rumination on the nature of memory and loss.

Love Is Power, or Something Like That: Stories by A. Igoni Barrett
Love is PowerWhen it comes to love, things are not always what they seem. In contemporary Lagos, a young boy may pose as a woman online, and a maid may be suspected of sleeping with her employer and yet still become a young wife’s confidante. Men and women can be objects of fantasy, the subject of beery soliloquies. They can be trophies or status symbols. Or they can be overwhelming in their need.

In these wide-ranging stories, A. Igoni Barrett roams the streets with people from all stations of life. A man with acute halitosis navigates the chaos of the Lagos bus system. A minor policeman, full of the authority and corruption of his uniform, beats his wife. A family’s fortunes fall from love and wealth to infidelity and poverty as poor choices unfurl over three generations. With humor and tenderness, Barrett introduces us to an utterly modern Nigeria, where desire is a means to an end, and love is a power as real as money.

Dark Back of Time by Javiar Marias
Dark Back of TimeCalled by its author a “false novel,” Dark Back of Time begins with the tale of the odd effects of publishing All Souls, his witty and sardonic 1989 Oxford novel. All Souls is a book Marías swears to be fiction, but which its “characters”–the real-life dons and professors and bookshop owners who have “recognized themselves”–fiercely maintain to be a roman à clef. With the sleepy world of Oxford set into fretful motion by a world that never “existed,” Dark Back of Time begins an odyssey into the nature of identity and of time. Marías weaves together autobiography, a legendary kingdom, strange ghostly literary figures, halls of mirrors, a one-eyed pilot, a curse in Havana, and a bullet lost in Mexico.

The Alteration by Kingsley Amis, introduction by William Gibson
The AlterationIn Kingsley Amis’s virtuoso foray into virtual history it is 1976 but the modern world is a medieval relic, frozen in intellectual and spiritual time ever since Martin Luther was promoted to pope back in the sixteenth century. Stephen the Third, the king of England, has just died, and Mass (Mozart’s second requiem) is about to be sung to lay him to rest. In the choir is our hero, Hubert Anvil, an extremely ordinary ten-year-old boy with a faultless voice. In the audience is a select group of experts whose job is to determine whether that faultless voice should be preserved by performing a certain operation. Art, after all, is worth any sacrifice.

Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust; translated by Kim Thompson
Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your LifeBack in 1984, a rebellious,17-year-old, punked-out Ulli Lust set out for a wild hitchhiking trip across Italy, from Naples through Verona and Rome and ending up in Sicily. Twenty-five years later, this talented Austrian cartoonist has looked back at that tumultuous summer and delivered a long, dense, sensitive, and minutely observed autobiographical masterpiece.

A Day in the Life by Senji Kuroi
A Day in the LifeA Day in the Life features twelve portraits of the vivid and curious realities experienced by a man in his sixties. These stories focus on the tiny paradoxes and ridiculousness we each witness and of which we often take no note. Ranging from a visit to an exhibition of blurry photographs, each taken with an exposure time of exactly one second, to the story of a man stalked through the streets by a stranger for no greater a crime than making eye contact, A Day in the Life demonstrates why Senji Kuroi is considered one of the leading figures of contemporary Japanese literature

Hypothermia

Hypothermia by Álvaro Enrigue
Shocking, erudite, and affecting, these twenty-odd short stories, “micro-novels,” and vignettes span a vast territory, from Mexico City to Washington, D.C. to the late nineteenth-century Adriatic to the blood-soaked foothills of California’s Gold Rush country, introducing an array of bewildering characters: a professor of Latin American literature who survives a tornado and, possibly, an orgy; an electrician confronting the hardest wiring job of his career; a hapless garbage man who dreams of life as a pirate; and a prodigiously talented Polish baritone waging musical war against his church. Hypothermia explores the perilous limits of love, language, and personality, the brutal gravity of cultural misunderstandings, and the coldly smirking will to self-destruction hiding within our irredeemably carnal lives.

Written by Gabrielle

May 7, 2013 at 6:55 am

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