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Confessions of an Accidental Book-Burner

August 14, 2013 | by

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My name is Michele Filgate, and I am a book burner.

The first thing you need to understand: I love books. I’m the kind of girl who volunteered at the local independent bookstore when I was in middle school, just so I could get the staff discount. I come by this honestly; my grandmother was fired from her first job because she was caught reading behind the clothing racks. While some girls spent hours playing house and naming their dolls, I whiled away entire play dates alphabetizing my personal library with my best friend. Nowadays, I’m a fan of marginalia—but I cringe at the idea of even dog-earing a page.

In 2007, I was young and naive and penniless. My first job out of college was one of those typical sixty-to-seventy-hour-a-week gigs that so many new-to-New York dreamers end up in. Specifically, I was a production secretary, and later a broadcast associate, at the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. 

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Blurring the Lines: An Interview with Michelle Orange

March 19, 2013 | by

Orange300Last month I read a book by David Foster Wallace for the first time. (Dare I admit that? Not having read DFW is practically a sin in most literary circles; it was something that embarrassed me for years.) I finally read the essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. When I finished the book, I was greedy for more essay collections in which the author gets me to read about something I didn’t realize I had any interest in.

Michelle Orange’s This is Running for Your Life is exactly what I was looking for. While the author deserves comparisons to DFW and John Jeremiah Sullivan, she has her own distinct voice. Orange’s prose is animated by her innate curiosity and her convincing meditations on culture and her own life. I recently interviewed her via e-mail.

I was struck by the essay about your grandmother, in which you talked about the many ticket stubs she sent you on which she had scrawled short reviews. Movies, it seems, are more than a personal pleasure. It’s almost as if you genetically inherited the desire to watch cinema, to immerse yourself in the stories. Did you become a film critic partially because of your relationship with your grandmother?

There does seem to be something passed down about that kind of movie love, although in this case it skipped a generation—my mom is more of a special-event moviegoer. My father, though, is at least as devoted a movie-lover as my grandmother was, so I had it coming from several directions. What I sensed with my grandmother is that she seemed to need the movies as much as she loved them. Our trips to the Cineplex, where she would take seven-year-old me to see rated-R-for-mature-content movies like Night Shift, were the only time we spent alone together. They were memorable for that alone, but I think they embedded some of that need in me as well. She wasn’t interested in talking about a movie afterward. The pleasure was really in discovering and rediscovering that private response. Which is what made the ticket stubs so special to me—her effort to connect through this thing that we both loved so privately.

In “The Dream Girl Is Over,” you posit, “What if all life, but especially the part of it that involves consuming art and images, is in some sense a reminder?” Do you think that’s why those of us who are drawn to art, in whatever form we consume it, find some sense of recognition and familiarity in the work that we love?

There’s nothing better than encountering a voice that seems to have been living in your head, waiting for a microphone, or an interlocutor. It’s a feeling of being called. When art can make that connection it couldn’t be more personal. Read More »

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Borrowed Time

March 11, 2013 | by

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“You own every book,” my boyfriend often says to me. And sometimes it seems like that’s true. I now own enough unread books to last me at least ten years, and I keep adding to the collection every day.

Books are meant to be read. This is what I say to myself whenever I, with some level of despair, glance at my many bookshelves. My personal library takes up a substantial amount of room in the Brooklyn apartment I share with two friends. I’ve read a lot of books that I own. I’ve also, truth be told, not read a good number of the books. I feel tremendous guilt toward the books I ignore.

It’s no surprise, then, that Meriç Algün Ringborg’s “The Library of Unborrowed Books” exhibition at Art in General, in Manhattan, should catch my eye. I was intrigued by the concept: the artist had selected more than a thousand titles from the Center for Fiction’s library that have never been borrowed. Read More »

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Voices Carry: An Interview with Elena Passarello

November 28, 2012 | by

Elena Passarello is a writer with a confident voice. Her first book is centered around that voice: in Let Me Clear My Throat, Passarello draws from her writing and acting background, and the result is a quirky blend of reportage and some personal narrative. In a recent e-mail interview, we discussed everything from the recent presidential campaign to a Stella screaming contest.

How did you choose your theme for your first book? Did you set out from the beginning to write an entire essay collection devoted to the human voice?

I had a few essays on voices before I began working on the essays that appear in this collection. I didn’t know that they were on voices at the time, however—I was just writing profiles, critical pieces, lyric stuff that all ended up using voice either as an entrance point or as an organizing principle. The first essay that I wrote for the collection was the one on the Wilhelm Scream. I first drafted it not as an essay on the voice, but as a simple unpacking of this very juicy and mysterious piece of pop culture. A few drafts in, however, I saw that I was, once again, threading ideas about the voice throughout it. The essay became about the fact that a human body had made this sound, and in doing so, that body embossed itself into every movie which used the clip. The essay became an exploration of the purposes a human scream serves—both in pre-civilized human life and contemporary culture. Around the time I finished the essay, I started thinking I could do a whole book about the sounds of the human throat.

Speaking of your essay on the Wilhelm Scream—a sound effect used in hundreds of movies—how did you first hear about it?

I was just Googling around for the correct spelling of Ennio Morricone’s name for a now-defunct project. I landed on an IMDb page for a movie Morricone had scored, and in the roll of facts on the film was “Wilhelm Scream at 88:02!” Read More »

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