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Posts Tagged ‘Colm Toibin’

What We’re Loving: Trains, Stalkers, and Virgins

May 3, 2013 | by

train-indianIn the 1930s, thirteen-year-old Frank Moshinskie started to build a miniature town for his toy trains. Now run by his son and made up of hundreds of buildings, hand-carved figures, and replicas of national landmarks, Tiny Town Trains is a beloved attraction of Hot Springs, Arkansas. If, like me, you can’t make it down any time soon, check out this amazing video from the Oxford American. It’s no wonder Tiny Town! was nominated for a National Magazine Award; it truly conveys the magic of the miniature, and the definition of labor of love. —Sadie Stein

Last month, Text Publishing launched its Text Classics in the United States, reprints of long out-of-print books, many of which have never been available here. Their first list is made up primarily of books by Australian novelists, and I think I can count on one hand the number of Australian novels I’ve read. So I seized on Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower, originally published in 1966. What a discovery! Harrower’s voice in this book is disconcerting at first: almost fatigued, as though she knows that everything to come is fated to be so and there’s little to do but tell the story. And her characters—two young sisters—likewise passively accept the events that befall them. This fatalism is absorbing, though, as you watch the women move slowly through a comatose state into a kind of awakening. In fact, the story reminded me at times of A Doll’s House—namely, in the younger sister’s internal striving for selfhood and independence—but the long tale of the sisters’ subjugation is far more excruciating than what Ibsen imagined. —Nicole Rudick Read More »


“All They Do Is Eat,” And Other News

April 29, 2013 | by


  • “It’s about eating lunch. They eat salad and cake. All they do is eat”: in which a two-year-old judges books by their covers.
  • “He tends to devoice a lot of the fricatives, but I take that purely as an idiolectal variant”: an (in-depth) interview with the linguist who created Game of Thrones’ multiple languages.
  • Fifty authors, including Hilary Mantel, Tom Stoppard, and John Banville, have contributed annotated first editions to an English PEN auction. Which is to say, they can (theoretically) be yours.
  • The Henry Miller Memorial Library decamps temporarily to Miller’s hometown of Brooklyn for the Big Sur Brooklyn Bridge festival.
  • Ishiguro on film, Tóibín on opera: six novelists on their second-favorite art forms.



Master Class

April 4, 2013 | by

450The packet came in the mail. My first MFA workshop would be led by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. So I did what any good writing student does: I bought and read one of her books. I remember humming along through Disturbances in the Field, deeply engaged with Lydia, a Manhattan pianist who understands her life through the lessons of the great philosophers. “Heraclitus was right,” she says. “No sooner is a position established than it erodes. The solid earth under our feet melts into water, evaporates into air, and is consumed in fire. I moved from one family to another.” The mood is heady, the details exquisite. Here, I thought, is a novel unhampered by plot: a capacious, intelligent book about the endless trouble of being smart and a woman, of being with other people and alive. A book that showed me how to write sentences, and how to live a life of the mind. Twenty-three in Brooklyn, I took constant, exuberant notes.

But then, halfway through, like a guillotine, the plot falls into place. Something irreversible occurs in Lydia’s life, something devastating. And despite the book’s description, despite the many, many narrative clues, I was shocked. Suddenly, I had in my hands an entirely different book. The armor of ideas Lydia had been forging no longer fit the shape of the world; somehow, she’d have to recast it. Schwartz was even more masterful than I’d thought.

Mildly daunted, I made my way to Bennington, where I met the author herself: a small, dignified woman who clearly didn’t suffer fools. Somehow, I managed to call her Lynne. As a teacher, she turned out to be quite compatible with her book: broad-minded yet blunt, rigorous yet humane. Unsurprisingly, she’d read everything—because, as she often insisted, the only way to become a writer was to read and live and write. Like Lydia, she could always call up just the right book for any situation.

Lynne wasn’t the first writer I’d known, but she may have been the first with whom I kept up a regular correspondence. I learned recklessly from her recommendations, and from her own books, too. In her memoir of bibliophilia, Ruined By Reading, she cautions that “the writer is born of our fantasies. Reading her book, we fashion her image, which has a sort of existence, but never in the flesh of the person bearing her name.” And yet, I really did know this person, which had to count for something. We traded childhood stories, discovered a mutual affection for Daniel Deronda and Natalia Ginzburg, shared news of births and deaths. She was known as one of the bad cops at Bennington, famous for being tough on her students. Well, if this was bad, I wouldn’t waste my time with good. Read More »


The Art of Losing

March 7, 2013 | by


Writers often hate talking about the book they’ve just written. On the one hand, books are an exercise in preservation, an old-fashioned sort of external hard drive. But for the author personally, a book can also be an elaborate act of forgetting. I wonder sometimes whether I’m driven to write about certain things, especially difficult things, just so I’ll never have to deal with them again; I’ll capture my subject and be done with it. From a particular angle, the writing life for me is a gradual process of self-erasure—first the crisp details go, then the plot, the underlying obsessions—or else each book is a box in which something of myself can be stored away forever.

I’ve never felt this shrinking, unpublic side of writing as strongly as I have with the book about real-life murders I just finished—work it’s just not possible for me to be “done with.” The book tells the stories of killings, but I didn’t want to recount the cases with the heavy hand typical of stories that turn on crime and justice. The buffoonish, Wayne LaPierre–esque division of the world into good guys and bad guys may be an easy, reflexive way to organize the life around us, a busy firing of synapses that adds up to something less than thinking. I never saw the point of it, but I admit, in this instance, it would have made terrible stories easier to forget.

It’s stressful to keep in the forefront of our minds how real lives are pixelated with good and bad acts. It’s even worse when the real lives you’re writing about belong to murderers, and the acts—at least one of them—are as bad as possible. After all my research and all the interviews, I felt the weariness I imagine sin-eaters feel—the people who take responsibility for the world’s sinful deeds so others won’t have to. Read More »


Reading Rooms of Your Dreams, and Other News

February 26, 2013 | by


  • From abandoned Wal-Marts to Venetian warrens, thirty places for book lovers. (N.b.: gaining access to number thirteen could be problematic.)
  • A Colorado library is experimenting with loaning out seeds as well as books.
  • Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, set in the pre-9/11 Manhattan tech sector, drops in September.
  • Writing by hand is laborious, and that is why typewriters were invented. But I believe that the labor has virtue, because of its very physicality.” Mary Gordon extols the virtues of longhand. 
  • Speaking of! Proust’s handwriting, while bad, offers moments of clarity, says Colm Tóibín: “The word homosexual, as it is written in his hand here, stands alone; it is very clearly written, each letter perfectly made and totally legible. There is a feeling as you look at it that it was a word Proust did not often write, or that perhaps he enjoyed writing, or that it was a term he now wanted to take his time over, and he needed Vallette to be able to see it clearly.”



Vile Bodies, or Bad Sex Virgins

December 14, 2011 | by

Hendrick Goltzius, The Fall of Man, 1616, oil on canvas. Courtesy The National Gallery of Art.

We have to get our stories straight, she and I, but first we have to get John Updike’s stories straight. I have just bought the Everyman edition of The Maples Stories, and I am trying to describe to my date the arc of the Maples’ marriage and why I think these stories are successfully erotic, how they bring the best out of Updike.

I am actually talking about myself, about all the stuff I’ve read, but that’s okay. As last of the male narcissists, Updike would understand. She understands. We are both rehearsing our lines for the evening over a curry somewhere in North London. It is exceptionally, reproachfully cold, and neither of us feels particularly well-equipped to withstand the inclement weather. My shirt makes me look like a Bond villain and feels like a rumpled parachute. The curry is the wrong kind of hot. She asks the most difficult question of all.

“How are you going to pass me off?”

I struggle to reply. She is both my date and not my date. She is the girlfriend of an old friend, and I have been instructed to show her a good time, in return for temporary London accommodation. I am being conspicuously trusted. We are getting to know each other, having only met twice before tonight, but I must be very transparent because she quickly settles on an apt description of our relationship.

“I know,” she says, patting me gently on the arm, “we’ll say I’m your chaperone.”

She makes me sound like a debutante and, in a sense, this is accurate. This is the first time I have attended the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards, but the same is true for her. Read More »