The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Franzen’

By the Seat of Your Pants, and Other News

August 1, 2016 | by

From an eighties ad for Hillbillies Jeans.

  • Stop me if you’ve heard this one before—a well-known American novelist sits down for an interview, and he says, “I don’t have very many black friends. I have never been in love with a black woman. I feel like if I had, I might dare [to write about race] … I feel it’s really dangerous, if you are a liberal white American, to presume that your good intentions are enough to embark on a work of imagination about black America. I am particularly vigilant there. I have thought about it—you know, race is big in America.”
  • When Lucia Berlin died in 2004, she left behind the makings of a memoir, including a long story about traveling through Mexico with Buddy Berlin, a saxophonist with a heroin problem: “First, Peggy sent a little box with a dozen vials of pure morphine. ‘A little something for Bud.’ Peggy lived alone in a fabulous house on top of the hill. She spent much of her day looking through a powerful telescope, checking the beach for arrivals of famous people to invite up to her house, checking out everything else going on. She must have seen the boys playing soccer with village boys, riding horseback on the beach, going upriver with Juanito to help his father pick coffee. She must have seen them racing canoes, heard their laughter echoing above the water. She must have seen us talking with friends in our beautiful garden, lying on the beach. She must have seen Buddy and me kiss, must have seen us happy. How could she send that box?”
  • Our puzzle correspondent, Dylan Hicks, has vouched early and often for the joys of hink pink, “a word game in which synonyms, circumlocution, and micronarratives provide clues for rhyming phrases.” His advocacy has led to a paradigm shift among puzzle enthusiasts who also read literary magazines: at The Cincinnati Review, Michael Griffith has written some hink pinks of his own. (Personal favorite: “Internet discussion board for boosters of an ex-Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate,” which can only be “Santorum forum.”)
  • In what many “content providers” probably regard as “the good old days,” fans were more or less powerless—if they didn’t like whatever schlock the major entertainment conglomerates were churning out, their only recourse was a letter-writing campaign. But things are different now, and this year the fans have demanded to be heard. As Elizabeth Minkel writes, “For the past few months, people have been debating whether fandom is ‘broken’ … Fans have always talked back, but prior to social media they weren’t even a fraction as visible as they are today. We’re witnessing the destruction of the fannish fourth wall in real-time: fans and creators are now seeing each other clearly on a massive scale, and creators are unsure how to—or if they even should—listen to fans.”

What Kind of Name Is That?

February 8, 2016 | by

How to name your fictional characters.

Characters in need of names.

To me the most embarrassing part of writing fiction, aside from telling people about it, is naming your characters. Of course, even “real” names are made up, but in life our names are things we can alter only with a great deal of paperwork; in fiction, writers can line up names and identities as they please, dropping or trading them on a whim. Contriving a name for a contrived person seems terribly precious to me, akin to naming a doll. You want your characters to have names that aren’t too convenient but still memorable and meaningful, which isn’t easy. I spent about a year with a manuscript populated by memorable characters like [[ROOMMATE]] and ???????’s dad, swapping dozens of potential monikers in pursuit of the perfectly natural, unforced, graceful name. After rupturing a few blood vessels that way, I tried to figure out what other writers were doing.

The question of what names mean, what they’re for, has been around in the West since at least 500 B.C., when the Pythagoreans developed a few rules of onomancy to divine human traits from things like the number of vowels in one’s name. (Even numbers signaled an imperfection in the left side of the body.) One of the earliest discussions about naming comes from Plato’s dialogue “Cratylus,” in which Socrates oversees a debate about whether a name is “an instrument of teaching and distinguishing natures” or whether it’s just a matter of “convention and agreement.” More recently, psychoanalysts like Wilhelm Stekel and Carl Jung posited that the “compulsion of the name” not only reflects but determines one’s future: that we’re all engaged, from birth, in a nominative determinism. (Anyone quick to dismiss this as Freudian bunk should look at the abundance of Shaquilles now entering professional sports.) Read More »

Celebrate The Unprofessionals Tonight at BookCourt

November 19, 2015 | by

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We’ll be celebrating The Unprofessionals, our first anthology of new writing in more than fifty years, tonight, November 19, at BookCourt, where Emma Cline, Kristin Dombek, and Cathy Park Hong will read from their selections in the book. The event is free and begins at seven P.M. See you there!

The Unprofessionals: New American Writing from The Paris Review features thirty-one stories, poems, and essays by a new generation of writer. The Atlantic calls it “a dispatch from the front lines of literature.” “A new generation of American writers is not only keeping American literature alive but restoring the excitement of it,” says Jonathan Franzen, “and The Paris Review, despite its age and pedigree, is at the forefront of the renaissance.”

Out Today: Our New Anthology, The Unprofessionals

November 17, 2015 | by

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Today it’s finally here: our first anthology of new writing in more than fifty years. The Unprofessionals: New American Writing from The Paris Review features thirty-one stories, poems, and essays by a new generation of writer. The Atlantic calls it “a dispatch from the front lines of literature.” “A new generation of American writers is not only keeping American literature alive but restoring the excitement of it,” says Jonathan Franzen, “and The Paris Review, despite its age and pedigree, is at the forefront of the renaissance.”

We’ll be celebrating The Unprofessionals this Thursday, November 19, at Bookcourt, where Emma Cline, Kristin Dombek, and Cathy Park Hong will read from their selections in the anthology. The event is free and begins at seven P.M. See you there.

Oh, and one more thing: today is your last chance to preorder The Unprofessionals from our online store for just $12—a 25 percent discount from the cover price. Click here to reserve your copy!

The Ghost in the Machine, and Other News

October 28, 2015 | by

A man and his son listen to their battery radio, September 1946.

  • Jonathan Franzen investigates the necessary and sufficient features of that classic, oft-maligned form, The New Yorker story: “What made a story New Yorker was its carefully wrought, many-comma’d prose; its long passages of physical description, the precision and the sobriety of which created a kind of negative emotional space, a suggestion of feeling without the naming of it; its well-educated white characters, who could be found experiencing the melancholies of affluence, the doldrums of suburban marriage, or the thrill or the desolation of adultery; and, above all, its signature style of ending, which was either elegantly oblique or frustratingly coy, depending on your taste.” In Cheever’s well-wrought “The Country Husband,” we see “a reminder of why ‘the New Yorker story’ became so dominant. In a country recovering from one war and entering others, living under a nuclear shadow, awaiting large-scale social upheavals, no scream could do justice to the American middle-class predicament. Only understatement could.”
  • For ammunition in your war against writer’s block, look to the past—Wycliff Aber Hill’s Ten Million Photoplay Plots, from 1919, offers a superabundance of narrative solutions for whatever ails you. (Okay, it only lists thirty-seven “basic dramatic situations,” which is a far cry from ten million, but use your imagination.) Among such mainstays as “fatal indiscretion” and “adultry [sic] with murder”—those are apparently different—you’ll find deep cuts like “struggle against God” and “involuntary criminal love,” which contains fecund sub-possibilities: “discovery that one has married his own mother … having through the villainous instigation of a third person taken a sister for wife … discovery that one is about to violate, unknowingly, a daughter.” On second thought, just give up—writing is silly, anyway.
  • Today in spooky media: Long-Delayed Echoes (LDEs) have plagued radio since their discovery in 1927, and scientists can’t really explain them. They could be signals reflected from outer space; signals reflected terrestrially; or, most plausibly, signs of alien life. “In 1960 Ronald Bracewell proposed in Ronald Bracewell proposed in Nature that if we were to be contacted by an autonomous artificially intelligent alien probe, the messages we received would most likely sound like the echoes … the reflection of our own radio signals back to us being a highly energy efficient mode of establishing contact.”
  • For years, American writers have toiled in obscurity, with precious few monuments, commemorative plaques, or wax likenesses devoted to their memory. Well, friend, no more: Chicago is soon to open the first-ever American Writers Museum, where, god willing, the fraught history of our art-form, like so many before it, will be boiled down into propaganda and shoveled merrily down the throats of our youth. And if you’re worried that a museum about words will look too much like a library—perish the thought—allow me to allay your fears: “The museum will focus on using new media and technology in exhibitions, not only to differentiate it from a library, but also to engage in contemporary forms of writing from social media to digital journalism.” That is, not much writing will be featured at the American Writers Museum.
  • Fact: “an unprecedented six cooking-related books by black women will have been published by the end of this month.” If six doesn’t sound like many to you, remember that the tradition is rooted in memorization, not record: “Plenty of my African American friends marvel over their family elders’ ability to cook from memory, processes so rote that mistakes are rare. But history is never so simple. Memorizing recipes or cooking without them has its roots in slavery: The need for cooking aptitude predated the existence of legal literacy for enslaved kitchen workers—let alone the existence of cookbooks by free black authors … cookbooks by black authors have steadily trickled to market in far fewer numbers than titles by white authors.”

Magnet Hands, and Other News

October 13, 2015 | by

Karl Wirsum, Magnet Hands, 1972, crayon and ink on chipboard, 84" x 72".

  • In which Alex Mar gives neo-paganism a try and spends a weekend at a witches’ gathering, only to understand, through her skepticism, the communal appeal: “most humans, once they get in deep enough, will dig in their heels and commit to the value of an experience, because to change their minds and become, instead, openly critical involves a cutting off, a loss, that’s more than most of us want to bear … There’s pressure not to disappoint the group or ourselves, and it colors our individual results, the stories we’ll later tell of circling together. We’re each here, in part, out of a desire to share secrets with the tiniest of in-groups … All religious communities, to some degree, function in this way, bolstered by the collective’s dream of specialness—a specialness spun out of practices whose value can never be verified in the practical world.”
  • Karl Wirsum has been making “boldly graphic interpretations of the human form” for more than forty years. Our managing editor, Nicole Rudick, talks to him about art, Harry Kari, and armor: “If you think of football players putting on the shoulder pads and other protective equipment, or a baseball catcher with the mask and the pads. It’s like armor, and armor really appealed to me, the abstraction attached to the human figure … the abstraction of the armor allows for movement and presents a fearsome quality to the wearer’s presence. I think about it as putting on a more stylized version of what’s underneath, which might look more realistic.”
  • “Jon was quiet, and when he spoke, he told me that his cousin had been recently murdered. ‘My Aunt Margo used to call him a bad seed … He was an alcoholic, and he was murdered by his best friend after they had spent a day and a half drinking together. You can investigate the psychology of it, but basically my aunt was right: He was a bad seed … He and his friend were in a bar, and then they finally ran out of money, so they went home and continued drinking there, and apparently the friend got it in his head … that my cousin was interested in the friend’s daughter, and that led to violence.’ The details, Jon said, were horrifying. When his cousin was still conscious he was asked whether he wanted to be taken to the hospital, and the cousin said, ‘No, he’s my best friend. I don’t want to get him in trouble.’ ” Rachel Kushner talks to Jonathan Franzen in Santa Cruz.
  • I’m eating leftovers for lunch today (tabbouleh, thanks for asking) and so participating in the latest phase of an ever-developing national conversation. Because in America we have a history of caring deeply about our leftovers, except when we don’t: “By the 1960s leftovers were becoming a joke to a lot of people, with a grumbling husband and a mystery casserole playing stock roles. That humor was a direct result of abundance. In the postwar era, a historically anomalous food economy was coming to define American culture, as the cost of food relative to income plummeted and even the poorest Americans were less desperate for calories than they had ever been … [but today] gleaning and scavenging and scrimping have become righteous statements in some quarters. Foraging, meanwhile, has been elevated to high cuisine.”
  • It’s rare that an august publication like The New York Review of Books allows novices and first-timers among their ranks. But they’ve let this total nobody named Barack Obama interview Marilynne Robinson, and the guy, even more weirdly, goes all big-picture on the thing, turning it into a dialogue about America and democracy and religion and God knows what else …