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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Franzen’

Purity of Essence: One Question for Nell Zink

December 8, 2014 | by

Nell Zink-6-Fred Filkorn

Photo: Fred Filkorn

Nell Zink’s novel The Wallcreeper came out in October and was listed last week among the 100 Notable Books of 2014 by the New York Times. Jonathan Franzen—who had earlier tried to interest publishers in Zink’s first novel, Sailing Towards the Sunset by Avner Shats—wrote, “Her work insistently raises the possibility that the world is larger and stranger than the world you think you know.”

The Wallcreeper is the coming-of-age story of Tiffany, a young woman who marries a man she hardly knows and follows him to Switzerland. Zink’s compressed scenes and chapter-less form showcase her mastery of tonal register—think Diane Williams with a little less bathos—as the newlyweds’ shared interests in each other and birding quickly shift to other lovers and separate environmental causes. Meanwhile, the zingers and bon mots fly so fast and furiously that one often forgets that Tiffany is on the brink of poverty.

Zink, now fifty, has also published several pieces in n+1. She lives in Bad Belzig, Germany, where she worked most recently as a translator. As a writer living abroad, she does not seem fond of things like e-mail interviews, and understandably so. This exchange took place in August—part of a longer interview filled with some of the most riotous, pummeling insults I’ve ever absorbed—and Zink explained that the course of her experience as a writer has involved a great deal of travel, marked by an intense effort to insulate her creative life from the work required to make rent. Her second novel, Mislaid, is due out next year. She sold it, as she has said elsewhere, for “megabucks.” This may be half jest, but it hints nevertheless that her fortunes have shifted for the better since this summer, when she shared the following account of her personal history.

What kind of jobs have you had? Do you write full-time now, “living the dream”?

I was always a bit concerned about purity of essence. I never wanted a job that might affect the way I wrote or thought. I remember how in college I was very proud of having finagled a job in the English department, where I spent most of my time collating and stapling. I didn’t major in English, obviously, because I preferred being challenged in courses where I might get bad grades. Once, Gordon Lish came to speak there and warned us explicitly against going to work in publishing, because it forces you to read bad prose all day every day and spoils your style. After his talk, all the other student writers jumped up to beg him for jobs in publishing while I wandered off strengthened in my resolve to do manual labor. Read More »

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From the Land of Pleasant Living, and Other News

October 3, 2014 | by

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A Baltimore icon slips into Russian hands.

  • Remembering John Berryman, whose centenary is later this month: “Berryman has not been forgotten, but his gnomic revelations have less force than they used to. His drinking and womanizing, his unsoothable anguish, seem less the stuff of heroism than of mutinous neurotransmitters. I can all too easily imagine him today, sitting at a seminar table in Palo Alto or Iowa City, buoyed by a decent dose of Wellbutrin, listening as some regular contributor to the Northwestern Maine Quarterly Review piously instructs impious John to simmer down, center himself, drop the unceasing allusions to Shakespeare, find his voice and tell us how he really feels.”
  • “As well as categorizing novels as well or poorly written, popular or unpopular, one could also, and perhaps more usefully, distinguish those that become part of the conversation, and those that do not. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections became part of the national conversation; Lydia Davis’s short stories, for all their brilliance, did not … John Updike’s Terrorist was arguably his least talked-about novel … But how does a book enter the conversation today?”
  • A good problem to have: “I am in the slightly embarrassing position where I write poems saying I am about to die and I don’t.”
  • An 1894 map by the New York Tenement-House Committee divides the city by nationality. But you won’t find Scotch, English, Welsh, Scandinavian, and Canadian New Yorkers on the map, because they were, according to its creator, “in small numbers and perhaps less foreign than the others.”
  • The Orioles are in the playoffs, which means Baltimoreans are swilling profligate amounts of Natty Boh, the greatest bad beer in the world and one of the city’s most cherished brands—it dates back to 1885. (At least one Baltimorean would drink a can right now, even though it’s nine-thirty A.M. and he’s in New York.) The only problem? “National Bohemian hasn’t been locally owned since the nineteen-seventies, and it hasn’t been brewed in Maryland in more than a decade … Last month, it was announced that the brand’s owner, Pabst, is being purchased by the Russian beverage company Oasis.” Say it ain’t Boh.

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Working on My Novel

July 28, 2014 | by

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From Cory Arcangel’s Working on My Novel.

I wonder whether there will ever be enough tranquility under modern circumstances to allow our contemporary Wordsworth to recollect anything. I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness that characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction. —Saul Bellow, the Art of Fiction No. 37, 1966

Cory Arcangel’s new book, Working on My Novel—based on the Twitter feed of the same name—is a compilation of tweets from people who are putatively at work on novels. No more, no less. On Twitter, this concept feels merely clever; printed and bound as a novel would be, though, it becomes a vexed look at novels’ position in the culture, and a sad monument to distraction. Or so it seems to me. Arcangel’s “elevator pitch” puts a brighter gloss on it:

Working on My Novel is about the act of creation and the gap between the different ways we express ourselves today. Exploring the extremes of making art, from satisfaction and even euphoria to those days or nights when nothing will come, it's the story of what it means to be a creative person, and why we keep on trying.

But the book piques my interest for the opposite reason: it’s the story of what it means to live in a cultural climate that stifles almost every creative impulse, and why it so often seems we should stop trying. Arcangel suggests there’s something inherently ennobling in trying to write, but his book is an aggregate of delusion, narcissism, procrastination, boredom, self-congratulation, confusion—every stumbling block, in other words, between here and art. Working captures the worrisome extent to which creative writing has been synonymized with therapy; nearly everyone quoted in it pursues novel writing as a kind of exercise regimen. (“I love my mind,” writes one aspirant novelist, as if he’s just done fifty reps with it and is admiring it all engorged with blood.)Read More »

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The First-Ever Fuck, and Other News

February 12, 2014 | by

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Image via io9

  • Behold: the first written use of fuck, from 1528, inscribed by a monk who seems to have been pretty pissed off with an abbot.
  • “Kicking against the pricks becomes rather less impressive when the pricks have melted away.” Taking a hatchet to the Hatchet Job of the Year.
  • Wes Anderson’s new film, Grand Budapest Hotel, is by his own admission “more or a less a plagiarism” of the works of Stefan Zweig. Will the movie renew American interest in Zweig’s writing?
  • An “edit-a-thon” aims to close the gender gap on Wikipedia, to which far more men contribute than women. Though as the Newsweek reporter Katie Baker tweeted, “Maybe few women edit Wikipedia because they do enough thankless unpaid labor already.”
  • “Emptying the Skies,” Jonathan Franzen’s 2010 essay on the poaching of migratory songbirds, is soon to be a documentary.
  • Toby Barlow’s Write-a-House, a residency program that gives houses to writers, is still a bit shy of its fundraising goal, but there’s a week left in the campaign—help out.

 

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What We’re Loving: Gremlin Jokes, Spiritual Paths, Sundae Ire

January 17, 2014 | by

Backgammon (1982) by Jane Freilicher

Jane Frelicher, Backgammon, 1982.

It’s been almost fifteen years since Akhil Sharma published his first novel, An Obedient Father. This terrible, improbably funny book—about a single mother forced to share an apartment with the father who raped her as a child—won Sharma a PEN/Hemingway prize, a Whiting Award, and praise from the likes of Jonathan Franzen and Joyce Carol Oates. (I remember because it was the first novel I had the honor of editing.) Now Sharma is back with Family Life, the tale of an Indian American boy coming of age in the shadow of a family disaster. It too is terrible and improbably funny, and is excerpted in this week’s New Yorker. With acid, deceptively artless prose and a faultless ear for dialogue, Sharma strips his characters bare from page one and dares us to love them in their nakedness. I cannot think of a more honest or unsparing novelist in our generation. —Lorin Stein

Michael Hofmann is the only translator whose work I would read no matter what he decided to English—if only I could keep up with him! In the excellent new issue of Asymptote, he tells a story about interviewing Wolfgang Koeppen in 1992, four years before the German novelist’s death. (“With my English reticence and youth, I met Koeppen halfway: in other words, we were both barely out of our shells.”) He also writes of the Joseph Mitchell–like silence that Koeppen fell into after the publication of Death in Rome (1954) and lauds the still-untranslated last book, Youth (1976)—giving us reason to hope he might be at work on an English version. The final remarks on Koeppen’s sentences—continually “sidestepping into freedom,” “scrupulously managed, supple, cadenced, sumptuously lexical, expressive prose”—double as a description of Hofmann’s own writing. —Robyn Creswell

Poetry’s January issue contains a thirty-page feature on Jane Freilicher: her artwork and her close friendships with a number of poets, among them Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler. The section is adapted from Tibor de Nagy Gallery’s wonderful exhibition, last summer, “Jane Freilicher: Painter Among Poets” (it’s currently on view at the Poetry Foundation, in Chicago). I remembered having glimpsed the show’s catalogue in Lorin’s office. I liberated it, and I’m not sure I’ll give it back. It’s like having a scrapbook made by the people whose work you most admire, and it shows that they had as good a time in one another’s company as you’d imagined. “Some little gremlins seemed to have popped loose in my idea factory and I think they may have been sent over from Koch’s brassiere factory,” writes Freilicher to O’Hara. And in what may be my favorite letter in the whole book, from Jane to Frank on a poem of his: “it just don’t seem to have that real low-down smelly sexy everyday Olympian quality your admirers depend upon.” —Nicole Rudick Read More »

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Writers Sell Out, and Other News

November 13, 2013 | by

anitaloosad

  • A pretty amazing slideshow of authors shilling for products through the ages.
  • Jonathan Franzen loves Harriet the Spy. Now really want to know his views on the even odder The Long Secret and frankly bizarre Sport.
  • Herewith: a scratch and sniff wine book.
  • “The very foundation of Judaeo-Christian ethics is presented as a list.” On listicles.
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