Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Franzen’
February 8, 2016 | by Tony Tulathimutte
How to name your fictional characters.
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 »
November 19, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
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.”
November 17, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
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!
October 28, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- 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.”
October 13, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- 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 …
September 11, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- New York in the late seventies was not exactly a utopia: crime was soaring, graffiti was ubiquitous, mace was a must-have accessory. But a certain set of novels and films has made the era something to yearn for: “This was the last moment when a novelist or poet might withdraw a book that had already been accepted for publication and continue to fiddle with it for the next two or three years. This was the last time when a New York poet was reluctant to introduce to his arty friends someone who was a Hollywood film director, for fear the movies would be considered too low-status … these works express a craving for the city that, while at its worst, was also more democratic … where not even money could insulate you. They are a reaction to what feels like a safer, more burnished and efficient (but cornerless and predictable) city.”
- Today in writing advice that isn’t total shit, even if it’s about shit: “I preach the radio. I do not preach thinking you must know what you are about. Faulkner had good drugs and a big radio. I recall having heard my own little radio at times. It is rare, yes, and it is, now, rarer. But you are young and have your juice, you’re still full of poop, which is the necessary requisite to tuning the radio. Got to be some poop out there, on the airwaves, or in there, in you, for you to tune it in. Cherish the poop you are full of, and work on excreting it with sound fundamentals.” That’s Padgett Powell, being correct.
- On procrastination and art: might there be something heroic, or at least admirably resistant, in the idea of putting off one’s writing? “Bartleby is my hero, endlessly preferring not to, but though I find him sympathetic, he—along with all the ‘writers of the no’, writers who turned their backs on writing, Rimbaud and Walser among them—is not in the same game as me. Or if we are in the same game, I’m not playing it right. I don’t turn my back on writing. I don’t say no. I say yes and fail to follow through. I sit suspended between preferring not to and not preferring to enough—I’m hung on a peg.”
- Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter is “a compressed, unflinching portrait of the turmoil that envelops Bird, an alcoholic, after his son’s birth.” The novel has a new champion: none but Jonathan Franzen, who adores its disturbing elements, its comic elements, its vomit elements: “I don’t know of a more compelling description of throwing up than the ones that occur in this book. He’s sweating, he looks at himself in the mirror, and there’s bad sex. It’s partly that—the really, really tight focus on Bird’s body. There’s nothing like a microscopic view of your body to evoke shame.”
- While we’re on shame—it’s time for men to cry again. They have much to cry about, being men, and yet they shed no tears … why, when male weeping has been treated as normal in almost every part of the world for most of recorded history? In fact, it was exalted for a while: “ancient Greeks saw it as a model for how heroic men should behave … 20,000 knights swooning from grief were considered noble, not ridiculous … there’s no mention of the men in these stories trying to restrain or hide their tears … They cry in a crowded hall with their heads held high. Nor do their companions make fun of this public blubbing; it’s universally regarded as an admirable expression of feeling.”