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Posts Tagged ‘juvenalia’

My First Book(s)

December 6, 2013 | by

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There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. —Red Smith

I

I wrote my first first book over the course of three months, from July 23 to October 23, 1979. Four weeks in, I turned eighteen. This was a novel, and not the first I’d attempted; in fifth grade, I had written forty pages of a saga called Gangwar in Chicago, inspired by The Godfather and taking place in a city where I’d never been. Setting the story in Chicago meant scouring the map in World Book for locations: Canal Street, I recall, was one. I chose it because I knew Canal Street in New York, and it seemed the sort of landscape in which a gang war could take place. To this day, I have never seen Chicago’s Canal Street, despite the twenty years I spent visiting my wife’s family in a suburb on the North Shore.

The other novel, the one I finished, was motivated almost entirely by a specific case of envy—of my friend Fred, who had spent the same summer working on a novel of his own. Fred and I were high school writing buddies, confiding to each other, as we wandered the grounds of our New England boarding school, that we both wanted to win the Nobel Prize. Now, he’d written a campus novel, tracing his difficulties as a one-year senior, parsing the school’s social hierarchy in a way that seemed enlightening and true. Fred was more serious, more focused; he not only knew what symbolism was but also how to use it. It made sense that he would write a novel, and that it would be good. A year later, he would write another one, and then we lost track of each other, until six or seven years later, when his short stories started to appear in magazines. Read More »

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Early Writhings

August 16, 2012 | by

Going through my childhood desk recently I cleaned out years of weird detritus (novelty bar mitzvah magnets, Nickelodeon magazines, packets of incense cones) and came upon a copy of The Highland Fling, my high school newspaper. I opened the paper and scanned the newsworthy items of a typical suburban high school, circa spring 2001: various sports victories, a pointless Q&A with a sophomore, the possibility of a new town pool. Then I came to the reason I’d saved this particular paper: in its pages I had reviewed the Dave Matthews Band album Everyday.

That’s exciting, I thought. Let’s read what is sure to be some wonderful and delightfully precocious writing.

Or the other possibility.

Reading the review I cringed. There was light to moderate trembling. Maybe even perspiration.

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Alice Munro’s First Story, Rediscovered

May 10, 2012 | by

Miss Abelhart came out of the church alone. Her feet made quick, sharp, certain sounds on the cement steps—not the light tapping sounds pumps make, but harder, heavier claps. Miss Abelhart was wearing oxfords. She wore also a light tweed coat, a straight ugly coat, and an absurd little black hat. Most of her clothes were chosen for their ugliness or absurdity, and she wore them with a certain defiance, as though she proudly recognized in them a drabness closely akin to her own.

She was not ugly or absurd, in herself, only a little dried and hollowed, with straw hair tightly and tastelessly curled, and skin somewhat roughened, as if she had been for a long time facing a harsh wind. There was no blood in her cheeks, and something like dust lay over her face. People who looked at her knew that she was old, and had been old always. She was thirty-three.

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