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Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Hate-Reading

April 15, 2014 | by

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Frederic Leighton, Study at a Reading Desk‎, 1877

I am a rereader by nature. Like most rereaders, I have a few beloved favorites—Sisters By a River, or We Think the World of You, or A Girl in Winter—that bring me comfort as well as pleasure. Then there are a few books that I know just as well as these, and revisit just as often, but which I loathe. The writing is not bad; that would make the reading a chore instead of a sick pleasure. Usually I despise the narrator in some way—for being out of touch or oblivious or solipsistic. I particularly hate certain culinary memoirs and novels with leaden dialogue. The irritated satisfaction these books give me is akin to the irresistible pain of worrying a sore tooth. 

I never hate-read work by someone I actually know. A few times I have gone on to learn too much about the writer of one of these books, and the pleasure went away. The wealth of available information may feed some kinds of animus; mine depend on the hermetic isolation of my own obscure prejudices. They must not be humanized. Read More »

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Raskolnikov Meets the Caped Crusader, and Other News

April 8, 2014 | by

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Image via Open Culture

  • If you’re having trouble getting serious reading done, you can go ahead and blame the Internet, which fosters deleterious skimming habits. “It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”
  • Yesterday was Don B.’s birthday, making today the perfect occasion to reread his 1987 essay, “Not-Knowing.” “Let us discuss the condition of my desk. It is messy, mildly messy. The messiness is both physical (coffee cups, cigarette ash) and spiritual (unpaid bills, unwritten novels). The emotional life of the man who sits at the desk is also messy—I am in love with a set of twins, Hilda and Heidi, and in a fit of enthusiasm I have joined the Bolivian army.”
  • “Every April, ‘O, Miami’ attempts to deliver a poem to every single person in Miami-Dade County.” (There are at least 2.591 million of them—I just checked.)
  • Crime and Punishment and Batman: all in one scintillating, thrill-packed issue of Dostoyevsky Comics. One wonders which superhero moonlighted in the Brothers Karamazov issue.
  • From the annals of game-show history comes Bumper Stumpers, a late-eighties Canadian television curio in which contestants parsed the wordplay in vanity license plates. (E.g., VTHKOLM, which means “fifth column,” obviously.)
  • Meet Todd Manly-Krauss, the “writer” with the world’s most irritating Facebook presence.

 

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Thoreau and the iPad

December 17, 2013 | by

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Recently I took my iPad to a park across a lake, sat under a tree facing the water, and started reading the e-book version of Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s classic avowal of the possibility of, as well as the necessity for, simplicity amid modern life’s profusion and superfluity. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t get much more dissonant than this.

“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys … improved means to an unimproved end,” wrote the handyman sage in the book’s first chapter, titled “Economy.” Few toys are prettier than the iPad, and its prettiness is by no means a feat of economy. Its minimalism, for one, belies the complexity of thought that went into its design, while its ease of use obscures the intricacy of the industry behind its manufacture. That there’s nothing new and improved about its ends should be evident from the resemblance between the categories of apps in the App Store and those of stores listed on the touchscreen directory at the entrance of shopping malls—that harried shopper’s guide to the nonvirtual versions of apps for games, books, sports, lifestyle, and even social networking. Or especially social networking, come to think of it, when you consider that the din from the food court or the theater lobby is nothing more than the noise from so many short messages being broadcast on an unmetered network with unlimited bandwidth.

But what does it matter if my iPad is merely a prettier means to pedestrian ends that are, in Thoreau’s words, “already but too easy to arrive at”? Does that make it one more toy to be transcended or tucked out of sight when meditating on sufficiency? I also own a paperback edition of Walden, its pages worn yellow with age and marred with the fervent notes of my much younger self. It has none of the iPad’s high-precision electronics; the letter m is smudged in several places, and yet it’s lost none of its functionality. And apart from enlightenment, it has only one other app, as a paperweight. Is this nonmultitasking relic the authentic medium for the all-in-one manifesto and proof-of-concept of the uncluttered life? Read More »

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Alienation

October 17, 2013 | by

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I spent far too long staring at this T-shirt, number thirty-seven in BuzzFeed’s gallery of literary paraphernalia. I mean, I understand the basic concept: the wearer is reading, and would prefer not to be bothered. The garment is in the grand tradition of hostile tees, alongside such classics as “Do I LOOK like a fucking people person?” “Fuck You You Fucking Fuck,” and “You read my T-shirt. That’s enough social interaction for one day.” The genre is itself inherently tragic, combining as it does a desperate desire for human connection with a self-protecting defensiveness. This shirt adds to these the element of cognitive dissonance. Save in rare instances when the wearer is, indeed, engaged in reading—and which fact would presumably be self-evident—it’s simply not true. Or maybe they mean reading in a metaphorical, or psychic, sense.

If you encounter this shirt in the wild, you will want to know; your brain will teem with questions, your instinct will be to get to the bottom of the mystery. But of course, per the shirt, you can’t. You’ll walk away. And you’ll both be lonely and confused and left without closure. But maybe the richer for it.

 

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Should I Get an MFA? And Other Questions from Our AMA

September 13, 2013 | by

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Earlier this week, we hosted an AMA on Reddit: all the editors clustered around Lorin’s desk, while Stephen typed, and we addressed as many queries as we could. It was fun, and exhausting, and we were delighted and impressed with the caliber of questions! Since there were a number of points that came up repeatedly, below, we are reprinting some of the most frequently-asked questions from that session.

Do you believe that the popularity of creative writing degree programs, both graduate and undergraduate, is impacting contemporary literature positively or negatively? … As a student and writer currently debating whether to pursue the MFA route, or go on to graduate school in my chosen field of study, I would be extremely interested in your views on the matter.

The problem with creative-writing programs is not the quality of instruction; it’s the enforced isolation with other people who are thinking, eating, and breathing the same things you are. That said, much can be learned from a good teacher, or by simply spending those two years alone with a whole lot of books.

As a publishing/journalism industry hopeful, I’m curious about your career trajectories. How did you get where you are now? What were your entry-level jobs?

“Clare and I are both former (Paris Review) interns. That was our entry-level job.” —Stephen

“My first job? I was an editorial assistant at a publishing house.” —Sadie

“I was a part-time secretary at Publishers Weekly.” —Lorin

“Advertising.” —Justin

“This is my entry-level job.” —Hailey

How does the public’s taste in poetry differ now than it twenty years ago? The Paris Review had an article recently stating that there are now “an insufficiency of readers but too many people trying to get published”—how is The Paris Review combating this? Lastly, what are your pet peeves in submissions you get? For example, I work at a journal as well and my “pet peeve” is poems about pieces of obscure artwork that cannot stand alone.

The best way to interest people in reading is to publish great writing. At least, that’s our strategy.

Fashions change in poetry as in any other artistic endeavor; if there’s one generalization to be made, it’s that it’s harder to generalize now about truly gifted poets.

Pet peeves: stories about hunting, stories about MFA programs (though we’ve published our share), stories that start with someone closing a car door. Read More »

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Frederick Seidel’s “Widening Income Inequality”

August 30, 2013 | by

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Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com (based on a WPA photo by John E. Allen)

At our last issue launch party, Frederick Seidel, looking over a throng of people, turned to me and asked, “What do you make of all this?” There were summer thunderstorms that night, which kept people from going home and in turn encouraged a sort of athletic drinking.

Before I could answer him (not that I would have even had the gall to answer), a stranger embraced me in a very sudden, shapeless goodbye.

I turned back to Mr. Seidel, who scoffed, “There you go like all the ‘other girls,’ sticking your butt out as you hug a poor fellow, god forbid your pelvises touch!”

“But that’s what I make of it, Seidel! All of my goodbyes are hinged at the waist.”

Strangely enough, Frederick Seidel is what brought me to The Paris Review. I was asked to do a reading of his poems in honor of Bastille Day, which I am sure he found too crass of an idea to actually attend. I was told it would be a “big deal” because they were all “debuts,” as Seidel never reads his poetry out loud.

Of course, I reveled in the bawdy reality of a young girl reading the poems of Fred Seidel. I still do. This may seem like I am campaigning to become Frederick Seidel’s exclusive reader; make no mistake, that is exactly what I am doing. So here I am, Fred, hinging at the waist, bawdily reading your poem. What do you make of all of that?

 

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