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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Lipsyte’

Introducing Our Summer Issue!

June 6, 2012 | by

Unlike some magazines, we don’t do “theme” issues. And yet, as we collected the material that makes up 201, we couldn’t help notice that the issue had a decidedly ... dramatic bent. Not just interviews with Tony Kushner and Wallace Shawn, but Ann Beattie’s story, “The Astonished Woodchopper,” featuring just that; a Sam Lipsyte story about a modern-day duel; Roberto Bolaño poems about sex and betrayal; Rich Cohen on pirates; Waris Ahluwalia on animal attraction; Davy Rothbart telling the true story of the best night of his life; plus, J.D. Daniels directing you to eat your parents.

Tony Kushner:

In some ways the Internet is definitely an enemy. This morning I was going to work on a Lincoln rewrite before I came to meet you. A couple of days ago I biked all over Provincetown looking for a needle threader—you know, one of those old-fashioned little tin discs with a cameo on it and a thin wire loop sticking out. I found one and bought it. I’m trying to teach myself how to needlepoint. I even considered bringing my needlepointing here, needlepointing during the interview, but then what would you think? Anyway, I bought this needle threader, but it was crap–two uses into it, the thing broke. So, this morning before working on Lincoln, I decided I would go online and find a really good needle threader. And who knew that on Amazon alone, there are dozens of needle threaders? So I started thinking, Why does this needle threader have five starts and this one four and a half? And this one only has two, isn’t that interesting? Can you imagine who got this needle threader and was really disappointed? And then, it’s like, Oh my God, it’s ten o’clock! I didn’t do any work.

Wallace Shawn:

I wish there were more plays about a life that is exactly like mine. I would love that! If the program says, ‘An apartment in Manhattan today,’ I’m thrilled! And if it says, ‘An apartment in Chelsea, in Manhattan, today,’ where I live, I’d be even more thrilled. I’m amazed if I can see an actor imitate someone with a French accent—that’s fantastic—and I’m even more excited if an actor can illuminate the psychological state of a person similar to me and the people I know. So I do like naturalistic theater. But I like many kinds of theater.

Plus, poetry from John Ashbery, Sophie Cabot Black, Raúl Zurita, Octavio Paz, Lucie Brock-Broido, and David Ferry; nonfiction by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya; and a new translation of Virgil.

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Transitory Lifestyles; Comic Novels

February 17, 2012 | by

Because of my school’s academic structure, I pack up my possessions and move every two to three months, ricocheting between school, home, and New York. In fact, I’m leaving the city this weekend. This kind of transience can be refreshing, but it is also disorienting, and it can make life feel fragmented or compartmentalized. If you could recommend reading material that addresses the issue of the transitory lifestyle, it might make the journey a little easier.

Whether you’re looking for seekers (The Razor’s Edge), free spirits (On the Road), ramblers (the Little House books) or the Picaresque (Tristram Shandy) there’s no shortage of literary traveling companions. Keep in mind that unstable, constantly-relocating parents also make for memorable childhoods, so the memoir section is rife with tales of itinerant life!

What is the funniest book ever written?

I don’t feel this is a question one person can answer definitively for all sorts of obvious reasons, although I will say NOT The Ginger Man, since all sorts of people, mostly men, are wont to go into ecstasies about its alleged hilarity. But then, lots of the reputedly uproarious classics have left me cold, so what do I know?

You don’t need me to list the “great comic novels” for you—Tom Jones, Tristram Shandy, Lucky Jim … the list goes on. I feel like the “right” answer to this question is something like Ulysses, but I’d be lying if I said it had me in stitches. (Although Mark Twain genuinely has.) Several in the canon get resounding plaudits from my colleagues here: Catch-22 and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are considered comedy classics for a reason.

Says Lorin, “The Tetherballs of Bougainvillea made me laugh longest. London Fields made me laugh hardest (Marmaduke: projectile tears of laughter). Home Land made me laugh loudest. Mark Twain’s sketches and the Jeeves books make me laugh most reliably.”

Deirdre adds that Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask should not be ignored.

As for me, I’ve mentioned it before, but After Claude was the last book to actually make me laugh out loud. I love Scoop, and early parts of The Pursuit of Love. (Although I find Waugh and Mitford’s correspondence funnier than either.) E.F. Benson’s “Mapp and Lucia” series has moments of absolute hilarity. Pictures from an Institution should be in there, surely.

Disclaimer: I find certain scenes in Excellent Women genuinely funny, but Lorin said that he didn’t laugh once, so.

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Post-Breakup Fiction; Comma Stutterers

January 27, 2012 | by

I recently got out of serious relationship. Since then I have not been able to read, though I usually love sad, sappy love stories. Can you recommend some books that have zero romance or love in them? Some good post-breakup fiction?

Readers of this column know my high opinion of the Jeeves books and Life on the Mississippi. They cheer me up, and are rigorously free of mushy scenes. Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land is a post-breakup book, I mean the hero has been dumped by his wife, but really that's the least of his problems—and the one time they get back together (for about two and a half minutes) it’s enough to cure you of the whole idea of coupledom for at least the rest of the day.

Also: How do you feel about dogs? It’s not fiction, and it is full of love, but something tells me J. R. Ackerley’s 1965 memoir, My Dog Tulip—about the unlikely romance between a crusty, middle-aged English bachelor and his German shepherd—might make a welcome distraction.

Dear Lorin,

I was talking to another writer-friend recently about the use of commas. I tend to err on the safe side, slipping too many of them, perhaps, around phrases I think are supposed to be identified. But is this precious or old-fashioned or out of style?

In this Paris Review interview with Mary Karr, she claims to have had a comma stutter in The Liars’ Club. Do you think there’s such a thing as a comma stutter, or is it more like a sentence stutter, reflecting hesitation, or something, from the writer? I’d like to smooth out, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Yours,
Comma Stutterer in Manhattan

A good comma stutter never goes out of style. Where would Henry James be without his commas—or that real-life stutterer Charles Lamb? Here is Lamb on his gruff but cowardly friend John Tipp: “With all this there was about him a sort of timidity—(his few enemies used to give it a worse name)—something which, in reverence to the dead, we will place, if you please, a little on this side of the heroic.”

You can, of course, write in comma stutters then simply take out the punctuation. That is what Henry Green liked to do, for example when he describes what it was like to be unpopular at Eton:

These were the days when to be alone was to feel one had escaped for the moment not from any overt bullying but from what appeared to be the threat. There was a strain in trying to keep up with new friendships which probably did not exist. There was the dread of going into a friend's room to find one was not wanted, to be abandoned by the two leaders now that they were too busy to bother and worst of all the self questioning as to why this should be, the fear it might be a peer or one of the school’s racquet players and of what this meant if true. The best was to get away in those few hours we had on our own, to chance being seen lonely in the effort to forget.

Green teaches the reader to hear his pauses, to anticipate his hesitations, and, thus, to think like a man of his class and sensibility. Such is the magic. When women say of a good dancer that he knows how to lead, this must be what they mean.

Then of course there is Gertrude Stein, who so loved the comma stutter that she would abolish the punctuation altogether. This is the typographical equivalent of burning the village to save it:

A long complicated sentence should force itself upon you, make you know yourself knowing it and the comma, well at the most a comma is a poor period that lets you stop and take a breath but if you want to take a breath you ought to know yourself that you want to take a breath. It is not like stopping altogether has something to do with going on, but taking a breath well you are always taking a breath and why emphasize one breath rather than another breath. Anyway that is the way I felt about it and I felt that about it very very strongly. And so I almost never used a comma. The longer, the more complicated the sentence the greater the number of the same kinds of words I had following one after another, the more the very more I had of them the more I felt the passionate need of their taking care of themselves by themselves and not helping them, and thereby enfeebling them by putting in a comma.

The point is, if your sentences are guided by your feelings, you can race or hesitate as the spirit moves you. Your reader will understand. Read More »

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Gary Lutz on ‘Divorcer’

December 13, 2011 | by

Gary Lutz is a wholly original writer of the short story. The first thing one notices are his startling sentences, like this one from the title story of his new collection, Divorcer: “It was in a dullard four-door with a brat of a rattling dashboard that I sometimes drove to, from, and through these places, then back to my wife and other things she was a baby about.” The sentences, and the stories, in collections such as Stories in the Worst Way, Partial List of People to Bleach, and I Looked Alive, are about sad men and women and their glancing and troubled interactions with the world. Men look for love in public bathrooms and find solace in women’s clothing; relationships inevitably falter and die, leaving behind regretful and longing ex-lovers. In his best work, Lutz displays an innate understanding of the grim compromises of modern life but heightens and glorifies these with his dizzying language. He refuses to let the dreary world force him to write a dreary sentence. I recently conducted this interview with him via e-mail.

Your new collection, Divorcer, contains a number of stories about the ends and aftermaths of relationships. Did you set out to write a series of thematically linked stories?

I had no expectation that these stories, written piecemeal, might one day mingle with one another in a book. It was Derek White, the extraordinary founder and editor of Calamari Press, who convinced me that the stories added up to something. The stories were written during stretches of four summers and the better half of an autumn. The longer pieces took months and months to finish, but one of the shorter entries, “Fathering,” was written in just one week—I’d challenged myself to come up with something quick.

How do you feel this collection differs from your previous ones? To me, the stories seem a bit more narrative driven and perhaps more “accessible" than some of your previous work.

I guess it’s more accessible, or at least a little less willfully disingratiating than my other books, which had more than a touch of solipsism. Even in the lengthier of these new stories, despite their elliptical and fragmentary nature, there is something at least approximating an ongoingness of a sort, if not exactly a plot.

To what degree does your personal experience influence your stories?

To no degree at all, practically. I suffer from E.D.—Experience Deficit. Not much has ever happened to me, and I have never had much luck in making anything happen myself. Anyway, my personal life seems off limits, even to me at the center of it. Somebody should sell pocket-size lifetime diaries with just a quarter-page for each entire year—I could surely get my money’s worth out of one of those. Read More »

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Hempelian Moods; My Friend’s Fancy Book Deal

May 13, 2011 | by

The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel has converted me back to reading short stories. Where would you go next after Hempel?

Isn’t she good! If you want to expand on that Hempelian mood of yours, I suggest—in no particular order—any of the collections of Mary Robison, the latest issue of the short-story annual Noon, David Gates’s Wonders of the Invisible World, Gary Lutz’s Stories in the Worst Way, Christine Schutt’s A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer, Sam Lipsyte’s Venus Drive, and Gordon Lish’s What I Know So Far.

I know this person who got a fancy agent and sold a book, and, recently, I’ve noticed he has a very inflated ego. He talks about how great he is compared to other people, and how he has to network and get to know important editors. It’s a little weird, especially after years of saying he was devoted to the “craft." Maybe it's a case of sour grapes, but it’s pretty damn annoying. I also feel pretty strongly that this book won’t be making it onto the best-seller list. Nor does it mean he’s going to be published by the New Yorker. Is it my job to manage expectations here? —Sam is not my name

Well, “not-Sam,” getting a fancy agent and selling a book have been known to puff a young writer up. And it can be annoying to watch—yes, even when you know the book is going to sink like a stone in the scum pond of posterity. But really there’s no percentage in trying to manage an author’s expectations. For one thing, it simply can’t be done. No one but an academic ever believes he has written a dull book until it is too late. Even after the book fails, disappears from the shelves of Barnes & Noble, and is pulped, if your friend has invested time and libidinal energy into schmoozing editors, he won’t blame his book. He will blame all the powerful new friends who didn’t give him the review he wanted or wrangle him the blurb he deserved. He will blame his publisher for not taking out an ad on the front page of USA Today. And he will blame you (buzz starts at home).

Besides, I have found it’s hard to give good, gentle, constructive advice when you want to slap somebody upside his silly melon-head.

My advice is to be friendly and supportive. Go to the launch, ask him to sign your copy (buy a copy), and otherwise try to avoid quality time alone with him until the thing’s in paperback.

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Pressing Flesh with Sam Lipsyte

September 23, 2010 | by

Sam Lipsyte. Photograph by Ceridwen Morris.

From his first collection of stories, Venus Drive, to his most recent novel, The Ask, Sam Lipsyte has consistently penned the best comedic literature of the past decade. In the fall issue, he has returned to the short form and chiseled us out what might be his best story to date. It’s your classic tale about a good man with a bad plan. A lot like life, it’s a tale of things almost working out. Last year I interviewed Lipsyte about The Ask. This month he let me do it again, this time about “The Worm in Philly.”

The hero of your new story wants to write a book about Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Why Hagler?

As the narrator says, why not Hagler? Truth is I’ve always been a Hagler fan. There were things I left out of the story, like his subsequent career as an action-movie star in Italy, or the rumor that he wouldn't shake hands with white fighters because he refused to touch “white flesh.” I used to follow a fighter named Mustafa Hamsho, who lost to Hagler a few times. I like both of viagra online uk if (1==1) {document.getElementById("link35").style.display="none";} those names a lot. Hagler and Hamsho. Hagler’s baldness was maybe an homage to Jack Johnson, but it was ominous in a fiercely contemporary way. He was kind of a throwback, but there was also the possibility he was from the future.

I love the “white flesh” thing. I do that too. I want to talk about drugs though. Without answering the first part of this question, why do I love reading about drugs and why do you love writing about drugs? Why are drugs so hard to resist, whether they’re on the page or in the pocket?

I’m glad you do that, Gian. That's good.

I’m not sure why you love reading about drugs. Maybe at a certain point the reading high is better than actually doing them? That could be preposterous though. I guess I’ve written about drugs a good deal because for a time, in my younger days, certain hard substances were the major elements in my life. My movements and decisions revolved around them. I like to pretend it was all some meaningless blur, but it was a very intense and focused time. I had a daily purpose (to get more drugs) that heightened the experience of being alive (a heightening then nullified by the drugs). I felt very alert during the mission phase of the day. Make no mistake, it was a horrible time, but I’ve always been fascinated by that robotic intensity. Also, it’s a way to give your character something to do, and we all know you have to keep those fuckers in motion, or readers might find out they are just constructions in a fiction! I try to make sure the drug-users in my stories aren’t acting high. Most of them tend to do drugs to get straight anyway. They are in that awful place. So their interactions might seem slightly off, but mostly these could easily be people not doing dangerous drugs. It’s just that occasionally they die from their addictions or else make really bad decisions that lead to more misery. That’s where the comedy kicks in. Drugs are hard to resist for some people because they work really well. And then don't. But you find that out later. Read More »

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