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Posts Tagged ‘writer’

Oliver Broudy on ‘The Saint’

June 2, 2011 | by

Oliver Broudy was a disenchanted freelance journalist living in New York City when he met a philanthropically inclined millionaire whose story struck him as so meaningful that he decided to follow it halfway across the world. The result is The Sainta short memoir of Broudy’s travels with a man whose spiritual efforts range from the incredible to the horrible, and from the enlightening to the self-destructive. Broudy served as managing editor and then senior editor of The Paris Review, working under George Plimpton and Philip Gourevitch.

What made you decide to write this book?

Recklessness, I guess. The last resource of the truly stymied. Before The Saint, I only wrote for magazines. But as sweet a gig as magazine writing can sometimes be, there’s a limit to what you can do in that format. Sometimes it can be agonizing, because you get so close to a subject, but the editorial rubric of the magazine prevents you from addressing it the way you’d like to. So you end up sitting there helplessly as this great material sails by. I used to console myself that I could always go back and write my own version of whatever magazine piece was plaguing me at the time, but inevitably by the time you’re done with the magazine version, revisiting the same material becomes unthinkable. Those lost opportunities linger and ache. That had happened to me too many times, and I was determined to try something different.

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April 5, 2011 | by

Our Spring Revel is on April 12. In anticipation of the event, The Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating James Salter, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize. If you’re interested in purchasing tickets to the Revel, click here.

For over half my life, I have returned repeatedly to Light Years. It was the first of James Salter’s books I discovered; it has since led me to all his others. Light Years is the one I know best. The first copy was borrowed. It belonged to my college roommate and was among the handful of books she’d brought with her from home, having nothing to do with our classes. It was a beautiful paperback published by North Point Press: yellow border, rough edges, thickly woven pages, a Bonnard painting on the cover. It was 1985. The book was ten years old; I was eighteen. I was new to New York, a freshman at Barnard College. I was unsophisticated, unmoored, bewildered by college and by the city. Reading the novel was like opening a window for the first time in spring, after a long winter has passed. Something worn out was set aside, something invigorating ushered in.

At the time I had not read much contemporary literature. I had certainly never read sentences so precise, so clean, so fervent and yet so calm. I reacted to the novel as I did to the books of my childhood: it cast a spell in the same way, provoking a reaction that was visceral and dreamlike and whole. But here was a book that was about adulthood, the undiscovered country that lay on the other side of a bridge I was only beginning to cross.

I loved the mood of the book, which was sober and sophisticated, but also casual, playful. I loved its structure, restrained and orderly, while at the same time loose and unspooling. I loved its intimate texture and its images: Nedra’s hands flat on a table, her oat-colored sweater. Pigeons crowding into the R of a furniture store, a martini that is like a change in the weather. I loved the devotional rendering of meals, peoples’ faces, rooms and the objects they contained. Though it felt startlingly modern, I recognized certain ancient forms of literature I was studying in my classes: myth, elegy, ode. The five acts of Shakespeare. Long passages of conversation, as unadorned but as revelatory as dialogue in a classical play.

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Sybille Bedford: Legacies

March 21, 2011 | by

Sybille Bedford in Rome, 1950. Photograph by Evelyn Gendel.

Many years ago, after I first moved to New York City, I visited a friend of a friend in a basement apartment that he was trying to sublet. He was off to California. Underground living in a dank studio was not for him, and though I too didn’t much like the apartment, I liked him. We talked about books for a while, and before I left I gratefully accepted a novel he pressed into my hands, a battered paperback, its pinkish cover soft with wear. I still have it. It's called A Legacy.

Mesmerized, I read it and then everything else by Sybille Bedford, never dreaming that soon, when researching my book on Janet Flanner, I’d be deciphering Sybille’s crabbed scrawl in the Library of Congress. I pored over her letters, all scratched onto thin, green typing paper, and I well remember my shock one day, many months later, when she answered a query of mine on those same green sheets, and I told her so. It made her feel a bit posthumous, she said.

That was Sybille Bedford’s wit: reflective, wry, and, as Bruce Chatwin once observed, without irony. She was too smart for that, too tender, too droll, and too much of a realist. I had planned to see her in March of 2006; it would have been her ninety-fifth birthday. Now’s she been gone five years, and it would be her hundredth. We will not see her like again. I miss her every day. I often reread her books.

When we first met, I was astonished that, to me, an aspiring writer, Sybille was always forthright about the struggle any writer, aspiring or no, faces day after day after day. Here was one of the finest stylists of the twentieth century, with a prose of incomparable grace and clarity, admitting that she daily battles sloth, discouragement, distraction, and self-doubt­—just like the rest of us. It was as if she was welcoming me into a tribe, without question, without initiation, and with an offer of friendship that was as generous as it was startling. Suddenly, I felt much less alone.

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Mario Vargas Llosa: A Portrait in Miniature

December 6, 2010 | by

Photograph by Shannon Stapleton.

It had rained earlier, and the streets of Manhattan were slick. The traffic lights shone off the pavement, and in the front seat Mario Vargas Llosa discussed the delicate Ivoirian political situation with a taxi driver from Abidjan. I sat in the back seat with Mario’s wife, Patricia, struggling to carry on a polite back-and-forth with her, while simultaneously listening to the discussion going on up front. Patricia and I discussed Mario’s upcoming travel schedule. I mentioned I’d once heard him speak in Madrid, and she nodded, a little bored by me. In truth, I was a little bored by me, too. Perhaps she could intuit that I would’ve preferred to join Mario. It must have been obvious enough. Thick plastic partitions separate the front from the back of New York City taxicabs, and the effect was like watching Mario on an old fuzzy television set, the volume low. I could hear his muffled voice, but only make out a few words: questions about this warring faction or that one, the fragility of the negotiated peace, the coming elections. I wanted to interject—I’ve also been to Ivory Coast!—and this was technically true: I once spent a night in the Abidjan bus station, protected by a knife-wielding tough named Michel, who insisted on locking us inside for own safety—but there was no room for me or my story in this conversation, and so I said nothing. My French is crudely utilitarian, fine for reading a newspaper, say, but not for enjoying a novel by Flaubert, and I’m too embarrassed by my accent to fall into casual conversation with a West African taxi driver; I could only get the sense of the dialogue between Mario and the man from Abidjan, the spirit of it—enough to feel that in the course of a short uptown ride, they’d become almost intimate. We passed 72nd Street, and they shared a joke. Who told it: Mario or the driver? Behind thick plastic, both laughed heartily. Block after rain-soaked block, I sat in silence, straining to hear.

This week, Vargas Llosa will accept the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm. Join us as Sergio Vilela trails Vargas Llosa through the Swedish city, writing in with dispatches translated by Alarcón.


“Most Brilliant, Most Highbrow”: New York Magazine

June 22, 2010 | by

Boy, were we thrilled to discover that the Katherine Dunn story from our summer issue has appeared in the top right corner of New York Magazine's Approval Matrix!

You can buy the issue at your local independent bookstore or on our site. And you can also read a Q&A on the Daily with Dunn and Caitlin Roper, the issue's editor.


Katherine Dunn

June 14, 2010 | by

It took seventeen years to get from my second novel, Truck, to my third, Geek Love.

Katherine Dunn’s novel, Geek Love, is the most singular, evocative, twisted, hilarious book I have ever read. Every sentence contains a surprise. There is nothing else like it. I’ve given a copy of Geek Love as a gift at least once a year for the last decade. A while ago, I wrote Katherine Dunn a fan letter. In reaction to my heaps of heartfelt praise, she said simply, “I’m so grateful that you found it funny. Not everyone gets the jokes.”

Our correspondence ranged from marriage to Mike Tyson’s pigeons, but there was one steady thread—my repeated nagging for a short story or piece of fiction to read and consider for the magazine. I learned from Katherine that I was not her only fan among Paris Review editors. “Shortly before George Plimpton died, he phoned me out of the blue—he was a legendary figure for my generation so this blew my pulse rate to ecstatic shreds—asking to include one of my pieces in a volume of boxing stories he was planning to edit. It would have been a great honor.” A new Katherine Dunn story in The Paris Review, the issue’s printed, and my pulse has not yet returned to normal.

Since Geek Love was published in 1989, you've published many articles, essays, even poetry, but not much fiction. Does fiction take longer to simmer?

Yes, I’ve only published a few short stories in anthologies. Some projects do take longer to gel. But nonfiction is done on a deadline so somebody snatches it away and prints it.

Twenty years is a long time for something to gel, what has happened?

I don’t want to be glib here, but twenty years worth of life and work happened. Some might say I’m right on schedule by my lights. It took seventeen years to get from my second novel, Truck, to my third, Geek Love. And Cut Man is still in progress but it’s a longer book. Fortunately there’s no shortage of wonderful novelists to keep us all engaged. And, lucky for me, the Magi at Alfred A. Knopf are possessed of patience.

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