Posts Tagged ‘writers’
July 6, 2011 | by Anna North
Anyone who wants to study writers’ idiosyncrasies need look no further than their acknowledgments. One contemporary author thanks her therapist, another his probation officer, a third someone he calls the “Infamous Frankie G.” In the backs of books I’ve found shout-outs to the Ship Manager of HM Frigate Unicorn; a book on Satanism; and an ice hotel. But alongside the quirky is also the heartfelt. I’ve encountered declarations of love—“my children, my jewels”; “without you, I’d be sunk”; “not only the most supportive parents a writer could ask for but the most loving, kind, and inspiring people I know.” One set of thank-yous closes with the code IALYAAT, which I hope means, “I Always Love You At All Times.”
Acknowledgments also offer an all-too-rare view of the writer as actual human being. We often think we’re seeing the author’s real self when we read her fiction, but as any author who’s ever been asked what happened after she fled her family of international superspies and threw in her lot with a group of itinerant circus performers knows only too well, this is a delusion. The acknowledgments at the back of a novel are tantalizing because they’re often the only true thing amid a pack of lies. And at the end of a really great book, how wonderful to recognize that it was written not by a monolith or a beam of white light or the manifestation of the goddess Athena, but by a living, breathing person who remembered to thank her agent.
July 1, 2011 | by Lorin Stein
Hi Mr. Stein. I went to a talk you gave many months ago at McNally Jackson about The Paris Review. You said something that has stayed in my mind, especially now that President Obama has said that we will be withdrawing from Afghanistan. You said that you believe what you’re doing with The Paris Review (and literature in general) was just as important as the coverage a newspaper like The New York Times gives to the wars in the Middle East. Can you explain? I see in some ways how you are making a point, but I can’t help but think that literature has to weigh a little bit lower on the scale of important things, especially against war.
Yikes! I hope I didn’t say that—I certainly don’t think it! What I can imagine saying is that, in one person’s tiny life, it is possible for art to loom larger than the news of the day. I can also imagine saying that this strikes me as a good thing. There are people the country needs to hear from regarding military strategy, and people it doesn’t. I, for instance, am someone with whom there’s not much point discussing troop levels.
Your question makes me think of Roberto Bolaño’s comic novel The Third Reich, all about a writer who sacrifices everything—love, friends, home, job—for a board game ... a board game in which he restrategizes the entire Second World War so the Nazis will win. Writers are like that. They are, among other things, people for whom the unimportant outweighs the important. What’s more (at least in Bolaño’s fiction), they are people you wouldn’t want to see involved in foreign policy, because they’d screw it up, or play—as often as not—for the wrong side.
What do you think of M.F.A. programs? A. R. Ammons says in his Paris Review interview that “it sometimes happens that these professional M.F.A. people are also poets, but it rarely happens.” Do you agree with Ammons, or do you think these places can play a meaningful role in nurturing poets and other writers? Yours, E. M.
I think A. R. Ammons is using the word poet in a special way. Poets often do. He means there are not many great poets in writing programs. It’s true: but then, there are not many great poets anywhere. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn something about poetry in a writing program. And most of them are nothing if not nurturing. For me the question is whether nurturing—whether being part of a caring community—makes for better work or for poems that people will actually want to read out there in the cold, hard world. For others, being part of that community is a powerful incentive to write. For these people, I think an M.F.A. makes all kinds of sense.
Have a question for The Paris Review? E-mail us.
March 18, 2011 | by Jennie Yabroff
Early in the movie Limitless, we follow protagonist Eddie Morra as he shuffles aimlessly down a street in New York’s Chinatown. Observed from a distance, Eddie barely registers onscreen. He has a scraggly ponytail and a beat-up jacket. One hand is wrapped in grubby surgical tape. His attitude is at once hostile and cowering. He could probably use a shave, a shower, and a sandwich, but something more is wrong, something fundamental about Eddie himself. In voice-over, Eddie uses his career to explain his unsavory appearance: “What kind of guy without a drug or alcohol problem looks this way? Only a writer.”
In movies, writers are only slightly less morally repugnant than serial killers (unless the writer is a serial killer). According to Hollywood, writers are either parasites (Deconstructing Harry, Barton Fink, Capote, Misery); perverts (The Squid and the Whale, Adaptation, Wonder Boys, American Splendor); addicts (Permanent Midnight, Barfly, Leaving Las Vegas, Sideways), or sociopaths (La Piscine, Deathtrap, The Shining). They have monstrous egos and tiny, wizened hearts. Their moral compasses are permanently cracked; their personal relationships are cynically contrived to produce “experience,” which they feed to the insatiable maw of their craft. They are creatively constipated. They practice poor personal hygiene. They are not lovely to look at. It almost goes without saying that they are almost always male.
February 25, 2011 | by Lorin Stein
I’m remarrying at “a certain age.” My mother once said “You’d make some man a lovely wife if you weren’t a writer.” We can chortle at this or, do you think, we can agree that to have a life partner, male or female, hunkering down on a subject, translating perception into the written word, is difficult to live with à la longue? And how can we be authentic but also companionable in an acceptable key? —Jane Merrill
First of all, felicitations and lots of luck. I think living with somebody, à la longue, is pretty tricky no matter what he or she does for a living. So they tell me. The downside of writers, I gather, is that they spend all day alone (which makes them slightly crazy by supper time), suffer from writer’s block (ditto), and by and large are not much help when it comes to paying the rent. But many of you are such good company! And you ask such good questions! If you discover the golden mean of authenticity and companionability, I hope and trust you will let us know. (Maybe in your next book?)
Last year, I first read of Houellebecq in The Paris Review, whose Whatever and The Elementary Particles I loved. Currently, I’m enjoying Le Tellier’s Enough About Love. Can you recommend more contemporary French fiction in English translation? Also, is there a time line for an English translation of Houellebecq’s latest? —Peter S., Saint Paul, MN
I treasure Houellebecq, but I’m having trouble finding a critical opinion, in English or in French, that can really explain and defend the merit of the work. Any suggestions, links? Who are the best French critics nowadays? —Alex
Peter S., the latest issue of The Review of Contemporary Ficton is devoted to the publisher P.O.L.—source of much that is new and original in French letters today. I think it will interest you. One P.O.L. author, Édouard Levé, appears in our spring issue. (You will recognize him as the real-life source for the character Hugues Léger in Enough About Love.)
According to Houellebecq’s American publisher, The Map and the Territory is scheduled to appear in spring 2012. And while we’re on the subject: Alex, check out Ben Jeffrey’s essay in The Point and Sam Lipsyte’s in The Believer.
Have a question for The Paris Review? E-mail us.
November 2, 2010 | by Emma Straub
Some writers learn by practicing their craft alone in their rooms, some by a mentorship with a beloved teacher, some by M.F.A. committee. I have always tried to learn by osmosis: by placing myself in the physical location of genius, on the off chance that some greater force clinging to the chandelier would attach itself to me and give my writing a cosmic boost. Though I did spend many nights in my early twenties at the Cedar Tavern (where there was certainly some cosmic mojo to be had), the easiest path to absorbed genius always seemed like the real estate section of the newspaper.
I found my first apartment a couple of months after graduating from college—a studio on Perry Street, at the curious point in the West Village when 4th Street finds itself between 10th and 11th Streets. Though I knew the neighborhood a bit from my own teenage explorations, there was one simple reason I wanted to move to Perry Street. Ted Berrigan, one of my favorite poets at the time, wrote this in 1963:
I think I was thinking when I was ahead I’d be somewhere like Perry Street erudite dazzling slim and badly loved contemplating my new book of poems to be printed in simple type on old brown paper feminine marvelous and tough.
Feminine, marvelous, and tough. I wanted it tattooed on my forehead. Never mind that in 2002 a pair of Marc Jacobs stores sat around the corner from Perry Street, and I was too intimidated by the salespeople to walk into either of them. I was tough and feminine and absolutely convinced that living on Perry Street would make my writing more wild, which it did: I wrote a long, messy novel that took Wuthering Heights and put it in my high school. There was incest, in a sexy way, like Flowers in the Attic. I forced my boyfriend to paint the entire room a shocking shade of pink and shoved my tiny desk against the oven, which was good for two reasons: The first was that I never used the oven, not once, and the second was that an entire family of mice soon took up residence inside the oven’s walls.
August 19, 2010 | by Patrick Loughran
Vendela Vida’s new novel, The Lovers, follows a middle-aged Vermont woman, recently widowed, as she vacations in the unfamiliar territory of Turkey in an attempt to re-examine her life. Among these new surroundings, her initial numbness about her bereavement gives way to doubt over whether her marriage was even happy, and she has to face up to a pain she never anticipated. Vendela Vida recently answered my questions over lunch during her book tour’s stop-over in New York City.
What drew you to set this novel in Turkey?
It was completely an accident. I went there for a month in June of 2005 when I was trying to finish my second novel, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, and wanted to be far away from the Arctic Circle in winter—the setting of that novel—and free from the day-to-day distractions of my life in San Francisco. I found a rental house by typing “Turkey,” “rental,” “cheap,” and “beach” into a search engine. I had no intention of setting a novel there, but a year later, this house and this town I stayed in kept appearing in my mind. I couldn’t get rid of the idea of writing about Turkey, so I did.
Did the house you stayed in have any of the unusual contents of the vacation house in the book?
Yes. I usually don’t like to take details from life, but, in this case, I couldn’t resist. The owners left out things that people typically wouldn’t leave out—sex swings, pornographic photos of the wife, books on sexual positions. My husband and I would leave the house to swim, or eat, or explore, and when we returned we would want to be in a neutral, uncomplicated place to relax and absorb everything new we’d seen and experienced beyond the walls of the house, but we were continually affronted by some new and intimate discovery about the owners’ lives. I wanted to put Yvonne, the protagonist of The Lovers, in a discomfiting situation like that.
Lionel Shriver has said she writes partly as catharsis-in-advance. So she wrote about death to experience bereavement. Was this a motive for you in exploring the character of Yvonne?
I write a lot from a place of fear. My friend, the writer Amanda Davis, who was killed in a plane crash in 2003, said that every day you should write about something that scares you. I was finishing this book just after the birth of my second child and the notion that this newborn could one day be estranged and the source of pain for me was also something I feared—and so I made Yvonne’s relationship with her daughter an especially fraught and challenging one. Even the vague idea of my husband dying is something that devastates me. So I was tapping into that fear when creating Yvonne, who’s fifty-three and a widow, and trying to imagine what it would be like to lose someone after spending half your life with them.Read More »