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Posts Tagged ‘writers’

Scary Kids’ Books, Annoying Writers

June 6, 2012 | by

3 COMMENTS

Susan Sontag in a Teddy Bear Suit

May 15, 2012 | by

Photo by Annie Leibovitz

We recommend Flavorwire’s entire, inspired list of “Extremely Silly Photos of Extremely Serious Writers,” but this is really the must-see.

4 COMMENTS

On Acknowledgements

July 6, 2011 | by

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.

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Larger than News; Professional M.F.A. People

July 1, 2011 | by

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.
Sincerely,
Thom

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.

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The Writers of Hollywood

March 18, 2011 | by

Bradley Cooper as Eddie Morra.

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.

Paul Giamatti as Miles in Sideways.

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To Marry a Writer; Houellebecq’s Latest

February 25, 2011 | by

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.

6 COMMENTS