Posts Tagged ‘writing’
April 7, 2016 | by Susannah Hunnewell
In 1999, Edwin Frank founded New York Review Books to reintroduce out-of-print works—many in first translations from around the world—to the reading public. “From the beginning, it was our intention to be resolutely eclectic, and build our classics series as different voices build a fugue,” Frank told the New York Times last year. “We set out to do the whole mix of things that a curious person might be interested in, which would take you back and forth from fiction to certain kinds of history.” In the last seventeen years, you’ve likely picked up a New York Review Book—maybe because you were taken with its arresting design, or because you recognized a work you didn’t know by a major author: Walt Whitman’s unexpurgated Drum-Taps, say, or unpublished stories by Chekhov, or new versions of Aeschylus and Balzac, Dante and Euripides, or essay collections by Sartre, Lionel Trilling, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm.
Since its inception, the series has won dozens of awards for its translations; the New York Times chose Magda Szabó’s The Door as one of the ten best books of 2015. New York Review Books have met not just with critical plaudits but commercial success, which naturally leads the curious reader to wonder: Who is Edwin Frank, anyway? We met in his apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn to discuss his process: how he finds the books he publishes and what provokes his interest. Frank has a soft-spoken manner and a reader’s excellent dispatch of vocabulary, but he clearly enjoys regular punctuations of loud laughter, provoked by his knowing, bone-dry sense of humor.
You’ve published two books of poetry. Has your background as a poet affected your tastes as an editor?
Well you could say that reading and writing poetry saved me from ever being a professional reader or writer. I had a Stegner Fellowship after college, but the main thing I took away from it was a permanent aversion to the world of writing programs, and poetry is also a pretty effective inoculation against commercial publishing. And I was always sure that I wanted to have nothing to do with the academic study of literature. Then again, poetry did in some sense lead me to publishing—a kind of gateway drug—since in the nineties my friend Andy McCord and I started a small press, Alef Books, in which we published Joseph Lease, Ilya Kutik, Melissa Monroe, Michael Ruby. But that was a labor of love. In fact I came to editing very late, in my midthirties, which is unusual in publishing, a business people mostly go into right after college. It was a lucky break. I needed a job and I thought that having put out a handful of books of poems would make me of interest to publishers, which of course was dead wrong.
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April 5, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Should we be surprised that so many writers have doubled as spies? It seems a shame to put all their observational prowess to waste when there’s a great way to monetize it—and writing is most assuredly not that way. Plus, the connection speaks to deeper truths about both art forms: “Writers create plots; spies uncover them … ‘Everything is useful to a writer,’ [Graham] Greene insisted. ‘Every scrap, even the longest and most boring of luncheon parties.’ Writers are obsessed with plot and character, motive and perspective, and with the space between interior and exterior worlds, between what people think and what they say. Le Carré has suggested that espionage is a kind of metaphor; we all live undercover and mask our private selves with projected social personalities. ‘Most of us live,’ he said, in a slightly conspiratorial relationship with our employer and perhaps with our marriage.’ ”
- Authors are great voyeurs, too, of course, so it comes as some surprise that Gerald Foos, who rigged up his motel so he could watch his guests going at it, didn’t end up a novelist or something. But he was a writer of sorts: he kept an exhaustive journal of his observations, and Gay Talese has reported on it. “As I read the sections of the journal he sent me, which covered the mid-nineteen-sixties through the mid-seventies, I noticed that his persona as a writer changed, gradually shifting from a first-person narrator into a character whom he wrote about in the third person. Sometimes he used the word I, and sometimes he’d refer to himself as ‘the voyeur’ … The entries become increasingly portentous, and Foos starts to invest the omniscient Voyeur character with godlike qualities. He appears to be losing his grip on reality. But only once, while posted in the attic, did he actually speak through a vent to a person below. He was looking down on Room 6, where he saw a guest eating Kentucky Fried Chicken while sitting on the bed. Instead of using paper napkins, the man cleaned his hands on the bedsheets. He then wiped the grease off his beard and mouth with the bedspread. Without realizing what he was doing, Foos shouted, ‘You son of a bitch!’ ”
- If writers are voyeurs and spies, poets at least get in on the action. To Garth Greenwell, cruising is itself a kind of poetry: “The two phenomena, as I experience them, can serve as similes for each other. Cruising carves out intimacies in public space in the same way poetry carves out intimacies in public discourse; and cruising is also itself a kind of discourse, with codes that have to be secret in plain sight, legible to those in the know but able to pass beneath general notice, like one of Wyatt’s sonnets. Both poetry and cruising have a structure that is essentially epiphanic, offering the sudden, often ecstatic revelation of a meaning that emerges from the inchoate stuff of quotidian life. As poetry declares a system of value incomprehensible to the world of Yeats’s ‘bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen,’ a value different from that of commerce and instrumental usefulness, so cruising depends on an idea of the value of human interactions shorn of the usual institutions that mark that value. And, maybe most profoundly, both poetry and cruising are arts of loneliness and the assuagement of loneliness.”
- A new festival celebrating Beckett’s years in Paris must ask what turns out to be a complicated question: What did Beckett really think of the place? The devastating answer: a shrug. “During those years in Paris, he lived fully in the city; he drank at the Falstaff or the Rosebud and played billiards at the Les Trois Mousquetaires. He visited casinos with Thomas MacGreevy and in his trusty Citroën he once drove a stunned Harold Pinter from bar to bar at breakneck speed. Beckett was also of course a great walker, he crisscrossed Paris time and time again. In his younger days he accompanied James Joyce in walks along the Seine; the older Beckett strolled through the Luxembourg Gardens with the philosopher Emil Cioran … And therein lies the fascination of Beckett and Paris, he’s there but ever so subtly. As he was with people—reticent, gracious—so he was with the city … Not all writers of course are obsessed, like Joyce or Dickens, with the minutiae of a particular city; there are some who, based on their work, barely seem to have walked this earth at all. With Beckett, not surprisingly, the reality is more complex, more elusive.”
- As The People v. O. J. Simpson reaches its inevitable finale (spoiler alert: he’s acquitted), Nicholas Dames sees in it something more than a dramatization of a sensational trial: “The show’s job, as its creators seem to have understood it—and at which they succeed remarkably well is not fidelity to historical detail, but evocation of a vanished era in its most intimate aspects: the moment-to-moment feeling of being alive then, the sensory and affective horizons of a time still within living memory, seen through the slight parallax of the present. Big narrative resolutions, like guilt and innocence, are beside the point. Instead, small things get magnified … What this means is that, allowing for all of its early-21st-century savvy and its very different medium, The People v. O. J. Simpson bears a surprising resemblance to a Victorian novel. It was one of nineteenth-century fiction’s most subtle inventions: the idea that realism’s gaze was sharpest when focused on the recent past, neither beyond living memory nor quite like contemporary world.”
March 28, 2016 | by Iris Murdoch
March 22, 2016 | by Jesse Browner
A misadventure in pedantry.
One goes to the right, the other to the left; both are wrong, but in different directions.
There is no mistake; there has been no mistake; and there shall be no mistake.
—Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington
For fifteen years, I had scrupulously avoided reading the Novelist’s work, except maybe for a few short pieces in major magazines, which I’d scan for a bit and then set aside. Don’t ask me why I refused to read the Novelist—I had my reasons. I sincerely believed I would not enjoy The Novelist’s work, based on what I’d heard about it. But I was also afraid I might like the Novelist’s work. If it should turn out that The Novelist, who is the same age as me, were truly the voice of his/her generation, that would make it harder for me to claim that mantle at some undisclosed future date. And at our age, that window is rapidly closing, if not already shut, sealed, and winterized.
But finally this past summer, with the Novelist’s name and foibles monopolizing the main channels of every social medium, I could no longer bear to remain the only writer in New York without an opinion about the Novelist. I took the plunge and read one of the Novelist’s most iconic works. Read More »
February 16, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
“My First Time” is a video series in which we invite authors to discuss the trials of writing and publishing their first books. Consider it a chance to see how successful writers got their start, in their own words—it’s a portrait of the artist as a beginner and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.
This installment stars Ben Lerner, poet and novelist. While an undergraduate at Brown—and later as an M.F.A. student—Lerner wrote the cycle of fifty-two sonnets that would become 2004’s The Lichtenberg Figures. At the time, he and roommate Cyrus Console were, says Lerner, “always writing under the sign of crisis ... now when I look back, we had a kind of really intense practice.” He discusses the process of imposing form, his thematic inspirations, and the challenges of taking one’s place in the creative universe. “With the first book, you don’t really know if you can do it. You have a kind of constant anxiety about whether or not you have something to contribute to the conversation. And that anxiety—it can ruin your life, but it’s also really generative. Like, it’s a kind of discipline.”
This series is made by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling; we’re delighted to collaborate with them. Be sure to watch the previous interviews in the series:
- Katori Hall, on Hoodoo Love, her first play
- Donald Antrim on Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, his first novel
- Sheila Heti on The Middle Stories, her first collection
- Tao Lin on Bed, his first collection
- Christine Schutt on Nightwork, her first collection
- Branden Jacobs-Jenkins on his play Neighbors
- Gabrielle Bell on The Book of ... series, her early cartoons
- J. Robert Lennon on his debut novel, The Light of Falling Stars
February 9, 2016 | by Idra Novey
Finding a letter in a burrito.
I was somewhat delirious when I found the letter H in my burrito. I had two weeks to finish translating a difficult novel, and I was teaching at two different universities, one so far away it took three trains and two hours to get there. I was also writing a novel at night instead of sleeping.
And now, here, in the burrito I’d bought for lunch, there appeared to be an uppercase H in nine-point font stuck to a piece of tomato. I brought the burrito closer to make sure I wasn’t simply reading too much into a pepper flake. But no, this was definitely a piece of paper with a tiny letter on it, part of a typewritten word. I unrolled the tortilla to see if there were more letters inside; maybe a piece of newspaper had gotten sautéed with the onions. But I found only salsa, beans, tomatoes, and that solitary H. Read More »