- An early manuscript of The Sun Also Rises finds Hemingway getting all metafictional: “Hemingway breaks into the narrative to address the reader directly, and, in so doing, calls out the artifice implicit in the writing and reading of fiction. It is a wink at the marketplace—readers want lively, lighthearted tales from abroad—and alludes to the novel’s central dark, repeated joke: that everything awful in life, in all of its sadness and melancholy, is better laughed at.” That’s so po-mo!
- It took E. M. Forster eleven years to write A Passage to India—why? Even his diary is cagey.
- A wealthy Brazilian businessman wants to own and catalog every vinyl record in the world. (Don’t worry. He has interns.)
- “During the First World War, advertisers seemed to be responding to people’s needs relatively quickly … In Country Life, one of the things I noticed, being a woman, was that there were a lot of ads for guard dogs. It’s things like that that start appearing throughout the war—obvious and terribly poignant things, such as identity bracelets—that start to be advertised very widely, as casualty lists mounted … Many of the manufacturers who produced the most eye-catching ads are still in business today. The ads worked.”
- Seduce and Destroy: dissecting Tom Cruise’s potent performance in Magnolia, fifteen years later.
We loved Joel Lovell’s profile of George Saunders in yesterday’s Times Magazine. Lovell quotes generously from Saunders’s preface to the new edition of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. By special arrangement with the publisher, we bring you the preface in full.
This book was written in the Rochester, New York, offices of Radian Corporation between 1989 and 1996, at a computer strategically located to maximize the number of steps a curious person (a boss, for example) would have to take to see that what was on the screen was not a technical report about groundwater contamination but a short story.
I had graduated from the Syracuse MFA program in 1988 and had been writing stories that owed everything to Ernest Hemingway and suffered for that. They were stern and minimal and tragic and had nothing to do whatsoever with the life I was living or, for that matter, any life I had ever lived.
We billed our hours, and I would respond to any disrespect toward my person by declaring (in my mind, always only in my mind): “Thanks, a-hole, your project has just funded a Saunders grant for the arts.” And, for an edit that could have been done in an hour, I would bill that program manager’s project an hour and a half, then use the liberated half hour to work on my book.
The opening scenes of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times demonstrate the indignities mechanized factory production perpetrates upon the bodies of its workers. The first shot, of sheep herded into a pen, dissolves into one of men leaving the subway. They’re bound, the viewer assumes, for the kind of job in which the next cut finds Chaplin’s Little Tramp: working on an assembly line, his motions so repetitive that they become reflexive. He can’t stop twisting his wrists, as if to tighten bolts, even when he leaves the station where he tightens bolts all day. His body is so bound to the line and to the factory that the same boss who controls the conveyor belt’s speed also controls the movements of the Tramp’s body. Finally, the factory extends its control to the Tramp’s last autonomous function: eating his lunch.
A salesman so committed to mechanization that he lets a machine speak for him has brought to the factory boss’s office a prototype of “the Billows Feeding Machine, a practical device which automatically feeds your men while at work.” He asks the boss to pick one of his workers for a demonstration, and of course Chaplin’s Tramp is volunteered. Strapped into the machine, hands incapacitated, the helpless Tramp watches the machine rotate plates before him: soup, air-cooled between spoonfuls; corn, spinning on its cob; cubes of meat, pushed by a mechanical arm from the plate into his mouth; and finally cake for dessert. The machine promises to “eliminate the lunch hour.”
Even before the machine goes predictably haywire—speeding up, spilling soup on the Tramp’s shirt and cake in his face (always pausing, hilariously, to wipe his mouth)—it’s clear to the viewer that some kind of line has been crossed. Read More
- Brilliant: book club in a box.
- Writers defend their favorite punctuation marks.
- Tao Lin is selling his stuff on Twitter.
- This gent has the largest collection of primary Hemingway works in existence.
- The head judge of the Man Booker Prize claims book bloggers are harming literature.
I would like to know how to find jobs writing, as someone very new to the field. I am unsure where to start looking. Some ads just look like scams to me.
We received two queries on starting out as a writer this week, as it happens—maybe it’s the time of year? I always think of “back-to-school” as a much more logical starting point for new ventures than January 1, personally. But to answer your question, to the extent that that is possible in a few short paragraphs? First of all, the necessary warnings. Making your living as a writer is hard. Obvious, maybe, but it bears repeating. My parents—and for that matter, my grandfather—wrote for a living, and stable isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind when discussing my childhood. I often think that if I had any other marketable skills, I’d do something else. And keep in mind that many of the great writers in history have done so while holding down day jobs. I’m sure the structure of regular employment—not to mention the financial security—is a real help to many.
But if you are serious about writing professionally, in any capacity, the best advice anyone can give you is to write, and as much as possible. Which is not to say you should go for any “gig” advertised on Craigslist; you’re right to be wary. People have different views on blogs. In my case, I found keeping a personal blog to be useful both in developing a voice and in forcing myself to be accountable to a readership, even if that readership was just my grandmother. I’d add the caveat, though, that you want to be careful what you put out there—this writing, as much as anything in your clips file, will define you both professionally and personally. For the pitch, think of interesting takes on things that genuinely engage you. Don’t be shy. Familiarize yourself with publications and Web sites and get to know their tones. Not everyone can pay much; that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile clip. Ask questions. Go to readings. Talk to everyone you meet. Keep in mind that there’s no shame in striking out—and you will—and that no rejection feels as bad as the knowledge that you haven’t tried.
What are some of your favorite author twitters?
I think we can all agree that the best writers don’t always make the best twitterers, and vice versa, but there are a few who have mastered both genres. (Is Twitter a genre? I’m afraid it might be.) Polymath Wil Wheaton—as one might expect from someone who exercises such economy of characters in the spelling of his own first name—is a Twitter star for a reason. Ditto the ever-entertaining Stephen Fry. Maud Newton is necessary reading for the reader. And Shakespeare (@WillShake) isn’t half-stepping, either.
Who is your literary style icon?
Fictionally speaking, I’ve definitely gone through phases where certain characters exerted undue influence. I’m no particular lover of Hemingway, but who wouldn’t be seduced by this description of Lady Brett Ashley: “She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy’s. She started all that. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey.” Oh, and she also sports a fedora. (Not recommended for an undersized sixteen-year-old, in case the younger me is reading this.) If we’re talking literary figures beyond the page, the list gets even longer: Carson McCullers, Barbara Pym, and my personal inspiration for the years 2003 to 2005, Sylvia Beach.
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