Herman Melville once declared his Redburn: His First Voyage “trash,” but the novel’s digressions prefigure Moby-Dick, says Ron Silliman.
I doubt I would have been so ticked off at Garrison Keillor’s death-of-publishing op-ed this morning if a friend hadn’t called yesterday to tell me how insulted she was by similar comments he made at a recent Authors Guild gala, but seeing newspapers endorse this sort of twaddle does get tiresome.
See also Douglas Adams’ 1999 essay “How to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet” (“anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really”).
In what he later called “a rather clever undergraduate essay,” Kingsley Amis argues that Keats was not a great poet, just “an often delightful, if often awkward, decorative [one].”
Organization, as you may recall, is not a virtue I possess in excess. And it depresses me when plans are drawn up and fail. So I hadn’t attempted to outline my novel draft in a couple of years. Now that the project has changed so fundamentally, though, I decided to spend a couple hours this weekend mapping out the story on my iPad.
The easiest thing would’ve been to type it all up in Pages, or to forgo technology altogether and plot everything out in my notebook (for some reason, I take comfort in keeping provisional things handwritten). Instead, I downloaded a new app and spent a little time teaching myself to draw letters with my index finger. (See practice effort, above.) Then I put together an outline. At the time this seemed, if not sensible, like a reasonable way to spend the morning. Later, less so.
But now I have the whole scheme in a handwritten PDF that, after many more hours’ work on the book, I’ve updated twice, once from home and once from my office. Maybe the effort wasn’t a complete boondoggle, after all.
See also Kitty Burns Florey’s Script and Scribble, on the death of cursive.
Further thoughts on everyday drinking, from Sir Kingsley Amis, who settles the question of regional whiskey spellings and marvels at the fortitude of the gunslingers of yore:
Whiskey in the USA has a long, colourful history. (Note that it is indeed spelt with an “e,” along with Irish whiskey — the Scotch and Canadian varieties are both plain whisky.)
One of the most illustrious early American distillers was George Washington, who manufactured the stuff commercially at his place near Mount Vernon in Virginia [Ed. note: reconstructed distillery above], and was very proud of the high reputation of his merchandise. I’m sure it was great for its time, but then and for long afterwards the general run of whiskey must have been pretty rough. I’ve often thought that the really amazing achievement of the Western hero wasn’t his ability to shoot a pip out of a playing card at fifty paces, nor even his knack of dropping crotch first into his saddle from an upstairs window, but the way he could stride into the saloon, call for whiskey, knock it back neat and warm in one and not so much as blink, let alone burst into paroxysms of uncontrollable coughing.
All that, of course, is changed now. American whiskeys are second to none in smoothness, blandness, everything that goes to make a fine spirit…
George Washington’s distillery has been resurrected, and I’ve been meaning to try the stuff.
Further reading: The spirits of 1776; archaeologists’ notes on the excavation of the Mount Vernon distillery; Hangover reading with Kingsley Amis; Charles Dickens’ eggnog (according to Eudora Welty); The Newtons, blood, and bank-robbing cousins. Cheers!
“There is no historical figure who fills me with as much frustration as does Alice James. Whiny, petulant, bratty, arrogant, useless Alice James. And yet I cannot stop reading about her.”
According to the nice man handing out tracts in the subway station below my workplace, the world is going to end on my birthday next year. (Details.)
As someone prone to equal parts self-loathing and self-absorption, and raised in a constant state of Rapture-readiness, I can’t say I’d be surprised.
Either way, and I hope you’ll indulge me in this drama-queen moment: I hereby declare the next twelve months my shit-or-get-off-the-pot year. When May 21 rolls around again, I will have completed a full draft of this (first) godforsaken book I’m writing, or I’ll do something else with my life.
There’s been a lot of brouhaha lately about the impossibility of writing books in the Internet era, so, to be clear: I attribute my slowness not to the supposedly-ADD-inducing properties of the online world but to my own limitations and lack of discipline (and day job).
Colson Whitehead said it best back in February: “Sure am glad Shakespeare found that wifi-less cafe! Or no Hamlet!” He went on: “I dig the need to kickstart things every once in a while, but don’t blame the internet for your crappy work habits.” One of these days I’m going to turn those tweets into a needlepoint wall hanging. One of these days after I finish the draft, that is.
Twitter maps U.S. language use, traces colloquialisms and slang to different geographical regions.
I’ll be introducing Marie Mockett when she reads this Friday, May 21, along with the young writers of Girls Write Now, as part of our Chapters series at the Center for Fiction. Her novel, Picking Bones From Ash, was recently shortlisted for the Saroyan International Prize and is concerned with the unique power and difficulties of talented girls.
“There must be something deeply unsettling to us about [them],” she wrote, in a guest essay for this site. “They often don’t fare well in fiction.”
Girls Write Now’s mission is to bolster talented, underserved high school girls, by pairing them with professional writer mentors who encourage them to express themselves. We received the Coming Up Taller Award from Michelle Obama earlier this year and recently celebrated our 10th anniversary.
The young artist Olivia Morgan (7), an audience member, captured the spirit of our last reading in the drawing above. If you’re free this Friday, please join us. There’ll be plenty of time to swing by the One Story Ball afterward.
Is it possible to appreciate American literature fully if you don’t know the King James Bible? Adam Kirsch considers Robert Alter’s Pen of Iron.
What did Jesus do?: Gopnik on the never-ending effort to separate “the inspiration from the intolerance, nice Jesus from nasty Jesus.”
My former professor H. Aram Veeser discusses his new biography, Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism, 5/19. See also Veeser’s recollection of their first meeting (last item).
Stephany Aulenback says Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal is written in an experimental style but “peopled with characters that actually have depth and layers.” See also Granta’s interview.
PEN posts video of Utopia and Dystopia: Geographies of the Possible, featuring Jonathan Lethem, Inga Kuznetsova, Eshkol Nevo, and Andrzej Stasiuk, and moderated by Albert Mobilio
T.S. Eliot’s letters reveal his “surprising change of plans,” from the “Do I dare?” of Prufrock, to the “awful daring of a moment’s surrender.”