A very Seventies homage to J.M. Barrie

As you can see, I have the best in-laws. That’s Larry on the left, and Jane on the right, and though they divorced years ago — long before I met them — they’re both still this fun and campy.

Right now I’m reading Old Mortality, a gift from Larry. He figured I would appreciate Sir Walter Scott’s meditation on fanaticism, violence, and repression, and I do, very much, even though it’s subtly weighted toward the Tories.


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reads for Girls Write Now

On Friday night I’ll be introducing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as she opens the last event of Girls Write Now’s Chapters series with a reading from her short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck. I’ve written about my admiration for her work many times; since then, she’s won a MacArthur Fellowship and earned a place on The New Yorker’s 20 under 40 list.

Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, which I once stayed up until 5 a.m. on a work night to finish, centers on a girl about the same age as those Girls Write Now serves. My favorite of her short stories, “Cell One,” appears in the new collection.

At the event we’ll also debut our 2010 anthology, which features an introduction by Nami Mun, whose Chapters reading from Miles from Nowhere earlier this year was astonishingly good. The event will be held at the Center for Fiction, starting at 6 p.m.

Thrilling finale of my Culture Diary

I can’t believe I forgot to link to the second installment of my Paris Review Daily Culture Diary.

It’s not any sexier than the first, I’m afraid, but if you’re craving more usage pedantry, solo drinking tips, or line-editing blow-by-blows, you won’t want to let this one pass you by.

Here’s one of the mouse-over notes:

After reading Brad Gooch’s biography of Flannery O’Connor last year, I internalized her (and Elizabeth Hardwick’s) prohibition against allowing the same word to appear twice on a page, and my prose strains in places as a result. I wonder: did O’Connor read Muriel Spark? If so, confronted with such hilarious and inarguably brilliant repetitions — see, e.g., the sticks* — how could she have continued to adhere to her rule? Also how did Spark reuse words so imaginatively? She built humor through the sameness but somehow made the descriptions fresh every time. I wish she could revise this scene I’m getting ready to work on now, the one with the dogs in the car.

Somewhat relatedly: as predicted, Caitlin Roper’s issue of The Paris Review was waiting in the mailbox on my return from Florida. I turned first to my friend Victor LaValle’s essay, which is just great, and then to the R. Crumb interview, which you won’t want to miss if you’re a fan, and then, fingers quivering with years of accumulated anticipation, I read the Katherine Dunn excerpt, which made me want to read more.

* Mouse-over note from the first installment: “By now there are passages I could almost quote from memory — especially the post-funeral scenes involving the writer with rheumatoid arthritis slouched over ‘two sticks,’ making his way among the funeral flowers as the other elderly characters goggle at him. The novelty of the Scottishism (‘sticks’ rather than ‘canes’) tickles me, of course, but it’s the perfect, deadly repetition of the word — all the glimpses of the ‘clever little man doubled over his sticks’ — that makes this section so funny.”

My Kingsley Amis kick continues at Paris Review — and in Central Florida


The first part of my Culture Diary — chronicling things I read, watched, and did the week before last — is up at The Paris Review Daily. Featured: Muriel Spark, Kingsley Amis, Sam Lipsyte, Damages, Jenny Diski, Jimmy Buffett, Rebecca West, Panir Sabzee, Jonathan Franzen, alcoholic beverages…

The silence around here may continue for a little while. I’m unexpectedly in Florida with Max and A.; we’re visiting my father-in-law, who’s in poor health. Here he is (pictured), reading aloud the entry on “alright” (“all wrong”) from my copy of Kingsley Amis’ The King’s English. Not long after this usage bonding moment, he presented me with his pristine abridged copy of Fowler’s 1908 book of the same name.

The next issue of The Paris Review, edited by Caitlin Roper and probably waiting in my mailbox back in Brooklyn, features an interview with R. Crumb, an essay by Victor LaValle, and longawaited new fiction from Geek Love author Katherine Dunn.

My ode to an enchanted hotel, in Oxford American


Oxford American’s fifth annual Best of the South issue includes my ode to Miami’s Biltmore Hotel, which I grew up thinking was haunted and later trespassed in to try to find out. Obviously that’s the hotel, above, and here’s another old South Florida postcard showing a view of the canal.

My childhood wasn’t all long afternoons of slow-flowing water and grand limestone sea-walls, but despite everything, I’ll always miss that house.

Updated August 2013: Here’s the full piece; click for a larger image.
In Summer 2010 issue of Oxford American