Friday, April 15, 2011

April 15 not only about taxes

April 15 is Tax Day in the US. It's not prudent to evade taxes, but we can evade tax talk. Other interesting April 15 happenings:

1878: Birth of Robert Walser, author of Jakob von Gunten, The Tanners, and the Berlin Stories. Also known for his drafting process, which involved handwriting so tiny that some of his manuscripts have been released under the title The Microscripts.

1942: Death of blog favorite Robert Musil, author of The Man Without Qualities, a novel as thick and sprawling as the tax code. (He also married on April 15 -- in 1911.)

1947: Major League debut of Jackie Robinson, one of the most-written-about baseball players of all time.

Jackie Robinson Stealing Home, May 18, 1952 Art Poster Print, 20x16

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Immortalizing Bad Ideas

Stephen King, in an interview with James Parker, once again contradicts conventional writing wisdom by insisting:
No. I never write ideas down. Because all you do when you write ideas down is kind of immortalize something that should go away. 
Few things succeed as well as blogs at immortalizing bad ideas. This is both their strength and their weakness. All ideas get an airing.

King trusts his unconscious filtering process, which is admirably bold. ("If you can't remember it, it was a terrible idea."). Blogs outsource much of this filtering to the readers. Thus a blog's quality is driven in part by its readers (the same can be true of its lack of quality). The community shapes what is forgotten; its demands influence what is remembered.

Or maybe I've just immortalized another bad idea, one that I'd have mercifully forgotten if I'd only waited a day before scribbling.

On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the CraftFull Dark, No Stars

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Digressions in The Golden Age

I mentioned Michal Ajvaz's The Golden Age a few days ago, giving it bland praise as a "smart" book. I'll now go a little deeper with an excerpt (starting on p. 207 in the paperback Dalkey Archive edition, which is translated by Andrew Oakland).
[T]he most important aspects of any story reside in its digressions... I believe it to be true of more than just literature...
Yet the digressions fit (and even define) the structure of the story (and this blog). Does this undermine or strengthen the point?

Either way:
Let us enjoy the sense of freedom the diversions grant us; let us breathe in their scent, the pure air of uncontaminated vapours of sense and intent... (p. 208).
Even if they are contaminated by intent, or because they are contaminated by intent -- stories are "weeping wound[s]" in Ajvaz's telling, "born when the hum of calm was fractured" -- they become the "accompaniment of new thoughts and new journeys."  

But let me sign off, as I have started to digress...

The Golden Age (Czech Literature Series)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Legal Drug?

Shashi Martynova advises that "we need to talk about reading as a ‘legal drug,’ something that is healthy, takes you to an alternate reality, is sometimes trippy and sometimes dizzy.”

Pessimistic stats about American reading habits abound. Here, for example. I question the accuracy of the specific statistics, but the overall point holds -- those who like reading wish more people felt the same.

But a "legal drug" isn't the best pitch. Reading spreads when talked about like an illegal drug. Banning -- whether from a parent group or the Catholic Church -- is a boon to many titles, from Ulysses to The Da Vinci Code to Beloved.

I've seen more than one inventive library host a successful Banned Book Week. Books treated like health food rot on the shelf. But when there might be something they don't want you to see...

Beloved (Everyman's Library)Ulysses120 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature

Monday, April 11, 2011

Surely A Storybook Marriage

Upon reading that author Chris Currie had proposed to his girlfriend in the acknowledgements of The Ottoman Motel, his first novel, my initial reaction was not "how romantic," or "how inept," or "how authorial," but Publicity Stunt.

A cynical response, but still I play along, believing in romance for just a moment. I wish them well.

The Ottoman Motel

"The tribe of sentence watchers"

The title quote comes from How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish (NYT link). A noble tribe, for certain.

Excessive admiration for great sentences often leads to the too-little/too-much plot argument. Laura Miller provides a recent example in her mixed review of Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife (a book I hope to read in the near future). Miller focuses on Obreht's "environmental description" killing the narrative momentum.

I enjoy both the plot-full and plot-light, and wonder if where most works falter is the leap from good sentences to good paragraphs. Donald Maass makes a similar point by emphasizing what he calls "micro-tension."

We watch for the sentences, but are converted by the paragraphs.

 How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read OneThe Tiger's Wife: A NovelThe Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Epic Shit

When bouncing around blogging ideas, I was advised to create epic shit. Internet gurus confirm: Write epic shit, says Corbett Barr. Justine Musk agrees.

Since I always follow advice, I -- of course -- started frequently referring to favorite epics like The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid.

A kind reader has alerted me that I perhaps misunderstood what was meant by "epic." Alas. Yet stubborn I remain. I suppose I'll settle for a different kind of epic.

The IliadThe Odyssey: The Fitzgerald TranslationBlood Angel
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