Month: September 2014

The Trustees of Reservations

Today I finally got around to becoming a member of the Trustees of Reservations.  The Trustees conserve and protect various properties around Massachusetts.  I have spent many weekends walking on trails through forests and fields thanks to this organization.  It makes me proud that even in one of the most densely populated states, we have managed to conserve significant portions of land.

However, there are always threats to our natural heritage.  A Texas company is currently proposing a pipeline that would destroy irretrievable farms, forests, and wetlands in Massachusetts, including land that is supposed to be conservation land.  Please take a look at this website, which is serving as the action center for citizens to organize and stop the pipeline.  Environmental stewardship is in the hands of each and every one of us.  If we do not act now, there may soon be nothing left to save.

Literary Links

The sleeping habits of geniuses: Thank goodness.  Apparently many of them did sleep 7 to 8 hours a night.

How to enrage a writer.  I would have added, “Of course you can make money.  Just be like J.K. Rowling” to the list.

A moving review of Marina Keegan’s book

A hilarious review of Dan Brown’s Inferno

An English professor’s highly thoughtful blog on the short story

The Millions, one of my favorite places to read literary news

The Millions’s list of difficult books

Related: An online guide to Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada, a massive, highly challenging novel that I should read again

A new recognition for second novels

Rejection wiki: where writers can find out whether rejections were form, tiered, or personal.  (Tell a non-writer about this, they’ll look at you like you’re crazy).

The New Yorker writes about the myth of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the (in my opinion, aggravating) spate of Zelda novels that have come out recently.

A fascinating New Yorker profile of John Green

Raven Book Store

Raven Book Store in Harvard Square is my favorite place to buy used books.  Whenever I’m in there, I wish I could buy them all.  Today I needed to get a new copy of The Great Gatsby, having lost mine.  The only one they had on the shelf was this:

Books_Gatsby

The guy at the cash register took one look at it and said, “Oh, the movie one.  Usually we don’t carry these.”  That was kind of awesome.  I love Raven!

Bonus:

Someone has actually made an old-school Great Gatsby video game.

(Warning: Highly addictive.  And surprisingly challenging.  Watch out for the drunken revelers, and the evil eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg!)

 

On Disparagement

Dial M for Musicology

“Ironic dismissal of passionate commitment to ideals is really just a more sophisticated way of being lazy.”  —Christopher J. Smith, Prof. of Music at Texas Tech, Director of the Vernacular Music Center, Balor of the Bouzouki

Growing up in Sunnyvale, my wife’s favorite music store was in Palo Alto, a shop called Melody Lane. In the mid-1980s, just after we were married and had moved back to the west coast, we stopped in there for a piano score and the youngish guy behind the counter asked what I was doing. I smiled and happily explained: I’d just gotten a job accompanying for the San Francisco Ballet school. “Great!” he snorted sarcastically. “We’ll see how that goes…”  This rankled—I mean, a job playing music, with benefits? That’s something of a holy grail, whenever and wherever. Debbie and I noted it, discussed it, and life went on. Two years later, I got into the Stanford…

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Favorite paragraphs and sentences from The Secret History

p. 197

” ‘It’s a terrible thing, what we did,’ said Francis abruptly.  ‘I mean, this man was not Voltaire that we killed.  But still.  It’s a shame.  I feel bad about it.’

‘Well, of course, I do too,’ said Henry matter-of-factly.  ‘But not bad enough to want to go to jail for it.’

Francis snorted and poured himself another shot of whiskey and drank it straight off.  ‘No,’ he said.  ‘Not that bad.’

p. 376

“An old shoe was lying on the asphalt in front of the loading dock, where the ambulance had been only minutes before.  It wasn’t Bunny’s shoe.  I don’t know whose it was or how it got there.  It was just an old tennis shoe lying on its side.  I don’t know why I remember that now, or why it made such an impression on me.” [End of chapter]

p. 512

“And I know I said earlier that he was perfect but he wasn’t perfect, far from it; he could be silly and vain and remote and often cruel and still we loved him, in spite of, because.”

p. 533

“It was Charles.  He stood in the doorway, blinking drunkenly around the room, and I was so surprised and glad to see him that it was a moment before I realized that he had a gun.”

The Secret History

I don’t know when it was decided that suspenseful plots and cool words are bad, but when I read The Secret History, I realized how much I’d wanted to read something quirky, erudite, and just really entertaining.  The Secret History is all of these things, and if you haven’t read it yet, you should get off the internet and go read it right now.

secret

 

Somebody ought to tell her there’s nowhere to go

As I write posts about my favorite short stories, it strikes me as sad that so many of them are from Best American Short Stories.  BASS is always a good cross-section of what’s going on in American literature, but when only twenty stories are selected, there are many more that I might never hear of.  One can read the usual lit mags, but I’m sure there are just as many awesome stories that have been published in less-known journals.

On the other hand, isn’t it exciting that BASS always has at least a few authors who are not yet widely known? BASS is how I discovered Karen Russell, Rebecca Makkai, Christine Sneed, and other writers I greatly admire.  Same goes for Danielle Evans.  Before coming across this story of hers in BASS, I had never heard of her.

“Somebody Ought to Tell Her There’s Nowhere to Go” (BASS 2010) is well-crafted, entertaining, and heart-breaking.  I like that it deals with a soldier who has just returned from the Iraq and is struggling with PTSD.  It seems that a lot of fiction these days is safe and domestic, not especially interested in larger events beyond a few snide comments (always leftist) on the political scene.  It was good to read a story that engaged with the effects of current events on individual lives—and in a way that was not predictable or politically motivated.  It’s a story I read over and over.  It impresses me every time.
So I went to find out more about Danielle Evans, and it turns out this was not even her first story in BASS!  She first appeared in BASS 2008 with her story “Virgins,” originally published in The Paris Review.  Her short story collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self won all sorts of awards, and she did all of this while still shockingly young.  I look forward to reading whatever she publishes next.

Links

Like everyone else, I definitely spend too much time reading stuff on the internet.  One of my goals is to stop doing this.  However, there are occasionally things that are worth reading.  Here is a collection to prove that not all was a waste:

-Rebecca Makkai is not only a great short story writer, she also writes hilarious posts for the Ploughshares blog.  Here are a few:

Writer Nightmares

Amateur Author Spotting

An MFA For the Rest of Us

-This was an interesting review on Stuart Dybek’s latest collection and the state of MFA fiction

-An uplifting essay on how classical musicians are innovating to find new audiences and performance space

-Came across this great essay by George Orwell today: Why I Write

-A piece on whether or not The Goldfinch counts as “Literature.”  I haven’t read it yet, but I tend to agree with one of the comments: “If a book sells a million copies and wins the Pulitzer Prize, who cares what the critics think?”

Flash Fiction

Some novelists write short stories to take a break from their novels.  I haven’t written any novels yet (though one is hopefully in the works soon…), so, in an equivalent move this summer, I wrote some flash fiction to take a break from my stories.

Some people have asked me what flash fiction is.  Usually it’s defined as a story shorter than 1,000 words, although some flash fiction sites demand less than 500.  The genre seems to have gained a lot of popularity in this age of sound bytes and short attention spans.  I don’t enjoy writing flash fiction as much as stories, but there is something gratifying about finishing a discrete piece of writing, and finishing it quickly.  You can write a flash in one or two days, whereas a story can take months.

So perhaps it’s exciting to say that my first piece of flash fiction has been accepted by Apocrypha and Abstractions, a review dedicated to stories under 500 words.  The piece, which is sort of odd–I think of it as a dark humor piece–will come out in March 2015.