In the second installment of her series of interviews with women who write nonfiction, E.B. Bartels converses with historian and journalist Andie Tucher.
Andie Tucher is the author of Happily Sometimes After: Discovering Stories From Twelve Generations of an American Family and Froth and Scum: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Ax Murder in America’s First Mass Medium, which was the winner of the Allan Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians. She served as a speechwriter for Clinton/Gore ’92, an editorial associate to Bill Moyers at Public Affairs Television, and an editorial producer of the ABC News documentary series The Twentieth Century. She currently teaches in the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.
EB: What drew you to writing nonfiction?
AT: It sounds odd to say I write nonfiction because I am fascinated by the stories people tell about their lives, but those stories––especially the ones told by ordinary people who don’t have access to the traditional channels of communication or power––have been the focus of my work as both a journalist and a historian. Societies as well as people create stories to explain things to themselves and others––perhaps the way things are, perhaps the way they aren’t. And even if the stories include inventions, distortions, or embellishments, they are always in the service of some truth important to the teller. I explore those truths. So: I write nonfiction about a kind of nonfiction! Besides, I’ve never been able to invent anything that’s half as interesting as the world that’s already here.
EB: Does being a woman have anything to do with your desire to write nonfiction?
AT: When I was growing up, if you were a girl and you loved books, of course you wanted to be a novelist, or a poet, or maybe a dramatist. No girl I knew dreamt of the day she’d publish her first nonfiction, and it seemed almost perverse to be interested in something that named itself after everything it was not. I think the perverseness is what first appealed to me and what eventually led to my fascination with the volatile boundaries between the “non” and the otherwise. Continue reading
Nell Zink’s newest novel, Mislaid, has the official Jonathan Franzen seal of approval. The front cover blurb indicates that Franzen sees Zink as “A writer of extraordinary talent and range.” This is true, yet my dominant thought as I read the book was not “here is talent, here is range, here is writing at its best,” but rather, “this book is going to piss a lot of people off and I’m not sure whether it’s worth it.”
The novel opens with a description of Stillwater College, an all-girls school that is not a direct parody of either Wellesley or Sarah Lawrence. Yet, as is soon revealed, it is the typical picture of a women’s liberal arts college, full of bull-dykes and radical feminists and man-haters, which stereotypically amounted to the same thing in the 1960s and ’70s when the early sections of the book take place.
One of the main characters, Peggy Vaillaincourt, is everything her rich parents don’t want her to be. Within the first few pages of the novel, we find out that Peggy “was intended to be a man,” that “girlhood was a mistake,” and that she is a “thespian” (by which Zink means to convey a mishearing of lesbian). She is only happy many years later in life when she tells herself, in a moment of clarity, “You idiot… You’re a femme!” Only then does she find true love and happiness, when she wears pantyhose and makeup. I can already hear the roars of dismay from various factions of the feminist and LGBTQIA communities; as someone who considers herself a part of both, it is often hard to remember that the novel’s irreverence toward political correctness is (probably) purposeful. Whether it is satirical, however, is harder to decipher.
Pages Read: 150-200
In this section–the penultimate for our purposes!–two things of philosophical importance happen. Well, two things that we will discuss, as doubtless loads happen, but we can’t examine each one of them for fear of exhausting the ever-dwindling attention span of the modern day reader (whose diet consists mostly of blog posts). Let’s jump right in, shall we?
“So let’s talk about these books,” Nemira says, referring to an episode that begins on page 160. In this anecdote, Kate goes downstairs into the basement and begins to rifle through a box of books, most of which are in languages other than English. “First, what basement is she in? Is this the space where she’s living now?”
“I thought she was in the basement of her house.”
“Her house?” Nemira asks, accusatorily.
“Well… the house that she’s living in now. Whether or not that makes it ‘her’ house is a different question.”
Given that Google co-founder Sergey Brin has the name of someone you would run into in Braavos, it’s a wonder that it took so long for someone to do this: A Google map of the Seven Kingdoms.
Click below to explore the large version, or buy your own high quality print on Etsy.
New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!
A great band name, a cool iconoclastic sound, a banjo with a beat behind it, and a nice combination of lo-fi and high-energy. “All they wanted was a villain, a villain, and all they had was me…” I just want to come home on a friday, pour myself a tall whiskey, and play this slightly too loud. Cheers!
– Brook Reeder
If you’re queer, if you’re punk, particularly if you’re a riot grrl, chances are you’ve read Blood and Guts and High School. If you’re none of the above, Kathy Acker likely falls into that category of people-you-know-you-should-read-in-order-to-score-a-date-with-a-hipster-chick-on-OkC. Like many women continually searching for literary role models in the late ’90s and early 2000s, I spent my late teens and early 20s in awe of Kathy Acker. I didn’t want to write like her and I didn’t really want to be her, but I did find myself enthralled by her work, which was more aggressive and more vibrantly raw than anything I’d read before (and most things I’ve read since). Readers who encounter her now may find themselves unimpressed by her experimentalism and willful perversion, but this is only because her interventions as a radical/queer/punk writer have come into vogue.
To read Kathy Acker is to be at once revolted and turned on, and these were also the emotions that surfaced in reading I’m Very Into You, a collection of her emails with MacKenzie Wark, who is currently a professor of media studies at the New School. I’m Very Into You is a book that has generated some controversy: people seem to agree Acker wouldn’t have wanted these emails published, but she is unable to protest or consent, having died in 1997. (It’s difficult to track down her haunting, disturbing Guardian article “The Gift of Disease” but well worth the effort, unless someone you love is dying of cancer, in which case you should not read it at all, ever.)
A few days ago I visited the oldest bookstore in the world. It’s called Bertrand. It’s in Lisbon, on Rua Garrett in the Chiado neighborhood. It opened in 1732.
At the oldest bookstore in the world, I bought a UK paperback edition of Mrs. Dalloway, because the book I was planning to read while in Portugal–Jerusalem by Gonçalo M. Tavares, which is translated from Portuguese–turned out to be too depressing for a vacation. I’ll read it when I get home. Mrs. Dalloway, on the other hand, is one of those classics I had never gotten around to. In case you’re wondering, it’s magnificent.
But I want to tell you about the oldest bookstore in the world. In order to do that, first I need to tell you about Lisbon’s soccer team. One of Lisbon’s soccer teams, anyway; the city has two. After visiting the oldest bookstore in the world I went to a soccer match between the Lisbon team Benfica and a smaller Portuguese team. Continue reading
Maybe you really want a mediocre crossword puzzle to pass the time. Or you need a map of your destination airport to find the best route to the Chili’s Too. But for the most part, the in-flight magazine hasn’t typically ranked a lot higher than the barf bag as something you ever want to remove from your seat-back pocket.
Well those were the old days — before Rhapsody.
Actually, those are still the current days if you’re not flying first class on United Airlines. But if you are, you will find what the New York Times calls a “lofty literary journal” that publishes “original works by literary stars like Joyce Carol Oates, Rick Moody, Amy Bloom, Emma Straub and [Anthony] Doerr, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction two weeks ago.”
This is undoubtedly a cool, if weird, thing. Great writers are getting solid audience exposure and, presumably, actual paychecks from a major company. For United, Rhapsody “brings a patina of sophistication to its first-class service, along with other opulent touches like mood lighting, soft music and a branded scent,” according to the airline’s managing director of marketing and product development.
Also this: “Two of the magazine’s seven staff members hold graduate degrees in creative writing.” So it also means that at least two people with graduate degrees in creative writing have gotten actual jobs.
Read the full story “Rhapsody, a Lofty Literary Journal, Perused at 39,000 Feet”