There is a pervasive mythology—or perhaps “oversimplification” is the appropriate term—of Black life in the United States, in which the South, understood to be the epicenter of American racism, is molasses slow in ideology, movement, and progress. On the other hand, the North (particularly its cities, such as New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.) represents upward mobility, progress, and freedom from the bondage that created African Americans. Of course, the history of both North and South is far more nuanced than that, and the current Black Lives Matter movement—which evolved following high-profile police killings in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and Baltimore, Maryland—provides contemporary evidence counter to this line of thinking. Continue reading
In his first book of… not poetry, Michael Robbins, author of Alien vs. Predator and The Second Sex, makes an extended argument about the connections between poetry and pop music.
A pop song is a popular song, one that some ideal “everybody” knows or could know. Its form lends itself to communal participation. Or, stronger, it depends upon the possibility of communal participation for its full effect.
Of course, being a poet, he’s cynical as hell. He says poetry is nothing more than a “sad and angry consolation.” Continue reading
Brian Eno told the Los Angeles Times in 1982, “I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground Record sold only 30,000 copies… I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” The same could be said of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, a slim collection of short stories that had the same effect on hundreds, if not thousands, of burgeoning writers.
I encountered Jesus’ Son at twenty, on break from college and wandering around a massive old bookstore. I saw that cover in the remainders section, bought it for $4.98, and promptly left it in the bag on my floor, only to discover it again, a couple of weeks later. I read it on breaks from my landscaping job (filthy, mulch-stained fingerprints litter the pages) and would go back to whacking weeds and edging beds with Johnson’s electric language pinging in my brain. I marked lines and passages I loved at that time with a stubby green pencil engraved with the name of a golf course I’d never been to, and bite marks in the wood that weren’t from my teeth: Continue reading
I’m an idiot. I know this. I was even more of an idiot back in college and I don’t like being reminded of this fact. So I admit I was hesitant when I picked up a copy of Elif Batuman’s The Idiot. I feared the narrator Selin and I had too much in common for us to ever get along. Like Selin, I’d fallen for a man via email while in college. Like her, I’d gone on to teach English in another country. Like her, I was trying (“doomed”) to be a writer. Unlike her, I didn’t go to Harvard. We were off to a shaky start.
I wasn’t entirely wrong. In some ways, following a year in the life of Selin was like reliving the prime of my idiocy, the crème de la crème of my naivety.
It’s strange how much I enjoyed it. Continue reading
My five-year-old son spent the morning trying to convince me it wasn’t him, but a group of five, seven, 100 ninjas who came into his room and threw Legos everywhere.
My son has an interesting problem, one faced by writers who want to conjure up magic: magical realism, or ‘real maravilloso’—when marvelous or magical events occur in a realistic narrative, locating magic in the ordinary. While it’s typically associated with contemporary Latin American writers (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, Clarice Lispector, Isabel Allende, to name a few), it has found its way in novels by writers from other continents—Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, Gunter Grass, Fay Weldon, and now Lucy Wood. Continue reading
Virginia Woolf took her greatest risks as an artist in 1930. Fresh off the success of Orlando and To The Lighthouse, she embarked on The Waves, a more experimental, more fluid novel than her previous works. (She describes it in her diary triumphantly as “my first book in my own style.”) If The Waves marked an invigorating period of self-expression for Woolf, the process of writing it—and editing it—was nonetheless taxing. (“Never,” she laments, “have I screwed my brain so tight over a book.”) In an entry dated April 11th, 1931, Woolf, who was balancing a few writing projects at the time, complains about revision: “I am so tired of correcting my own writing… And the cramming in and the cutting out… But I have no pen—well, it will just make a mark. And not much to say, or rather too much and not the mood.”