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
The Idiot by Elif Batuman: “With superlative emotional and intellectual sensitivity, mordant wit, and pitch-perfect style, Batuman dramatizes the uncertainty of life on the cusp of adulthood.”
The Pirate Who Does Not Know the Value of Pi by Eugene Ostashevsky: A “poem-novel about the relationship between a pirate and a parrot who, after capturing a certain quantity of prizes, are shipwrecked on a deserted island, where they proceed to discuss whether they would have been able to communicate with people indigenous to the island, had there been any.” It “draws on sources as various as early modern texts about pirates and animal intelligence, old-school hip-hop, and game theory to pursue the themes of emigration, incomprehension, untranslatability, and the otherness of others.”
Follow Me Into the Dark by Felicia Sullivan: It “traces the unraveling of a family marred by perverse intergenerational abuse. A complex, dark expression of the deprived heart and the desperate lengths children will go to in order to create family.”
Also at Fiction Advocate this month: We’ll interview MariNaomi, review Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell, and explore a book from 1908 called Autobiography of a Super-Tramp.
And now it’s a book. Chad Harbach’s essay from n+1 about “the two cultures of American fiction”—the MFA mill and the NYC establishment—has grown into a collection of 19 essays, including pieces by George Saunders, Emily Gould, and Elif Batuman, all of them addressing the question of how, exactly, a person becomes a writer in this day and age.
One lesson of MFA vs NYC is that writers are almost always broke. Luckily for broke writers, 9 of the book’s essays are currently available online. So if you don’t want to buy MFA vs NYC—perhaps because you’re writing a novel about Moldavian zookeepers—here is half of it for free.
“MFA vs NYC” by Chad Harbach
“A Mini-Manifesto” by George Saunders
“The Fictional Future” by David Foster Wallace
“How To Be Popular” by Melissa Flashman
“People Wear Khakis” by Lorin Stein with Astri von Arbin Ahlander
“Money (2006)” by Keith Gessen
“The Invisible Vocation” by Elif Batuman
“Dirty Little Secret” by Fredric Jameson
“Reality Publishing” by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington
And some extra tidbits.
A few of these pieces were edited—shortened and/or given a different title–for the book. We’re using the titles from the book itself.
Three more essays have been published online. Thanks to Michael Bourne at The Millions for pointing them out.
“The Pyramid Scheme” by Eric Bennett
“Into the Woods” by Emily Gould
“Seduce the Whole World” by Carla Blumenkranz
– Brian Hurley