Jennifer Miller, with her debut novel 'Gadfly,' adds the latest title to the prep-school novel genre, and draws on her own life to do so
“I think, in general, fiction is a lot harder for me than non-fiction,” Miller observed. “Because with non-fiction, you have all the pieces, and you just have to figure out how to put them together, whereas with fiction, you have to create the pieces of the puzzle out of nothing.” But, she said, ultimately, “I don’t think I could be a fiction writer if I wasn’t also a journalist.”
"I'm writing about the problem of women writing," she admitted. The "core problem," as Bechdel called it, being the conflict between motherhood and artistic ambition. "I don't mean to oversimplify things," she said, "because I know that many women have creative lives and raise children. But how many Leonard Woolfs are there? Not many."
Playwright Tony Kushner, talking about his 'Lincoln' screenplay, says the left has become 'comfortable with powerlessness'
“When Spielberg was trying to convince me to write the movie," Tony Kushner said at a Pen World Voices event. "I thought, Why would you do this? As a friend of mine used to say: 'Stick your hand in a blender, it’s faster,'” Kushner said. “There are some human beings—Shakespeare, Mozart—that do things that defy human comprehension. They’re just better than us. Lincoln was one of them.”(1)
Jennifer Egan talks about her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, dedications, and getting inspired in the shower
The book Egan is referring to, of course, is her 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit From The Goon Squad. Because no prize was given for fiction this year, it looks like Egan will be getting another victory lap. It’s a book that’s often called experimental and genre-defying, perhaps because Egan never intended to call it a novel. “I’m still reluctant to use the word novel to talk about the book,” Egan told Weisberg. “But when the hardback didn’t sell for four months, the publisher informed me we were going to call it a novel when it came out in paperback. And that it wasn’t a question, it was a fact.”
All the more reason why Atwood is a refreshing presence. She's a reflection of what the country once had, and, living over our northern border, she is, according to the American tendency, easy for us to lay claim to as practically one of our own. And unlike the British fraternity of Amis, McEwan, and Rushdie, Atwood rarely, if ever, sticks her foot in her mouth. Perhaps it's because, rather than speaking off the cuff about the latest cultural dustup in the War on Terror, she presents herself as an empiricist, speaking with the rigor (and armed with the data) of an amateur scientist. She's familiar with the latest news about dangerous fungi growing in the warm waters around coral reefs or a strange allergy caused by ticks. She presents these findings in a low monotone, interrupting herself with an occasional flush of laughter.
Sound, T.M. Wolf’s debut novel, out this week from Faber & Faber, takes a formally inventive approach to evoking those spaces and stutters and ums and ers and likes that form the rhythms of everyday conversation. He sets the dialogue on the page as though it's musical notation. It’s a bold choice on Wolf’s part, and one that fits in neatly with his overall style, a densely written prose that creates an immersive sense of place. In the midst of all of this is a comparably conventional plot—a mid-twenties coming-of-age narrative laced with some traces of low-level criminal activity at the margins—but the stylistic risks that Wolf takes and his ability to create a vibrant sense of place more than compensate for the moments where the novel's central action feels mundane.
Junot Díaz on writing about 11 Dominicans, getting 'lunch money' from Miramax, and the generosity of his readers
A student asked about an Oscar Wao film. Back in 2007, Miramax bought the rights to it, but never made the film.
“You’ve gotta remember it’s about Dominicans in New Jersey so they paid like $500 for it,” he said to laughs. “No, I’m being honest. The shit wasn’t about werewolves, you know? Literally they paid, like, they paid me lunch money.
At last night's Selected Shorts event actress Lois Smith tackled Tóibín’s “A Priest in the Family,” and Tony Award-winning actor Richard Easton read Smith’s 2004 New Yorker- published short, “Hanwell in Hell,” with both authors on hand to chat about their respective pieces before the story readings and, presumably, to lend moral support to their respective literary interpreters.(1)
One may debate Lillian Hellman's merits as a playwright and prose writer, or question whether her refusal to name names when she was called in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee served anything other than her own ego, but in reading Alice Kessler-Harris's book, A Difficult Woman, one gets the sense that Hellman's most lasting and undebatable achievement might have been willing herself into a resolutely unconventional and full life that was not predicated on her being a wife or a mother.
In Rosecrans Baldwin's new memoir, reality gets in the way of trying to live the expat dream in the City of Light
Paris, Rosecrans Baldwin, author of the new memoir Paris I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down, said, changes at a different—slower—pace than New York. “In New York City, one of the defining characteristics is it's being torn down and rebuilt.” Paris, on the other hand, is the world’s number-one tourist destination whose culture and economy is tied to the city’s preservation. “I am being grossly stereotypical, but [the French] are dedicated to holding onto the image of themselves, this idea of French greatness. The trouble with preserving yourself is that it's a deadening thing to do. Paris is full of plenty of exciting young people and a huge immigrant population, but downtown, the Disneyland of western civilization, doesn't necessarily reflect that.”
John D'Agata and Jim Fingal, co-authors of 'The Lifespan of a Fact,' on why fact-checking isn't so important
Fingal opened the McNally Jackson reading with the first query he sent to D’Agata. “I’m new to this, so bear with me,” Fingal read. “I’ve discovered a small discrepancy between the numbers of strip clubs you say there are in Las Vegas and the number that’s given in your supported documents. I’m wondering how you determined there were 34 strip clubs in Las Vegas when the source you quoted says there are 31.” “I think maybe there’s some sort of miscommunication," D’Agata read in reply, "because the 'article,' as you call it, is fine. It shouldn’t need a fact-checker. I have taken some liberties in the essay here and there, but none of them are harmful.”(1)
Promoting his new book 'How to Sharpen Pencils,' David Rees gives his audience a clinic in the lost art
Rees, the man behind the Get Your War On anti-Bush political cartoon strip, parlayed his skills with the humble pencil into a mail-order manual-pencil-sharpening business, complete with a spiffy, new-fangled web portal. For $15 a pop, Rees sharpens your pencil and mails it back “with a signed and dated certificate authenticating that it is now a dangerous object.” Also in the mail package: bagged, sealed, and labeled shavings.
Author Rajesh Parameswaran explains his process, and what took him so long to admit to the world he was a writer
As shy and withdrawn as the writer Rajesh Parameswaran is in person, that's how daring he is on the page. The nine stories that make up his debut book, I Am An Executioner: Love Stories, out this week, are virtuosic things, summoning some of the wildness of the tiger that graces the cover. Several of the book's stories are set in India or concern Indian immigrants navigating life in the United States, but others are set on an alien planet, in a oligarchic city-state, and in a society dominated by an almost mythic intelligence agency. Two other tales feature tigers and elephants in starring, and unexpectedly stirring, roles.
Israeli writer Etgar Keret, whose latest short story collection, Suddenly, a Knock at the Door, is out today, is masterful at a genre—flash fiction—that has little to recommend it. Stories of 1,000 words or less, flash fiction has also spawned microfiction, hint fiction, short short fiction, and a host of other indistinguishable subtypes. But it's the kind of cultural product that's easily hawked as suited for our age.(2)
At BookCourt in Cobble Hill Sunday night, Aleksandar Hemon and Nicole Krauss went to bat for translated literature, eviscerating American publishers for their neglect of work from abroad. (The commonly cited statistic has it that only 3 percent of books published in the United States are translated from another language.)(2)