Essays

November 13, 2013

Apple’s Private Beach 4

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The very nature of Mavericks — open, wild, unpredictable — is ostensibly in direct opposition with the technological environment Apple cultivates in its operating systems. Techies call it the walled garden; to stick with surf metaphors, we might rather term it Apple’s private beach.

November 8, 2013

Sparks to Make Flame: On the Ideas behind Fiction 8

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Good fiction writers are nosey. I think “write what you know” is the single worst piece of writing advice. Instead, write what you’re really interested in. Write what is going to keep you awake at night; write what you don’t understand; write to figure something out. Good novels are journeys into the unknown, for their authors as well as their readers.

November 6, 2013

God is with the Lazy 1

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Cossery would rise late each day, leaving the hotel only in the afternoons, perhaps to take in the sun and watch the girls of the Luxembourg gardens. He would sit for hours at the Flore doing nothing. He wrote only when he had absolutely nothing better to do, producing a new novel roughly every decade. To waiters who asked him if he was not bored, he replied: “I am never bored when I’m with Albert Cossery.”

October 31, 2013

No Country for Greedy Men: Cormac McCarthy, Screenwriter 5

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One reviewer of The Counselor remarked that the man who wrote the script, Cormac McCarthy, appears never to have read a screenwriting manual. I can think of no higher compliment for a screenwriter.

October 31, 2013

All Happy Meals Are the Same; Every Unhappy Meal Is Unhappy in Its Own Way 1

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McDonald’s introduced me — and I would venture thousands of other kids — not only to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer but also to the notion of a classic. In 1977 and again in 1979, the fast food chain paired up with the publisher I. Waldman & Son to distribute Illustrated Classics Editions in their restaurants.

October 30, 2013

Too Many Heavens: On Travelogues to the Great Beyond 17

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One of the major problems with the heaven-and-back literature is that none of the people who have been there agree about what it’s like. These authors aren’t publicly disputing each other’s testimonials – which is too bad, because that would make for great daytime talk show fodder – but if you read more than one of the books, the discrepancies are hard to miss.

October 29, 2013

The Lowest Form of Humor: How the National Lampoon Shaped the Way We Laugh Now 3

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The funny guys and girls who are confident (it was dawning on me, there at that orientation) are the ones who hold court at parties. The funny guys who are diffident become comedy writers. Or, as I once read in an interview with an Onion writer speaking about the makeup of its staff—the closest thing we have to the National Lampoon in its heyday—they’re the guys who are outside the party, making fun of the guy inside telling jokes.

October 29, 2013

Winning Over James Wood 37

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I started to have a terrible, itchy, and at first seemingly irrelevant thought: James Wood would dislike my book. Then my thought clarified into something worse: James Wood would dislike this book and he would be correct.

October 17, 2013

Silently, Side by Side: Reading with My Son 11

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Maybe those days of curling up in bed with a story were long gone, but what if we read the same book together silently in the living room? If I bought two copies of a novel, we could take on chapter-length chunks each evening and then discuss what we’d just read. Perhaps in this way I could gently lead my son to an appreciation of the deeper internal landscapes that literature offers.

October 15, 2013

Some Words About Wordlessness 1

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There’s something about a six-month-old’s wordless interactions with the world that brings to mind the simple truth that a human is an animal.