Essays

August 19, 2010

The Ballad of David Markson: A Primer 15

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What might you have already read that suggests you’ll like David Markson? Tough call, since, for good or ill, nothing’s like David Markson.

August 17, 2010

Where We Write: The Merits of Making Do 36

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I began to suspect I was too susceptible to the idea of the “writer’s desk” and decided it might be better to do without one. Somewhere along the way, I began to work in libraries. More important, I began to get work done in libraries.

August 13, 2010

The Aira Effect 7

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The effect of all the detail and incident César Aira can offer on such a small canvas is vertiginous, like reading an epic poem etched on a grain of sand.

August 12, 2010

Writing Is My Peppermint-Flavored Heroin 17

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Panic attacks, advance reviews, firearms, squirrels, and chocolate milk: One writer’s diary leading up to the day his debut novel is published. Or: “The Ecstasy and Agony of My First Novel Being Published.”

August 10, 2010

The Way We Used to Walk the Dog 16

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Often, until I am directly confronted with the sight of a girl and her book—a sight outside the purview of my current routines—it can slip my mind that I, too, used to read like that. To love reading like that.

August 4, 2010

A Harbored Notion 10

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It would be a pity should your books sink to the depths in the fuselage belly along with your neatly folded underwear. It could happen.

August 3, 2010

On Repetition 24

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A contradictory set of truths about books and publishing in the abstract: don’t repeat yourself, and don’t write books that are too different from one another. Other writers will pillory you for the first, and publishers will be more than happy to pigeonhole you from the moment you achieve anything like success. Blow out your advance? Great. Now write the same exact book again.

July 29, 2010

In Praise of Precocious Narrators 7

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In an age of shortening attention spans and the glorification of stupidity, I find it comforting and exciting to spend time with young characters for whom books, maps, notebooks, letters, research, drawings, imagined inventions and classic films are central and essential.

July 28, 2010

In Search of Iago 5

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If we dig deep into literary villainy do we find caricature or do we find ourselves?

July 28, 2010

The Beauty That Lies in Wasted Time: On Cao Xueqin’s Dream of the Red Chamber 6

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Dream of the Red Chamber‘s doomed lovers, Jia Bao-yu and Lin Dai-yu, are as iconic in China as Romeo and Juliet are in the West. It’s also notable for its staggering length. At about twenty-eight hundred pages, the book is about twice as long as my copy of War and Peace.