Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure

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A Year in Reading: 2014

This series was first conceived in 2004 as a way to get a fledgling website about books through a busy holiday season. Realizing I had spent much of that year with my nose in books that were two, 20 or 200 years old, I was wary of attempting to compile a list of the year's best books that could have any hope of feeling legitimate. It also occurred to me that a "best of" list would not have been true to the reading I did that year. Instead, I asked some friends to write about the best books they read that year and was struck when each one seemed to offer up not just an accounting of books read, but glimpses into transporting and revelatory experiences. For the reader, being caught in the sweep of a book may be one of a year's best memories. It always feels like we've hit the jackpot when we can offer up dozens of these great memories and experiences, one after another, to close out the year. And so now, as we kick off another Year in Reading, please enjoy these riches from some of our favorite writers and thinkers. For our esteemed guests, the charge was to name, from all the books they read this year, the one(s) that meant the most to them, regardless of publication date. Grouped together, these ruminations, cheers, squibs, and essays will be a chronicle of reading and good books from every era. We hope you find in them seeds that will help make your year in reading in 2015 a fruitful one. As in prior years, the names of our 2014 “Year in Reading” contributors will be unveiled one at a time throughout the month as we publish their contributions. You can bookmark this post and follow the series from here, or load up the main page for more new Year in Reading posts appearing at the top every day, or you can subscribe to our RSS feed or follow us on Facebook or Twitter and read the series that way. Stephen Dodson, co-author of Uglier Than a Monkey’s Armpit, proprietor of Languagehat. Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See. Haley Mlotek,editor of The Hairpin. Jess Walter, author of We Live in Water. Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Isaac Fitzgerald, editor of BuzzFeed Books and co-founder of Pen & Ink. Emily Gould, co-owner of Emily Books, author of Friendship. Blake Butler, author of 300,000,000. Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander. John Darnielle, vocalist for the band the Mountain Goats and author of Wolf in White Van. Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams. Matthew Thomas, author of We Are Not Ourselves. Eula Biss, author of On Immunity. Garth Risk Hallberg, contributing editor for The Millions and author of A Field Guide to the North American Family. Laura van den Berg, author of the story collections What the World Will Look Like When All The Water Leaves Us and The Isle of Youth. Hamilton Leithauser, frontman for The Walkmen. Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You. Mark O'Connell, staff writer for The Millions, author of Epic Fail. Janet Potter, staff writer for The Millions. Lydia Kiesling, staff writer for The Millions. Nick Ripatrazone, staff writer for The Millions, author of Good People. Michael Bourne, staff writer for The Millions. Ben Lerner, author of 10:04. Jane Smiley, author of A Thousand Acres. Phil Klay, author of Redeployment. Emily St. John Mandel, staff writer for The Millions, author of Station Eleven. Tana French, author of Broken Harbor. Yelena Akhtiorskaya, author of Panic in a Suitcase. Philipp Meyer, author of The Son. Edan Lepucki, staff writer for The Millions, author of California. Jayne Anne Phillips, author of Lark and Termite. Maureen Corrigan, author of So We Read On. Porochista Khakpour, author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects. Tiphanie Yanique, author of Land of Love and Drowning. David Bezmozgis, author of Natasha: And Other Stories. Lindsay Hunter, author of Ugly Girls. Dinaw Mengestu, author of All Our Names. Eimear McBride, author of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be a Woman. Rabih Alameddine, author of An Unnecessary Woman. Walter Kirn, author of Blood Will Out. Michael Schaub, staff writer for The Millions. Nick Moran, social media editor for The Millions. Hannah Gersen, staff writer for The Millions. Kaulie Lewis, intern for The Millions. Rachel Fershleiser, co-creator of Six-Word Memoirs and co-editor of Not Quite What I Was Planning. Rebecca Makkai, author of The Hundred-Year House. Gina Frangello, author of A Life in Men. Hannah Pittard, author of Reunion. Michelle Huneven, author of Blame Lydia Millet, author of Mermaids in Paradise. Michele Filgate, essayist, critic, and freelance writer. Carolyn Kellogg writes about books and publishing for the Los Angeles Times. Emma Straub, author of The Vacationers. Ron Rash, author of Serena. Darcey Steinke, author of Sister Golden Hair. Tom Nissley, author of A Reader's Book of Days and owner of Phinney Books in Seattle. Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans. Scott Cheshire, author of High as the Horses' Bridles. Caitlin Doughty, author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Julia Fierro, author of Cutting Teeth. Bill Morris, author of Motor City Burning. William Giraldi, author of Busy Monsters. Rachel Cantor, author of A Highly Unlikely Scenario. Jean Hanff Korelitz, author of You Should Have Known. Tess Malone, associate editor for The Millions. Thomas Beckwith, writer and project assistant for The Millions. Matt Seidel, staff writer for The Millions. Elizabeth Minkel, staff writer for The Millions. Michael Robbins, author of The Second Sex. Charles Finch, author of The Last Enchantments. A Year in Reading: 2014 Wrap-Up Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.

Hemingway for Hotels: The Ritz-Carlton’s Flash Fiction Ads

It could almost be a writing workshop prompt: tell a story, do it in six words, go for the wow effect — and that’s exactly what the Ritz-Carlton wants. Recently, the hotel company launched a campaign inviting social media friends and followers to provide six-word stories about their Ritz-Carlton experiences with the hashtag #RCMemories. The company calls these stories “Six Word Wows,” and the campaign, if one were to believe the corporate website’s press release tagline, is “Paying Homage To Classic Ernest Hemingway Line.” “Which classic Hemingway line?” we might ask. “If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them”? No, Ritz-Carlton is referring to the probably apocryphal anecdote that when bet he couldn’t write a story in six words, Hemingway replied, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”  Although the stripped-down prose of #RCMemories might be seen as loosely inspired by the Hemingway legend, the nonfiction specifications have more in common, perhaps, with SMITH Magazine’s Six-Word Memoirs®, which became so popular that they were released as a series of books in conjunction with Harper Perennial. Six-Word Memoirs® have included micro-narratives such as “Waves lapping. Pages turning. Perfect day,” “Be silly often, and invite friends,” and “I am my neighbor’s weird neighbor.” Someone cynical might note that Six-Word Memoirs®is a registered trademark. “Six word wows,” on the other hand, is all the Ritz-Carlton’s own.  To model the ideal #RCMemories, the company has released eight “Six Word Wows.” They’ve included: “Dinner ‘til dawn. Laughter. Years regained,” “First tooth. Fairy knocks. Girl delighted,” and “Sold out. Last seat. Dreams transpire.” These bytes suggest that accommodations are not just a bed and shelter but Tweetable—an enviable narrative arc in a storied life.  Not only that but Ritz-Carlton suggests that by providing a personal narrative gratis for the benefit of a company that netted $626 million in 2013 — after paying to stay at one of their properties, of course — is honoring literary genius.  The conflation of the artist-rebel and consumer is not an entirely new problem. In the mid-nineties, Thomas Frank described a new type of capitalist: One raised knowing that conformity, at least conformity embodied by 1950s suburban life, wasn’t cool. Rock ‘n roll was cool. Beat poetry — cool. Dionysian gratification, diversity, not affecting seriousness, and getting away from what seems like boring homogeneity — cool. The result? The Culture Trust: a corporate America that deploys the sensibilities of counterculture for profit. Its branding offers the reassuring image of nonconformity and heterodoxy that helps the Establishment materialism go down easy and is typified by the logic whereby a company makes Henry Rollins a spokesperson for his purported punk individualism. “The countercultural idea has become capitalist orthodoxy,” Frank wrote. “Advertising teaches us not in the ways of puritanical self-denial (a bizarre notion on the face of it), but in orgiastic, never-ending self-fulfillment. It counsels not rigid adherence to the tastes of the herd but vigilant and constantly updated individualism… We consume not to fit in, but to prove, on the surface at least, that we are rock ‘n roll rebels.” The ads tell us that buying stuff is spinning away from the buttoned up commuter home lifestyle and indulging our individual anarcho-hedonistist. Today, the very jargon of advertising gestures toward this ethos. Ad firms offer “creative solutions.” Their online efforts are focused on “social storytelling.” “Brand ambassadors” lead promotions. This vocabulary reframes advertising as artistic and creative, which on some level, it is. The problem is one of dishonesty by omission: Advertising has become more creative and progressive, but its primary object is still capital gain. The Six Word Wow campaign takes the Culture Trust and raises it a couple of copywriters’ salaries. Where once the Ritz-Carlton LLC was satisfied with its customers merely feeling their consumption to be rebellious, now it asks for user-generated content to supplement their $10-15 million-a-year worth of advertisements. In other words, it asks its customers to first pay for hotel rooms and then advertise them without any compensation. And it’s all done with a playful call to arms, not unlike the announcement for a flash fiction contest — except the prize is always won by the corporation, not the writer, or in more modern terms, the content provider. Of course, Ritz-Carlton is not alone in adopting a user-generated content strategy. Last year, when Belkin and Lego collaborated on an iPhone case, customers were invited to share phone selfies with the hashtag #legoxbelkin. Burberry’s Art of the Trench campaign asked for trench coat photos to be uploaded to a Tumblr. In Culture Trust 2.0, we’re all Don Draper, and we’re all susceptible to his slick salesmanship. Our complicity via ad content generation allows us to believe that our consumerism is a new, better consumerism; we aren’t bragging about the stuff we bought as much as sharing our stories with the online global community.  Some might protest that user-generated content campaigns are simply a new iteration of word-of-mouth recommendations. We’ve always asked our friends advice. We’ve preferred a reliable consumer report to a fast-talking sales guy. Indeed, according to a study conducted by Ipsos Media CT and the Social Media Advertising Consortium, Millennials trust user-generated content 50 percent more than advertisements, primarily because they find it more “authentic.” The question is: What happens when user-generated content and advertisements amount to essentially the same thing? Furthermore, what happens when the purportedly authentic UGC ad is sought by asking for stories inspired by an unverified story about a fiction writer’s classified ad-styled narrative? Perhaps, like Saatchi & Saatchi’s Team One, the brains behind the Six Word Wow campaign, the best place to turn for answers is fiction. Toward the beginning of Jonathan Franzen’s 2001 tome The Corrections, there’s a scene in which Chip Lambert, a young professor at an elite Connecticut college, shows his critical theory class a series of videos from an ad campaign. In the videos, an enviably brassy, chatty group of women working in an office discover that one of the gang, Chelsea, has a lump in her breast about which she’s too frightened to see a doctor. Her boss, a woman of compassionate technological savvy, has news for Chelsea: She can use the W—Corporation’s Global Desktop Version 5.0 to research cancer, join support groups, and find medical care. It’s all very emotional, not least of all because after Chelsea dies, women around the world look at images of dead Chelsea on their personal Global Desktops before the video cuts to a message urging viewers to “Help us Fight for the Cure” and explaining that W has given more than $10 million to the American Cancer Society. After the viewing, one student praises the bravery of the ad for allowing its protagonist to die, but Chip expects “someone to observe that it was precisely this self-consciously ‘revolutionary’ plot twist that had generated publicity for the ad.” The class does not take Chip’s bald baiting. Instead his favorite student says of the ad, “It’s celebrating women in the workplace… It’s raising money for cancer research. It’s encouraging us to do our self-examinations and get the help we need. It’s helping women feel like we own this technology.” And of course, in a sense, she’s right. The ad doesn’t serve only one purpose, and that one of those is to promote a brand does not negate the company’s charitable donation. Like many texts, the W—Corporation’s commercial is complicated, and the author’s aims may be manifold.  It is exactly this advertising “author” that Colson Whitehead zeroes in on in Apex Hides the Hurt, a novel in which the sixth most popular bandage manufacturer in America hires slick consultants to increase sales. On the advice of one consultant, the brand’s new strategy becomes selling bandages in a range of hues, unlike their competitors that offer only a single “flesh” tone. After all, as he says, “You manufacture this thing and call it flesh. It belongs to another race. I have different ideas about what flesh color is… We come in many colors. And we want to see ourselves when we look down at ourselves, our arms and legs.” The brand is renamed Apex and soon ads showing white, black, and Asian mothers sticking Apex bandages matched to white, black, and Asian children appear on television. Apex begins selling well. As the nomenclature consultant who conceives of the name Apex recalls later, “The packages spoke for themselves. The people chose themselves and in that way perhaps he had named a mirror… In the advertising, multicultural children skinned knees, revealing blood beneath, the commonality of wound, they were all brothers now, and multicultural bandages were affixed to red boo-boos. United in polychromatic harmony, in injury, with our individual differences respected, eventually all healed beneath Apex.”  Whitehead’s bouncy prose is flush with satire: The bandages do not create a society in which it’s understood that the similarities of the soul belie differences in skin color. Throughout the novel, Apex bandages will fail to heal a minor toe injury incurred by the brand-namer—who, notably, is nameless himself—yet he does, ostensibly, believe his own observation that the image of multiculturalism at work in the ads is beautiful. Apex may fail the very man who has marketed the product, but the product also does, to a degree, rectify a sin of homogeneity. What Whitehead captures is the way that advertisements act as limited utopian fictions, reflecting the fantasies of the target demographic. Seeing—and therefore being reminded of—the values signified in a commercial may not be such a bad thing when so often the real world fails to live up to these ideals. Even the authors of these ads are enchanted by their own fairy tales. Yet at a time when 89 percent of adults ages 18-29 use social networking sites, perhaps the most relevant example of advertising in fiction arrives via Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. Set in the near future, the novel depicts a world in which its characters are never without their electronic devices, personal and financial information is (often humiliatingly) public, and men and women are Mediastuds and Mediawhores. Books are rare, but ads coyly branded as social media “hints” are not. When users log in to send messages, the Super Sad Facebook equivalent GlobalTeens posts these “hints,” such as “Switch to Images today! Less words = more fun!!!” and “Harvard Fashion School studies show excessive typing makes wrists large and unattractive. Be a GlobalTeen forever — switch to images today!” Language itself has been perverted so that its chief use is to keep the Mediastuds and Mediawhores of the world vapid consumers — proud of their electronic savvy and low on emotional savvy. Most insidiously, the desire to connect digitally is exactly what exposes GlobalTeens users to ads meant to silence them. Ultimately, however, it doesn’t. The characters of Super Sad True Love Story still air their frustrations through GlobalTeens messages and stream their love letters. The need to be heard cannot be quashed by the machinations of social media advertising. A writing workshop might carefully call them unsuccessful texts. Perhaps what draws Franzen, Whitehead, and Shteyngart to address advertising in their fiction is its kinship as a type of text. The difference, of course, is that ads can be consumed in seconds, and the author company is the text’s distributor. The text doesn’t need to be chosen by the reader. Yet in each novel, the limitations of authorial intent loom over advertising; advertisements are never purely exploitative vehicles toward consumerism. Copywriters may intend a particular effect, but it is the reader who interprets it. Filtered through the complexity of the human mind, the ads may generate a multiplicity of meaning, and we readers must ask for what advertorial texts we’ll suspend our disbelief.  One reason the Six Word Wows have been effective is that in some sense, the Ritz-Carlton has called for patrons to take some authorial role. Ed French, chief sales and marketing officer of the Ritz-Carlton, provided a statement for the #RCMemories campaign press release: “The Six Word Wows are yet another way for us to celebrate the special memories that guests take away from a visit to our hotels all over the world.” The company has said, don’t kill your darlings; make them for us to share. Like the characters of Super Sad True Love Story, those who choose to provide #RCMemories do want to celebrate their travels by re-narrating them on social media. They want to be asked how their trip was; they want the singularity of their experiences to be acknowledged. And like many writers, they want to believe that with just a few words, they can convey the romance of a moment. “Look!” they say. “Lots of people go on vacation, lots of people sleep at hotels, but I am narrator of my extraordinary life.” And we do all live extraordinary lives. So perhaps the problem isn’t that brand campaigns are exploiting users for content. Perhaps the problem is that we can’t buy an audience, and in the absence of empathetic ears, our default narrative mode is the fiction of advertising.  #RCMemories does not really pay homage to Hemingway, and it’s certainly not art for art’s sake, but like any writing exercise, the Six Word Wows provide a formal frame to display the unwieldy sprawl of human experience. What’s important is that we remember Hemingway’s advice to, “Write the truest sentence you know.” In that spirit, here’s a Six Word Wow: Our stories. Their profit. Share wisely. Image via vitroids/Flickr

A Year in Reading 2012

The end of another year is here (so soon? Ah, I'm getting old), and with it a flood of valedictory lists and wrap ups, accountings and scorecards. Each year, as these lists spill out across the landscape, the onslaught becomes difficult to parse and begins to feel suspiciously (to us, anyway) like a marketing boondoggle to support the promotional-book-cover-sticker-and-blurb industry. There are so many "best of the year" lists that everything is the best (and sometimes also the worst). So, how can we have some year-end fun while still extracting something meaningful from the effort? We readers tend to be a thoughtful bunch, noting down the titles we have read or lining them up one by one on a shelf. We are intellectually omnivorous as well and not too overly prejudiced toward the new or the old, picking up a 130-year-old classic of Russian literature and then following it up with the bestselling, beach read of the moment. Taken together, a long list of books read is a map of our year, and the best of these books are the year's pinnacles, and the challenging books, its rewarding treks. The "10 best books of 2012" list is so small next to this. And so in preparing our annual Year in Reading series, we've asked our esteemed guests to take us on a tour of these pinnacles and to give an accounting of these treks. With this in mind, for a ninth year, some of our favorite writers, thinkers, and readers will look back, reflect, and share. Their charge was to name, from all the books they read this year, the one(s) that meant the most to them, regardless of publication date. Grouped together, these ruminations, cheers, squibs, and essays will be a chronicle of reading and good books from every era. We hope you find in them seeds that will help make your year in reading in 2013 a fruitful one. As in prior years, the names of our 2012 "Year in Reading" contributors will be unveiled one at a time throughout the month as we publish their contributions. You can bookmark this post and follow the series from here, or load up the main page for more new Year in Reading posts appearing at the top every day, or you can subscribe to our RSS feed and follow along that way. Stephen Dodson, co-author of Uglier Than a Monkey’s Armpit, proprietor of Languagehat. Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Emma Straub, author of Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures. Choire Sicha, co-proprietor of The Awl. Jeffrey Eugenides, author of Middlesex. Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles. Gideon Lewis-Kraus, author of A Sense of Direction. Rob Delaney, comedian and writer. Nick Harkaway, author of The Gone-Away World. Tania James, author of Atlas of Unknowns. Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh. Maria Popova, founder and editor of Brain Pickings. Lauren Groff, author of Arcadia. David Vann, author of Dirt. Helen Schulman, author of This Beautiful Life. Roxane Gay, author of Ayiti. Hari Kunzru, author of Gods Without Men. Rachel Fershleiser, co-editor of Not Quite What I Was Planning. Bill Morris, author of All Souls' Day, staff writer for The Millions. Scott Esposito, co-author of The End of Oulipo?, proprietor of Conversational Reading. Nick Moran, social media editor for The Millions. Emily St. John Mandel, author of The Lola Quartet, staff writer for The Millions. Edan Lepucki, author of If You're Not Yet Like Me, staff writer for The Millions. Janet Potter, staff writer for The Millions, blogger at At Times Dull. David Haglund, writer and editor at Slate. Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth. Chris Ware, author of Building Stories. Kevin Smokler, author of Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Touched Since High School, on twitter as @weegee. Thomas Mallon, author of Watergate. Geoff Dyer, author of Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room. Susan Orlean, staff writer for The New Yorker, author of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. Michael Schaub, book critic for NPR.org. Matt Dojny, author of The Festival of Earthly Delights. Nell Freudenberger, author of The Newlyweds. Ed Park, author of Personal Days. Hamilton Leithauser, lead singer for the rock band The Walkmen. Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings. Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be?. Paul Murray, author of Skippy Dies. Elliott Holt, author of You Are One of Them. Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins. Antoine Wilson, author of Panorama City. Paul Ford, author of Gary Benchley, Rock Star, writer at Ftrain.com. Garth Risk Hallberg, author of A Field Guide to the North American Family. Lydia Kiesling, staff writer for The Millions. Mark O’Connell, staff writer for The Millions. Christian Lorentzen, editor at the London Review of Books. Michael Bourne, staff writer for The Millions. Emily M. Keeler, editor of Little Brother Magazine. Elizabeth Minkel, staff writer for The Millions. Nichole Bernier, author of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. Alix Ohlin, author of Inside. Lars Iyer, author of Exodus. Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Malcolm Jones, senior writer at Newsweek/The Daily Beast, author of Little Boy Blues. Susan Straight, author of Between Heaven and Here. Christine Schutt, author of Prosperous Friends. Patrick Somerville, author of This Bright River. Lydia Millet, author of Magnificence. Jennifer duBois, author of A Partial History of Lost Causes. Nick Dybek, author of When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man. Reif Larsen, author of The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet. Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise. Ellen Ullman, author of By Blood. Jane Hirshfield, author of Come, Thief. Michael Robbins, author of Alien vs. Predator. Jeet Thayil, author of Narcopolis. Thomas Beckwith, intern for The Millions. Benjamin Anastas, author of Too Good to Be True. Kate Zambreno, author of Heroines. Carolyn Kellogg, staff writer for the LA Times, a vice president of the National Book Critics Circle. Buzz Poole, author of Madonna of the Toast. Robert Birnbaum, editor-at-large at Identity Theory. Brian Joseph Davis, creator of The Composites, co-publisher of Joyland Magazine. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr. Year in Reading Graphics by LK Magee

On Brevity

In 1886, Anton Chekhov wrote a letter to his brother enumerating the following requirements for his own writing:Absence of lengthy verbiage of political-social-economic natureTotal objectivityTruth descriptions of persons and objectsExtreme brevityAudacity and originality; flee stereotypesCompassionI like to present this list at the start of any fiction writing class because it's wonderful conversation fodder. Everyone has one they cherish (for me, it's compassion), and one they revile (as my students recently pointed out to me: Can anyone every be totally objective? Isn't the fleeing of stereotypes stereotypical?). After a discussion of this list, I have my students replace one or two of Chekhov's rules with their own. Popular answers include: passion; avoidance of adverbs; write what you know; write what you don't know; and humor. I always add "Bold use of metaphor" - whatever that means. If I were to revise Chekhov's list, I'd take the "extreme" out of "extreme brevity." Too wordy.Perhaps Chekhov hadn't read Edgar Allan Poe's famous 1842 review of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice Told Tales, in which he advised, "Extreme brevity will degenerate into epigrammatism." I have a feeling that Ernest Hemingway did catch this warning, though, for when he was challenged to write a story in six words, he took old Poe to task with this:"For sale: baby shoes, never used."I love Hemingway's story - how it attests to the power of implication! For a long time, I thought it very sad, until author Antoine Wilson schooled me otherwise. Now I appreciate it even more.As pointed out on this blog a few days ago, Smith, the online magazine devoted to storytelling and personal narratives, is publishing a compendium of 6-word memoirs by various authors (some of them were previously compiled in the 2007 edition of The Best American Non-Required Reading.) My favorites include Drew Peck's "Ex-wife and contractor now have house" (which follows in Hemingway's footsteps of implication), and Bob Redman's "Being a monk stunk. Better gay" (for its musical qualities). All entries are fun, and they make you want to try writing one.I myself am terrible at the six-word story, autobiographical or not. Perhaps that's the real reason why I don't want the "extreme" in my "brevity." I use as few words as a story requires - but sometimes a story requires a lot of words. Isn't that what writers of the long short story - such as Alice Munro or Deborah Eisenberg - might tell you? But Poe warns against this, too, for "the sin of extreme length is even more unpardonable."Uh oh.

Curios

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NPR offers a nifty gallery that accompanies the publication of this quirky collection: Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.The Coen Brothers have signed on to helm the film version of Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. The big-screen version of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, meanwhile, is nowhere to be found (though it's reportedly been in the works for years).Elsewhere in book-to-movie news, Ian McEwen is pleased with the film version of his novel Atonement.Poet and critic Reginald Shepherd reflects on becoming a blogger. "Until a couple of years ago, I barely knew what a blog was, and certainly had never seen one," he writes. But it proved quite fruitful: "it sometimes seems that my blog has done more to raise my profile than all my more-than-fifteen years of copious publishing put together."Five reasons not to give up books (the paper ones, as opposed the digital counterparts.)I think it's an ad for a video game, but this video contains some masterful soccer kung fu.None of us at The Millions is affiliated with Princeton, but this list of the school's most influential alums is interesting in a random sort of way.The new half-hour HBO show In Treatment is a free podcast at the iTunes store. The show stars Gabriel Byrne as a psychotherapist and each episode represents a single session with one of five patients.The writers' strike is over. The resulting carnage on the schedules for all your favorite shows is laid out here.
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