“A kiss in the dark, that’s what this first line is – Wait. What just happened? Who? – a confusing first kiss. We all would like to think that with one line, one brush, we could make a reader fall madly in love, and there are writers that illicit such a response with the appropriately gorgeous. I read a piece where a writer described her stories as beasts gnawing off the lovely clothes she had carefully dressed them in. I, too, find the stories that I will to be beautiful and charming end up, despite my efforts, strange creatures running for the woods. I’m asking you to kiss this strange creature in the dark, dear reader. And after, I want you to think, ‘A little weird, unnerving, but I’d do it again.’”—I’ve writtenbefore about the First Sentence series at Granta. The magazine asks a prominent writer to explain how they came to write an opening line. Recently, they asked Bear Down, Bear Northauthor Melinda Moustakis to talk about the beginning of her story “River So Close”: “She’s a good-for-nothing chummer.” You could also read Jonathan Russell Clark on the art of the opening sentence.
“Perhaps you have just ended a blistering affair. Perhaps you have just discovered your significant other’s blistering affair. Perhaps you are contemplating embarking on one – or ejecting from one. These three books will help.”—Randon Billings Noble, ”Three Books to Get Over an Affair”
“These sorts of connections are at the centre of nearly all time machine fiction. These novels usually draw attention to telling commonalities across historical eras, or between the past and the present. That gives an engaging puzzle quality to the books—we read seeking out the dropped clues that will shed light on the purpose of the parallel.”—On fiction in which the plot takes place over multiple timelines.
“Do you know why teachers use me? Because I speak in tongues. I write metaphors. Every one of my stories is a metaphor you can remember. The great religions are all metaphor. We appreciate things like Daniel and the lion’s den, and the Tower of Babel. People remember these metaphors because they are so vivid you can’t get free of them and that’s what kids like in school. They read about rocket ships and encounters in space, tales of dinosaurs. All my life I’ve been running through the fields and picking up bright objects. I turn one over and say, Yeah, there’s a story.”—Friday would have been Ray Bradbury’s 94th birthday, which is why Dan Piepenbring, at The Paris Review Daily, looked back on one of Bradbury’s classic stories and picked out some choice quotes from his Art of Fiction interview. Piepenbring also pointed out that the story gets a mention in, among other places, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. You could supplement this by reading Tanjil Rashid on the author’s Middle East connection.
“In addition to just wanting to spend a lot of time together, we had some questions we hoped this trip might answer, questions we hope to chew over here, in near-daily posts: What does the Great American Road trip look like in 2014? Is it true that the book tour is as good as dead, a waste of time? Is this about selling books or something less tangible? What will we see as we cut a line through the center of a recession-slammed America? Can we sit in a car together for 13,000 minutes and come out better buddies, or will one of us, probably somewhere in Utah, turn to the other and mutter, ‘I really really wish I could quit you’?”—Male bonding can take many forms, among them the rarely-seen joint book tour, which Mike Harvkey and Josh Weil decided to undertake in support of their newnovels. The two write about meeting each other, travelling around America and bouncing ideas off trusted friends in a Salon essay. FYI, our own Bill Morris wrote a piece about his own book tour for The Daily Beast.
“Tell me reading about those farmers, very early in the morning, devouring those biscuits, those eggs, that ham, that coffee, doesn’t do something for you, doesn’t make you feel as if you could hoe a field, doesn’t make you want to go out and get that shit fucking done.”—Seth Sawyers writes about, food, reading, and reading about food.
“Parents, partners, relatives, friends: someday you will watch a person you care about suffer. It’s not so much that last shovelful of dirt on the grave that should terrify us, but emptying all those bedpans.”—Lisa Peet
“According to the foreword in a 1978 reprint, ‘Agent of Chaos is extremely popular with convicts’ and ‘certain sectors of the radical political left’. But the novel’s libertarian anarchism seems more in tune these days with the mainstream political right. In 1999, Spinrad said: ‘I’m an anarchist – but I’m a syndicalist. You have to have organised anarchy, because otherwise it doesn’t work.’ The real Boris Johnson has said his ideal form of government would be a ‘rules-based anarchy’.”—Recommended Reading: Daniel Marc Janes on the fictional namesakes of London’s mayor.
“The end of the Church Triumphant is predictable. The Angels started bearing children; this was declared to be a miracle, their fathers being the Holy Ghost, but the locals noticed that many were suspiciously red-haired. After too many Holy Ghost Children, Schweinfurth was arrested and driven from town. Later, he announced that he’d taken up Christian Science and moved to Chicago, where he became a realtor, thereafter vanishing from history.”—In the 1880s, a group of rural Illinoisans formed a Christian sect that believed that a local woman, Dorinda Beekman, was the new Jesus Christ. When Mrs. Beekman died, a follower of hers claimed that her spirit lived inside him; as the new leader of the sect, he moved his followers into a barn and named it Heaven. At The Paris Review Daily, Dan Visellooks backon this odd chapter of history, as well as the novel it inspired. (Related: Eric Shonkwiler on the literature of the Midwest.)
“Danglers are extremely common, not just in deadline-pressured journalism but in the works of distinguished authors. Considering how often these forms turn up in edited prose and how readily they are accepted even by careful readers, two conclusions are possible: either dangling modifiers are a particularly insidious grammatical error for which writers must develop sensitive radar, or they are not grammatical errors at all. (Did you notice the dangler in the sentence before last?)”—Say you’re the kind of person who never ends a sentence with a preposition. You’re studious about distinguishing between “its” and “it’s,” and you’re likely to judge a person who says “nauseous” when they should have said “nauseated.” But occasionally, if you’re being honest with yourself, you suspect that a lot of the grammar rules you follow are conditional or even arbitrary. Herewith, Steven Pinkeroffers ten rules you should break from time to time. (Related: Fiona Maazel wrote an essay for The Millions on good grammar.)
“The book’s central problem is that Dyer does not appear interested in the people he meets on the ship as people, but as corporeal representations of work ethic and purpose. I lost track of the references to ‘the fourteen-hour days’ that the crewmates work, but I’m pretty sure there were somewhere around fourteen. These men and women have something important to do, and Dyer doesn’t want to let you to forget it, even though you don’t get to know any of the men or women very well at all. Are any of them annoyed by the captain’s enforced cheeriness? We don’t know. Is the chef, who dreamt of becoming the chef at the White House but found her application thwarted by bureaucracy, bitter? Dyer wonders for a moment, but quickly gets distracted. The closest we come to differentiation among these people is when one man is referred as ‘more in love — if such a thing were possible — than the other people I’d met who were seriously in love with what they did.’”—A few days ago, our own Kaulie Lewispointed readers to a LARB essay about Geoff Dyer, which nicely complimented a piece about the author our own Mark O’Connell wrote for Slate back in June. Now, at Full-Stop, David Burr Gerardsuggests that Dyer’s strengths, which worked so well in Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, may have hampered him inAnother Great Day at Sea. FYI, our own Janet Potterreviewed the latter book for The Millions.
“The idea was that whatever I felt or did resonated in life, caused people pain or happiness. This gave me a feeling of huge responsibility even as a child – to the extent that sometimes I had to block my own feelings or wishes. When I started writing fiction, suddenly I was allowed to do what I wanted.”—Talking with Etgar Keret.
“The film focuses on Daniel McGowan, the son of a Brooklyn cop who experiences a “sense of mourning” once he becomes aware of mankind’s many environmental sins. He participates in multiple acts of arson as ELF cells launch a freelance sabotage campaign against lumber mills, logging equipment, horse corrals, meat-packing plants, genetics labs, tree farms, even ski resorts. Hovering over the film is a question: Are these activists terrorists, as the government would have us believe, or are they avenging angels performing a vital service, as they themselves believe? Curry, to his credit, refuses to offer a tidy answer.”—Bill Morris, “Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Eco-terrorists So Different, So Appealing?”
“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”—“The Time I Spent On A Commercial Whaling Ship Totally Changed My Perspective On The World,” a blogger named Ishmael writes, on the sister blog to The Onion. (But I like these titles better.)