“Robinson resists the notion of love as an easy antidote to a lifetime of suffering or solitude, suggesting that intimacy can’t intrude on loneliness without some measure of pain.”—Leslie Jamison reviews Marilynne Robinson‘s latest novel, Lila, which was recently longlisted for the National Book Award.
“It’s a tricky thing, success. How do you write a book to follow your own breakout novel, a title that leapt off shelves and became a phenomenon? That’s a good problem to have, but a challenge nonetheless.”—Jo Lennan reviews Christos Tsiolkas’s Barracuda.
“Of all the literary genres, poetry has proved the most resistant to digital technology, not for stodgy cultural reasons but for tricky mechanical ones.”—Looks like that might be changing, however, as Open Road releases Flow Chart, Your Name Here and 15 other John Ashberydigital poetry collections.
“For structure: Choose a story you admire and want to understand more deeply from a craft perspective. Read it several times. Read it as many times as you can stomach. Outline it paragraph-by-paragraph, section-by-section. What happens in each paragraph? What is the function of that paragraph? If the story is divided into sections, what is the purpose of each of those sections? Then write your own story using the outline of the story you admire. This is not a quick exercise. Give yourself time to read, think, process, and write deliberately. Give yourself a week or two.”—As a literary technique, imitation is usually thought of as an amateur move, despite the number of classic works that began as overt acts of mimicry. At the Ploughshares blog, Anca Szilagyicomes up with several prompts for writers who want to imitate thoughtfully.
“The Millennial generation of writers can learn from Keegan in that she allowed herself to sound and to be fully 22, to explore what that meant and to celebrate the value of a young perspective, but never sounded like she was writing a generic think-piece on ‘What It’s Like to Be Young Today.’”—Kaulie Lewis, ”In Search of Our Voices: On Marina Keegan and The Opposite of Loneliness”
“I struggled, quite a bit, writing this review. Reviewing books, while easy in certain ways — you have certain aspects of form to follow, there are certain features of books that cannot go unremarked: one must write about character, about language, about technique — and really a rather simple process (much simpler, it would seem, than writing books), can also be a pain. Especially, frustratingly enough, when the book is really good.”—OnLola Lafon’sWe Are the Birds of the Coming Storm.
“I’m not proud of this. I’d prefer to be a guy who can refer to a version or edition or plain old instance of something, and who doesn’t go around saying iteration over and over again. Alas, that is not me. And I found out about my iteration malady in the most jarring way possible. I had just started a new job. One day, a few weeks in, I heard three different colleagues with whom I interact often use the word iteration independent of one another. When the third of these, a woman I knew prior to taking the job, said it, I stopped her mid-sentence. ‘Wait, did you just say iteration? Why is everyone saying that word here?’ Her response hit me like an unabridged thesaurus to the dome. ‘You should be psyched,’ she shot back. ‘That’s one of your words.’”—All of us have particular words that we use a little too often. Writers tend to be embarrassed about their predilections for certain turns of phrase. At Slate, Matthew J.X. Maladyreacts to the news that he uses iteration too much, and delves into the ways our verbal habits spread to others.
“But in the absence of conclusive evidence, sleep’s utility—like that of fiction—is still in doubt. How much, in the end, does either one matter? Neither fiction nor dreams are what we call “real life,” that conscious space sandwiched in the sunny hours of each day. No matter how vital my dreams are to me, they—like my writing—exist in the margins of my daily life, the shadowed wings to either side of whatever action is happening onstage. The decrease in the financial support and cultural priority allotted to all forms of the arts has enhanced the sense that what writers are doing is not quite a job, not quite worth professional payment—not quite, well, necessary.”—Chloe Benjamin, ”The Profits of Dreaming: On Fiction and Sleep"
“Although Adam’s faith drives the plot, it goes oddly unexplored. McEwan seems to have little interest in Jehovah’s Witnesses, and apart from their prohibition against blood transfusions we are told very little about what they believe and almost nothing about their history. This is peculiar, because McEwan is usually one of the most inquisitive of novelists. For previous books about neurosurgeons or physicists or posh girls during World War II, he so intensely studied his characters’ worlds that he was able to write about them seemingly from the inside. Yet Adam’s beliefs never seem particular, as though he could be representing any stubborn believer.”—Recommended Reading: Deborah FriedellonIan McEwan’sThe Children Act.
“In my favorite passage from The Handmaid’s Tale, figurative language reminds us that Offred’s flesh is and isn’t flesh, and that although her body is controlled by the state, it’s far from a defined, closed system. This brief unhinging of meaning is an act of defiance. And in a world where all you’re allowed is your female body, it also may be a relief.”—I’ve writtenbefore about By Heart, a series at The Atlantic in which authors write short pieces about their favorite passages in literature. This week, our own Edan Lepucki — whose new novel you may have heard about thanks to Stephen Colbert — writes about the metaphors in Margaret Atwood’sThe Handmaid’s Tale. (FYI, Margaret Atwoodwrote a Year in Reading entry for The Millions.)
“Why do we spend so much time with stories whose endings we already know?”—Derek Thompson writes about nostalgia and culture for The Atlantic, and his piece pairs well with Katy Waldman‘s Slate essay about “thinking that you’re not getting as much from reading as you used to.”
“If you would write, try to be terse and in some measure original—the world abounds with new similes and metaphors… If you cannot tell people of something they have not seen, or have not thought, it is hardly worthwhile to write at all.”—Writing advice from a 21-year-old D.H. Lawrence
“Writing this good, especially when powered by a snappy premise, can make for an electric 20-page short story. A novel, to go the distance, also needs a sustaining narrative to carry the reader through. Rainey Royal has the potential for that narrative drive in Rainey’s struggle to take back her body from the men in her life who want to own it, but as the book veers ever further away from the battle over territory in Rainey’s West 10th Avenue townhouse, the drama of the opening stories gradually dissipates until the novel begins to seem more marked by its elisions than by what is on the page.”—Michael Bourne, “Her Body, Herself: On Dylan Landis’s Rainey Royal”
“One striking feature of the digital-self-help literature is that it treats distraction, overload, and frazzlement almost entirely as personal challenges. If you’re stressed out and unable to concentrate, you’re not enlightened enough. Meditate harder.”—David Roberts spent 12 hours in front of a screen everyday, frequently hit the daily tweet limit, and saw “every sunset as a potential Instagram.” So he decided to quit the internet for a year and lived to tell the tale for Outside. Yet disconnecting isn’t as easy as signing off Twitter. Pair with: What’s it like to be from the last generation to remember life before the internet and our own Edan Lepucki’s (slightly shorter) social media detox.
In the end, there are five bear cubs underneath your porch. You name them after U.S. Presidents. Taft dies of starvation. Carter disappears into the flowers. Hoover is carried away by hawks. Roosevelt digs into the ground to get away from ghosts. Lincoln grows up. Lincoln becomes a mother, with five cubs of her own. You are very proud of Lincoln. After Lincoln eats you, you adapt to your new life. You are still so proud of the bears you have given names to. Maybe they were dogs.
”—Recommended Reading: Three poems by Dalton Day at Hobart.
“September is the start of many things: school, fall, football, the biggest publishing season, the return to work after the end of summer.”—What should you read this month? Tom Nissley has some September suggestions.
“But what if your entire book is based on another one? What if a certain piece of information (in the cases of these books, a writer or a specific novel) is foundational to your text? How, then, should you proceed? Should you explain the referenced work so that those unfamiliar with it can enjoy your book? Or should you simply accept that some readers will fall behind and end up befuddled? It’s a tricky enterprise, and since there are as many ways to pay homage to earlier literature as there are ways to create new literature, I thought it would be useful to see how some contemporary writers approach this finicky issue.”—JONATHAN RUSSELL CLARK, “The Art of Homage”