“I was reared in 19th Century Russian literature and then the literature of American Jews (Roth, Bellow, etc.) and I always had difficulty with the relative lack of emotion in English lit.”—Gary Shteyngart
“In the category of re-reading, I discovered MRS. DALLOWAY anew, and –– if you’ll forgive the analogy –– it was like being prescribed exactly the right SSRI. Interior life! Laid out in all of its intricacy, and yet the product of a turbulent mind. As a writer, it gave me hope for my own turbulent mind.”—A Year in Reading: Dani Shapiro
“Much as I love the damn thing when the A is capitalized, the most potent words I read this past year weren’t even lowercase art. They were more like a truth-seeking missile, one that seethed with indignant if wholly justified outrage.”—A Year in Reading: Sergio de la Pava
“When I’m struggling with my own work, I’m often drawn to biographies of writers. Not only do I learn fun facts about prominent figures — Henry James suffered terribly from constipation, Kafka chewed every bite of food 32 times, Flannery O’Connor cared for a flock of around 40 peacocks, Montaigne never saw his wife with her clothes off, Balzac fortified himself with a paste made of unroasted coffee beans — I’m also reminded that there’s no single path for living a successful creative or personal life.”—If you’re struggling with your writing, turn to biographies of famous authors. This is Tom Perrotta’s cure for writer’s block. He said in a New York Times “By the Book” interview.
“Experimental or mainstream, irrespective of genre, literature asks what motivates us, moves us, connects and separates us? Neuroscience asks not just how the brain works, but the mind as well. We’re not just an assembly of neuronal, neurochemical, and molecular actions transmitting electrical signals throughout the brain. True, we can now mimic those signals through externally generated electrical pulses to improve hearing, make a limb move, or stop tremor. But we cannot yet simulate cognitive experience, our sense of ourselves, of being.”—P.S. Duffy, “Science and Fiction: The Man with the Bandaged Head”
“To my mind, it’s one of the deepest gratifications the poet or fiction writer knows. I mean, the internal stumbling upon some satisfactory answer to the question, What is this like? Or, What does this remind me of? A comparison is laboriously but successfully introduced. You meet your metaphor, and it’s good.”—We all spend way too much time in airports this time of year, but Brad Leithauser searched for a metaphor about his journeys through BWI. As he writes for The New Yorker, “There was a piquant pleasure on the night when I first put these two experiences—morning churchgoing, evening airport-going—side by side. I’d been idly and only semi-consciously asking myself what these nocturnal intervals at B.W.I. reminded me of, and now, suddenly, I’d located my metaphor.”
“The history of the civil rights movement is littered with moral compromises, class conflicts, and power rivalries. That history has been told elsewhere, most famously in Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters, but it never made it into my elementary/middle/high school. If I knew about that history, I think I would have liked these men more. King’s capacity for mediocrity makes his capacity for greatness that much more interesting and that much more extraordinary.”—Paul Morton, “Difficult History: On John Lewis’s March”
“All lazy book reviews are essentially the same: they reflect a reviewer’s inability, or perhaps refusal, to fully engage with the writer’s project on the book’s own terms.”—Natalie Bakopoulos, ”Particular Ways of Being Wrong”
“I became concerned that my interpreters were not delivering my words in the way I delivered them and in precisely the way I meant them. Often I thought I detected something harsher in their voices, something more judgmental and emphatic, delivered with more control than I could have managed myself. I hoped this was merely an effect of my ignorance, that what I heard was only a structural difference of language. The strange language withholds. To this outsider, at least, it appeared a repository of mysteries, and I felt berated and chastened in ignorance. The strange language seems authoritative and rings out as if naming worlds unknown. To my ear it sounded urgent and insistent, even threatening in a way that excited.”—Duncan Murrell has a new essay up on the Harper’sMagazine blog about how difficult it is for journalists to speak to their sources through interpreters.