Like Jonathan Franzen, he has a strong prescriptivist streak about which it does not occur to him to be embarrassed. He uses humor to leaven what gradually emerges as a rather severe Emersonian message about the state of the American soul in the consumer age. He really does want you to put away your iPhone—no kidding.
Writing is difficult. Writing is difficult in the beginning, difficult in the middle and difficult at the end. And then, when you’ve finished, there is a whole new raft of difficulties having to do with publication—but I will save those issues for a much longer speech entitled The Trouble with Publication.
Writing itself is a series of problems to be solved, problems that constitute the hard work of writing and being a writer. Sometimes you can be surgical and rational in solving various difficulties, but it is the peculiar distinction of writing and much of the creative life that the inherent difficulties of writing have a propensity to become internally, personally disturbing and confusing, agitating, and otherwise psychologically problematic.
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.’
Sometimes, it’s easier to read or watch something that’s light and airy, as opposed to seeking out art that challenges your perspective. Millions contributor Fiona Maazel generally thinks of herself as a person who instinctively chose nuance over breeziness. But lately, she’s had to ask herself a tough question — is she actually more attracted to the anodyne?
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.’
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.
A couple weeks ago, Brian Ted Jones reviewed The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, which “takes place on the margins of a grand, cosmic struggle.” Not long afterwards, at The Rumpus, Woody Brown offered a somewhat negative take on the book, arguing that it makes it too difficult for the reader to suspend her disbelief. You could also read Woody’s Millions review of Haruki Murakami’s new novel.
Last week, I wrote about Josh Weil and Mike Harvkey’s joint book tour, which sees the two driving a Prius across America to promote their latest novels. Now, in their latest dispatch, they reflect on the differences between writers like themselves and midcentury writers like Andre Dubus and Norman Mailer.