Because when you list your favorite characters, when you tell us who it is you love, are these the characters and people who are the most like you? I hope not. If you find yourself encouraged to love only characters who are just like you, I want you to worry about that; it means your art isn’t doing its job.
Skippy is so alive, and his friends so bereft after he dies, and his enemies so menacing, that the book rises up like a bubble universe; the characters lift right off the page. Murray telescopes in on Skippy so closely that even when he’s dead, as he is for much of the book, we feel that he’s still hovering right next to us, closer to us than our own clothes. And that if anyone can bring him back, it’s Ruprecht. And that if we just read closely enough, our own loved ones might come back too. In physics, it’s often said that the most beautiful explanation is the right explanation.
"At home, I dedicate occasional whole days to reading as if I’m a convalescent. The ideal place for this is the bath, where the body floats free," Rachel Kushner told The New York Times in a “By the Book” interview. Yet just because her reading style is leisurely doesn’t mean her reading is; she discusses her love of Proust and avoidance of books known for their plots. For more Kushner, read our own interview with her or her 2013 Year in Reading post.
In America, teachers are either seen as angelic or caustic, saviors or sycophants. These stereotypes enable politicians to convince the public to support the latest education fad or slash needed budgets. The reality is we teach because we love to help kids, and we think literature is a way to examine and understand our complex lives. We do our best to help students inhabit the world of novels. The worlds of those texts might be imagined, but the emotions are palpable and authentic. We do real work in public schools. That, I can assure you, is not fiction.
Nick Ripatrazone, “The Fictional Lives of High School Teachers”
Is writing an inherently performative medium? Scott McClanahan thinks so. “I think my favorite writers are hams,” he said in an interview for The Rumpus. He also discussed staying at hotels with pimps during his book tour, indie presses, his book Crapalachia (which our own Nick Moran recommends), and his aversion to tote bags.
“The most significant kind of learning in virtually any field,” writes Stanford professor Elliot Eisner, “creates a desire to pursue learning in that field when one doesn’t have to.” This definition of learning — of learning that is transformative, of learning that galvanizes our minds for a lifetime — is what should be driving our discussions, instead of the current focus on more and more high-stakes tests, where standards are geared toward establishing uniformity of thought among students and where creativity and individuality are neither valued nor encouraged.
Even though girls inevitably move on— whether to Harlequins or Anna Quindlen or Don DeLillo—for many of them, their first favorite author, the one who taught them what to want and what to envy, is likely to have been a ghostwriter hired by a team to distill the essence of middle-of-the-road idealized teenage life.
Celebrate literary journal Asymptote’s third anniversary in New York City later this month. The event will feature Eliot Weinberger, Jeffrey Yang (translator of Liu Xiaobo), Paris Review poetry editor Robyn Creswell, Idra Novey (translator of Clarice Lispector), and Daniella Gitlin (translator of Rodolfo Walsh). They will come together for a panel discussion on translation and readings. The event starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 21 at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe.