George Hodgman, author of Bettyville: “You kind of have to face the fact if you write a memoir that you are a somewhat aggressive person, that you are appropriating lives, in a way, that aren’t yours. And you put yourself out there and you try to be really generous, and you do what you can to get permission, but a lot of times the permission is meaningless because they have no idea to the extent that you’re going to examine, or what you’re going to say. … So memoir is a total minefield, as you know. It’s best if you write the book and leave the country.”
The great Uruguayan author is best known for his 1971 anti-capitalist manifesto Open Veins of Latin America – a work he repudiated last year. (He calls the prose unreadable.) But his later “technique is difficult to precisely describe, but it is easy enough to read. The word most often applied is ‘fragmentary,’ though the fragments are carefully arranged into unified wholes.”
“With increasing pressure for writers to work for free – some of Australia’s largest books festivals offer writers a chance to donate back their small fee and work gratis – and the vast majority of authors struggling to earn a living at all, what is the knock-on effect of these individual actions? For future award winners and for funding (prize money or otherwise), the unintended consequences could be significant.”
“Just as the author romanticizes the reader, so does the reader romanticize the author — there’s something inevitable and touchingly human about it all. Many years ago, at a book signing, a reader said she wanted to be me because she felt that her own life was so drab. My heart sank like wet sand. The writer’s life can seem glamorous, but mine certainly wasn’t.”
“What I really needed was to step into the half-born book and let it close over my head for a few days – perhaps it was this kind of inchoate instinct rather than the more rational reason I gave myself, which was that I should walk at least a little way in my character Jack’s shoes in order to get a feel for the journey he makes.”
“While the narrator tells of sexual awakening, marriage, and adulthood, the ribbon around her neck (which she will neither remove nor explain) recalls the terrible buried knowingness of childhood. Campfire chillers draw their energy from the fact that everyone knows the ending will be horrible, and the teller knows exactly how.”
“With a single poem, which says that her beloved Anactoria is more valuable than the splendor of any cavalry, infantry, or fleet, she created a tradition of ‘love-not-war’ lyrics whose future stretches from Propertius to Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Bruce Springsteen. As the definitive ur-voice of lyric ecstasy, she is so consequential that poets of every generation, from Catullus to Sylvia Plath and Anne Carson, have used her to define their aesthetic manifestos: among the ancients, only Homer can claim an instrumental role in literary history equivalent to Sappho’s.”
“I have written only one book about travel, concerning a journey across the Oman desert. I have written many books about place, which are nothing to do with movement, but many more about people and about history.” Here, she answers questions, some from readers, about her book Venice, her career, and her brushes with history.
“The local prosecutor wrote an urgent letter to its publishers trying to delay its release. Book sellers are taking orders for copies that wait in sealed boxes, ready to be opened on Tuesday. Some people are dreading its revelations about rape in their football-loving college town. Others are glad: Tell the story, they say, the louder the better.”
“The ‘memoir’ of a British war correspondent who purportedly committed rape, murder and other crimes before dying last year was initially written several years ago as a novel, it has emerged. Author Colin Carroll had described the novel in an interview more than five years ago with a local newspaper in Cork.”
“No writer wants to own the label ‘confessional’ anymore. It’s an epithet, with the same tenor as ‘hipster’ or ‘artisanal': something for privileged narcissists who can’t see any of their own silliness. … And yet, the practice has deeply ancient, religious roots. Bruenig notes that it was designed not just to let the person who is confessing spill his or her guts, but also a sort of collective anecdote.”
For centuries, Chin P’ing Mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase) – a sprawling tale of the rise and fall of a corrupt merchant and his six wives, and only now available in a complete English version – “has been known in China as an ‘obscene book.’ Governments have banned it and parents have hidden it from children.” Yet, as a 17th-century critic put it, “anyone who says that Chin P’ing Mei is an obscene book has probably only taken the trouble to read the obscene passages.”
“For centuries, if what you had written was going to be shown to others, it would have to be placed in a library, usually a church library. And since the only way anyone would know that a new piece of literature had been written was if the writer personally put the word around, there would usually be some kind of social connection between writer and readers.”
“Food-packet rhetoric, like most advertising, is mainly in the business of selling nice feelings. Especially on-trend these days is an ersatz, kitschy friendliness. On a bar of chocolate, for example, the manufacturers boast that “we use only the finest quality organic beans from our friends in the Dominican Republic”. (Isn’t it nice that they are friends?)”
“DARE, as the dictionary is known, has announced that it will shutter most of its operations this summer unless it can find new sources of funding to cover its roughly $525,000 annual budget. The print dictionary had been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other sources. More recently, the budget was covered in large part by stopgap grants from the university, which are set to run out.”
“Vintage/Anchor Books is now experimenting with selling short stories à la carte, through its Vintage Shorts digital imprint. Throughout May, to mark Short Story Month, Vintage will release a digital short story each day for 99 cents, the price of many iTunes singles.” The range is wide, form Poe, Chekhov, and Cather to Alice Munro, Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Diaz.
The author of One Day and Us also says, “the debate between digital and physical has had a kind of gladiatorial flavour … Cavaliers versus Roundheads, or perhaps more accurately, for someone of my age at least, Betamax versus VHS, with only one survivor allowed. All too often in this debate I’ve felt like the proud owner of a vast collection of Betamax.”
Thirlwell: “In [my novels] Politics and The Escape, these grand themes of history and politics were mischievously seen as equivalent to more apparently minor problems like sleeping arrangements in a threesome, or premature ejaculation.
Shteyngart: “But premature ejaculation and politics intersect quite a bit.”
Thirlwell: “Well that’s certainly true.”
“Anton Szandor LaVey’s founding text of the Church of Satan, The Satanic Bible, survives in the broad popular consciousness, in part thanks to regular challenges by groups seeking to ban it … Very little effort needs to be expended by the Church to market itself, because it can piggyback on the defensiveness of the Christian American majority.”