Tweeting doesn’t usually result in anything this cool. Not so long ago, Jessica Gross read an interview with novelist Alexander Chee, who said that his favorite place to write was on a train. “I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.” Gross tweeted her agreement with the sentiment. And who wouldn’t? Trundling along in a gently swaying car as the panorama of America swoops past, soothing your anxiety over the knotty twelfth chapter of that novel you can’t quite finish, has a curiously soothing appeal to it.
The result of this tweet? Gross found herself on a train, courtesy of Amtrak, which offered her a free ride from New York to Chicago and back. Gross wrote in The Paris Review about the appeal of scribbling in a train car:
I’ve always been a claustrophile, and I think that explains some of the appeal—the train is bounded, compartmentalized, and cozily small, like a carrel in a college library. Everything has its place. The towel goes on the ledge beneath the mirror; the sink goes into its hole in the wall; during the day, the bed, which slides down from overhead, slides up into a high pocket of space. There is comfort in the certainty of these arrangements. The journey is bounded, too: I know when it will end. Train time is found time. My main job is to be transported; any reading or writing is extracurricular. The looming pressure of expectation dissolves. And the movement of a train conjures the ultimate sense of protection—being a baby, rocked in a bassinet…
So far, this was just a test run that Amtrak’s social media director cooked up. But keep your ears and ears open; this could be better than Yaddo.
William Faulkner said a lot about drinking; which makes sense, given how much he wrote while drinking. As he once noted:
You see, I usually write at night. I always keep my whiskey within reach; so many ideas that I can’t remember in the morning pop into my head.
For all those wanting to know what the man’s favorite tipple was, it’s simple: Whiskey. Any kind. And here’s his preferred way of taking it (your basic mint julep, simple):
- 1 tsp sugar
- served in a metal cup
(h/t The Migrant Book Club)
Every writer knows the pain of procrastination. Just about none of them know the answer to this question: Why do we put ourselves through it? By and large writers know exactly when they have to turn in their article/book/whatever and nearly everything about it (word count, tone, subject). And yet, time after time, deadlines are treated as little more than tissue paper-thin suggestions to be brushed aside at the last minute when work has finally (maybe) begun.
It’s a ridiculously neurotic cycle, and apparently impossible to break out of.
Megan McArdle’s “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators” tries to make some sense of this fundamentally illogical and self-defeating behavior. One anecdote she provides seems a fairly typical scenario:
I once asked a talented and fairly famous colleague how he managed to regularly produce such highly regarded 8,000 word features. “Well,” he said, “first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.”
McArdle’s article spins off (too little, too late) into theories about overpraised millennials not being able to cope without constant feedback and structure. But before she gets to that, her theories about the roots of this procrastination—mostly rotating around the idea that many writers have an uncommonly intense fear of being unmasked as frauds, thus adding to the fear of actually writing something that could give evidence for that—are sound.
Not that that will do anything to help somebody finish that article on time. There’s always email to check, friends to write, drinks to make…
After having gone from being the rare gangsta rapper who had actually lived the life instead of just rapping about it to loud monotone fixture on Law & Order: SVU and too many horrendous movies to count, Ice-T has a new gig: Recording audiobooks. It makes sense, given his clear, bottom-heavy voice. But according to Paste, he talked on a recent podcast about running into some trouble recording an unnamed Dungeons & Dragons novel. Just realizing the depths of nerd-dom that he’d gotten into (“They were talking about ‘pegasuses’ and ‘pegasi.’ That’s horses with wings”) was an education in itself:
It took Ice three-and-a-half hours to record 25 pages of the book, whose title he does not reveal. But, he added, he will slay the fantasy-lingo dragon and let fans know when the audiobook goes on sale.
“It’ll be a treat to watch me, with my South Central-educated ass, trying to read some Dungeons & Dragons shit,” he promises.
The O.G. further notes that “Considering the way music is right now, you’re better off listening to a book … Honestly, it’s more entertaining.”
The Year’s Worst Movie, ‘Man of Steel’: “…overblown, overlong, and overdone.”
The brave new world of publishing being all about access, it seemed appropriate to make Eyes Wide Open 2013: The Year’s 25 Greatest Movies (and 5 Worst) as widely available as possible. Otherwise, how else would you find out what the year’s best movies (yes, Gravity was one of them, but it wasn’t number one) and worst were (both Man of Steel and The Great Gatsby made the cut).
So now you can also buy Eyes Wide Open 2013 in paperback ($6.99) or Nook book ($1.99) from Barnes & Noble, or ebook from the Apple iBookstore.
‘The Great Gatsby,’ another of the year’s worst: “…so shallow as to be creatively nonexistent.”
The Jose Vasconcelos Library
One of the most amazing libraries in the world isn’t in some European capital and it doesn’t date from the 18th century. The 125,000-square foot Vasconcelos Library was built in Mexico City in 2006 and resembles nothing less than a space-age ark for reading.
As you can see in the images here, it’s an astonishing space with an atrium several stories high and about a block long, with blocks of shelves arranged like cubes and all of it cross-sectioned by frosted glass.
Over at BookRiot, they termed it the Borg Library, which works except for one problem: The Borg don’t need to read, they just assimilate.
Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments was one of the great music novels of the past few decades. Published in 1989 and serving as the start for Doyle’s unofficial “Barrytown Trilogy” (also comprising The Van and The Snapper), it followed knockabout Dubliner Jimmy Rabbitte’s attempt to put together a great soul/R&B band with nothing but Irishmen. Doyle’s newest novel, The Guts, picks up with Jimmy many years on, still working with music but saddled with middle-aged responsibilities and a new problem: Cancer.
My review of The Guts is at PopMatters:
Jimmy’s reflexive fear of sentiment is a powerful force in the book, and it works both for and against what Doyle is trying to achieve. In refusing to turn Jimmy into some sad, caterwauling victim baying at the moon, Doyle keeps the book from being just another sickness story. It’s Jimmy’s story through and through. Within a few dozen pages, he has pushed on past the cancer and is concerned more with the other matters that will not wait; family, the bills, what to do about that old female friend he just ran into who seems keen. Most problematic is work at the small excavatory Irish music site he started (“Finding old bands and finding the people who loved them”) whose fortunes were as bitterly unforgiving as any 21st century creative enterprise…
‘Soir Bleu’ by Edward Hopper (1914)
“It’s crazy,” she’d said, “but I’d be perfectly happy if I could sit looking at the same half dozen paintings for the rest of my life. I can’t think of a better way to go insane.”
—The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
Think about what six paintings you wouldn’t mind looking at forever.
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote: “Folks have thought they had me pegged, because of the way I am, the way I talk. And they’re always wrong.”
One more note on the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Back in 2004, he was interviewed by The Believer and the talk sprawled over beyond life and acting into things literary.
Hoffman has played a few great figures from both sides of the literary page (Willy Loman, Truman Capote), but that’s not what gave him the credentials for this interview, it’s that he was clearly a passionate reader. Not a lot people out there these days who will stand up and shout for the dark glories of somebody like Richard Yates:
If you do any great art you’re somehow exposing a part of you. Like Richard Yates, Jesus Christ, that book, you almost don’t want to meet him. I kept feeling for the characters as if they existed.
But perhaps most beautifully, he identifies one of the great solaces of reading, that it’s an act in and of itself with no need to be justified. Some won’t care for his comparing it to smoking, but the linkage is clear:
When you read, you think, and when you smoke, you think. It’s a pleasurable thing, and not a duty.
Language is a virus from outer space.
—William S. Burroughs
Burroughs, who would have turned 100 yesterday, liked to repeat this quote and variations on its theme in his speaking and writing. Like with much else that he put out there, it’s not meant to be taken with complete seriousness, but he certainly believed in the metaphor of words and ideas as a virus that can spread with disease-like rapdity.
Along those lines, check out China Mieville’s science-fiction novel Embassytown, in which (among other oddities) he invents an alien race which is actually sickened by words and the transmission thereof. I wrote about the book for The Millions.