Writer’s Desk: Theroux on Travel Writing

TheOldPatagonianExpressFor the 2011 release of his bibs-and-bobs collection The Tao of Travel, Paul Theroux had an interview in the Atlantic where—after noting that “Blogs look to me illiterate, they look hasty, like someone babbling”—he dispensed some advice to those in the travel-writing game:

The main shortcut is to leave out boring things. People write about getting sick, they write about tummy trouble, they write about having to wait for a bus. They write about waiting. They write three pages about how long it took them to get a visa. I’m not interested in the boring parts. Everyone has tummy trouble. Everyone waits in line. I don’t want to hear about it.

It’s probably not advice that most travel writers want to heed. After all, once you’ve spent three months in Siberia racking up expenses, you sure as hell better have something that the magazine is going to want to print. If nothing happens, embellishment or poetic license might seem more enticing.

Theroux also suggests to travel light:

The minimum is a change of clothes, a book, a toothbrush, notebooks, an extra pen. I don’t bring extra shoes. Just the necessities. I travel with a small duffel bag that fits under a seat on the plane, as well as a briefcase. The briefcase is my office. I’m always happier when I don’t have a lot of stuff.

The fewer things you have, the less you’ll pay attention to them. A pen, some paper, and your eyes and ears are all you need.

Weekend Reading: August 14, 2015

British Museum Reading Room (Diliff)

British Museum Reading Room (Diliff)

Writer’s Desk: The Not-So-Solitary Art

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Anybody who knows anything about writing knows about that the gig requires a lot of alone-time. Unless you’re one of those people who can compose lucid prose on a crowded subway train, most writers need to have that space they can get away to in order to put their minds in the right space and put together something that won’t entirely embarrass them.

There is, though, always the problem of the outside world. It intrudes on some writers in the simple matter of making a living. The day job, whether writing-related or not, by definition puts the writer out in the world whether they like it or not. Most writers put up with this because, well, rent.

But these days, it seems like the actual practice of just plain writing, not working to be able to afford to write, has been getting awful social. Part of it is that tic of the modern age where every activity must be shared and turned into an online discussion group. But part of it is simply the business of writing. Attending workshops, participating in panel discussions, even getting up in front of people and teaching a class.

Meghan Tifft laments this turn of events:

History has typically not been generous to the writerly recluse. It’s usually only a lucrative position after the fact of your success—and it works best if you’re a man—Salinger, Pynchon, Faulkner all have that esoteric aura about them that’s quite different from poor old Emily Dickinson, that self-imposed shut-in, or Flannery O’Connor, whose excursive limitations were a sad matter of physical ailment. Even Donna Tartt has to go on 12-city tours. And then there’s me. I’m not Donna, or Emily, or Flannery. I’m not getting anywhere as a young, reclusive, female writer….

So, keep that in mind all you introverts and recluses as you write the Great American Novel. At some point, if you’re lucky, you’ll have to go out there and stand under glaring lights and read your prose to a dozen or so people half paying attention to you over the hiss of the nearby cafe’s espresso machine. It’s a reward, of sorts.

Screening Room: ‘Cop Car’

Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson have a good old time in 'Cop Car' (Focus)

Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson have a good old time in ‘Cop Car’ (Focus)

Two kids come across a police cruiser in a clearing, seemingly abandoned. They’ve already run away from home, so why not one more transgression? While they joy ride across the prairie, the car’s owner, a corrupt and drug-addled sheriff (Kevin Bacon) who’s just buried a man is coming after them.

Cop Car is playing now. My review is at PopMatters.

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Gift’

Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman, and Rebecca Hall get real uncomfortable in ‘The Gift’ (STX)

When we last saw Jason Bateman, he was deadpanning his way through the reboot of Arrested Development and doing (as always) a crackerjack job of it. Now, with actor Joel Edgerton’s debut film as writer/director, Bateman is playing against type as one half of a threatened couple in a stalker story with a twist.

The Gift is playing now. My review is at Film Journal International.

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: August 7, 2015

British Museum Reading Room (Diliff)

British Museum Reading Room (Diliff)

Writer’s Desk: Beerbohm on Writing’s Weakness

Max Beerbohm, self-caricature, c.1897.

Max Beerbohm, self-caricature, c.1897.

Caricaturist of some note and essayist beyond compare, Max Beerbohm (1872–1956) was one of those serenely talented Victorian aesthetes one not only doesn’t see anymore, one can barely imagine walking the planet. He understood that one of the great rules of writing is this: Never let them see you sweat. If you make it seem easy, that relaxes the reader.

Not that it wasn’t work. Beerbohm:

Writing, as a means of expression, has to compete with talking. The talker need not rely wholly on what he says. He has the help of his mobile face and hands, and of his voice, with its various inflexions and its variable pace, whereby he may insinuate fine shades of meaning . . . but the writer? For his every effect he must rely wholly on the words that he chooses, and on the order in which he ranges them, and on his choice among the few hard and fast symbols of punctuation. He must so use those slender means that they shall express all that he himself can express through his voice and face and hands or all that he would thus express if he were a good talker…

When talking, we have all the senses to work with. With writing, there is really just one. But great writing, even with such a narrow toolset to work with, can nevertheless excite every single one of the senses.

(h/t Gopnik)