Writer’s Desk: Anthony Bourdain Said Stop Complaining

In honor of the (sadly) late great Anthony Bourdain, here’s a little reminder from him about just how great it is to be a writer:

Cooking professionally is hard work. Writing is a privilege and a luxury. Anybody who whines about writers block should be forced to clean squid all day.

As some of us can also testify, writing beats the hell out of washing dishes, too.

Reader’s Corner: Beckett and Terror

With his bleak sketch fictions and disembodied existential plays, Samuel Beckett feels about as removed from the muck and mire of daily human life as you could get. That’s why it’s fascinating to read this opening to Fintan O’Toole’s piece in the New York Review of Books about Beckett’s political conscience:

In April 1962, Samuel Beckett sent a clipping from the French press to his lover Barbara Bray: a report of the arrest in Paris of a member of the Organisation armée secrète. The OAS was a far-right terror gang whose members were drawn largely from within the French military. It had carried out bombings, assassinations, and bank robberies with the aim of overthrowing the government of Charles de Gaulle and stopping the concession of independence to Algeria. Among its targets had been Beckett’s publisher and friend Jérôme Lindon, whose apartment and office were both bombed by the OAS.

Then there’s the punch line:

The press clipping detailed the capture of an army lieutenant who would be charged with leading an OAS attack on an arms depot outside Paris and a raid on a bank in the city. His name was Lieutenant Daniel Godot.

Always good for a laugh, that Beckett.

Writer’s Desk: Read to Write

Like all the greats, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an unrepentant bookworm. As she told Stylist:

Read, read, read. I’m not sure that one can be a good writer without being a good reader. If you’re going to build a desk it’s very good to see what other carpenters have done.

It seems obvious, but you would be surprised how many writers forget to take the time to see what great new books are out there. It’s not just good research, it’s also helpful to scope out the competition. See what you’re up against and that will push you to do better.

(h/t: LitHub)

Screening Room: ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’

Daniel Striped Tiger and his handler, Fred Rogers (Focus Features)

The truly heartwarming new documentary from Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) explores the unlikely phenomenon that was Fred Rogers.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

It says something about the oddball uniqueness of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” that almost nowhere in Morgan Neville’s magnetic, soulful documentary about Fred Rogers does anyone talk about what great television he made. In fact, one of his collaborators sardonically notes that the show was almost like a compilation of every element good television was not supposed to have…

Screening Room: ‘First Reformed’

Ethan Hawke in ‘First Reformed’ (A24)

In Paul Schrader’s latest, First Reformed, a minister finds more to believe in an eco-activist’s radicalism than his own pulpit.

My review is at PopMatters:

Ethan Hawke at his most pained plays the Reverend Toller. Minister for a tiny museum of a church in upstate New York that’s about to celebrate its 250th anniversary, he’s at the tail-end of a years-long spiritual crisis. By the time the movie catches up to this nearly cadaverous penitent, Toller has already lost his son to the Iraq War, his wife to divorce not long after that. He writes in a journal each night, bottle of whiskey at his side…

Screening Room: ‘One Sings, the Other Doesn’t’

A new restoration of Agnes Varda’s One Sings, the Other Doesn’t from 1977 is in limited release now. Check it out while you have the chance. There’s absolutely nothing else like it playing at any theater anywhere near you.

My review is at The Playlist:

When Agnès Varda’s delightfully gonzo song-studded paean to sisterhood “One Sings, the Other Doesn’t” opened the 1977 New York Film Festival, it landed in the middle of a differently fraught world for women’s rights issues. Abortion, which is a recurring theme in this newly restored and re-released classic, had only been legal in the United States for five years and in Varda’s native France, for just two. The campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment was grinding to a halt in the face of conservative opposition. Female directors were still essentially unheard of in the movie industry. Expectations were high…

Writer’s Desk: It’s Like Fishing

Here’s how Eric Idle—novelist, doggerelist, once and forever Python—described the act of writing:

Writing and doing. It’s still what I love to do. To go to your chair first thing in the morning with a blank piece of paper and a pencil and find what is lurking in the depths of your unconscious. It’s fascinating. I always compare it to fishing. You never know what you’re going to catch but you must go regularly to the river bank and wait…

He’s right, of course, you do never know what’s going to come out. It could be that paragraph you’ve been honing and teasing and searching for for weeks. Or it could be five more pages of What The Hell Am I Going to Do With This? You never know.

But keep casting your line. The fish will bite. Eventually.