Writer’s Desk: Render It Eternal

Even in fiction, when we’re writing, we are often reliving something something we already experienced. A thought, a view, a conversation, a stab of pain or shiver of beauty.

Part of the reason writers do that is simple: Fuel for the engine. But sometimes we write about an experience in order to go through it again, to remember what it felt like, get it down on paper, and let it some extent, live forever.

Anais Nin wrote in her diaries:

We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection. We write, like Proust, to render it all eternal…

Screening Room: ‘A Star is Born’

My essay on masculinity, the movies, Westerns, and Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star is Born ran today in Eyes Wide Open:

…instead of lashing out, sometimes the men just drop out. That’s the case in A Star is Born. On the face of it, this star vehicle doesn’t have anything to do with these stories of men marooned by modernity. The fourth iteration of William Wellman’s original 1937 tearjerker of a doomed celebrity romance double helix of fates, it has nary a firearm on offer and only the odd half-drunk bar fight in terms of violence. But in between all the melodrama about addiction, talent, and poisoned family trees, it’s hard to miss the lurking subtext about the place of men (well, straight men) in its world. In short: They just don’t seem to be hacking it…

Writer’s Desk: Ha Jin on Patience

According to Ha Jin, the author of Waiting and War Trash among other books, there is something to be said for taking your time:

Be patient. Patience is everything.

I write everyday. When I have a large amount of time, in the summer, I can write a draft of a book and then when I teach I can edit and revise the book. Even though I work everyday, it doesn’t mean I write everyday. It’s impossible. It takes such a long time. It’s far from finished once you have a rough draft. Sometimes you just waste weeks and months. It happened to me a few times. I wrote 18 pages and realized it was terrible and had to start again. That’s why patience is everything.

Readers’ Corner: The Little Free Library

A Little Free Library in Luxembourg (photo by jwh)

In 2009, Todd Bol built a little wood box with shelves and a see-through door on the deck of his home in Hudson, Wisconsin. The micro-sized free lending library was a tribute to his mother, who was always welcoming neighbors inside.

According to the Star-Tribune:

So he built a few more boxes, selling one and giving away a few dozen more. Bol set a goal of 2,150 — to beat the number of Carnegie Libraries in the country. Less than a decade later, more than 75,000 dollhouse-size libraries have sprouted on front lawns in 88 countries.

Bol, who passed away this week at 62, may have done more than any other single person to expand book culture around the world in the past decade.

You can find your closest Little Free Library with this map here.

Screening Room: Flinty, Funny ‘Private Life’ Shouldn’t Get Lost On Netflix

The newest family comedy from Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills, The Savages) follows a literary New York couple in the middle of a years-long saga to get pregnant. The results are often funny, but not pretty.

Private Life opened at the New York Film Festival and is now on Netflix and in some theaters. My review is at The Playlist:

Does it matter that Tamara Jenkins’ newest movie, “Private Life,” is only getting one of those mini boutique theatrical releases at the same time being released somewhere into the unknown algorithm wilds of Netflix for the whole nation to see?…

The trailer is here:

Writer’s Desk: Imagine Your Reader

Novelist and poet Russell Banks (Family Life, Continental Drift, Affliction) had some advice for high school students in upstate New York a few years back:

Imagine the teller but also imagine the listener. What is fiction after all but a sort of visual hallucination — you’re asking the reader to see things that aren’t there.

When you’re writing, you’re taking a journey with words. Remember that you want the reader to come along with you.

Writer’s Desk: Start with the Sun

James Dickey won a National Book Award for his poetry collection Buckdancer’s Choice. That was years before he hit the big time with Deliverance. To some degree, poetry remained his first and last love.

Later, in the 1985 collection How to Use the Power of the Printed Word, he offered some advice for aspiring, or even veteran poets. It begins with simplicity:

As for me, I like the sun, the source of all living things, and on certain days very good-feeling, too. ‘Start with the sun,’ D. H. Lawrence said, ‘and everything will slowly, slowly happen.’ Good advice. And a lot will happen…

Start by writing what’s in front of you. If you can capture that, it’s an amazing start.

(h/t: Maria Popova)

Screening Room: A Little ‘Venom’ Goes a Long Way

Tom Hardy in Venom (2018)

A hybrid superhero-antihero misfire that wastes Tom Hardy in a should-have-been great role, Venom is somehow even less fun than when he played both Kray twins a few years back in the London gangster epic bomb Legend.

Venom is playing now pretty much everywhere. My review is at Film Journal International:

There are plenty of characters from the Spider-Man universe who could manage having a movie all to themselves. Eddie Redmayne as the Green Goblin. Maybe Tilda Swinton as a gender-reversed Doctor Octopus; just imagine the goggles. In theory, Venom should be perfectly able to handle a story all on his own. Despite serving as a somewhat weak anti-Peter Parker in the mostly forgotten Spider-Man 3, the ravening parasitic alien being seems like a perfectly good villain to set loose on an unsuspecting world…

Reader’s Corner: ‘Lake Success’ is a Picaresque Journey to Nowhere

My review of the new Gary Shteyngart novel is at PopMatters:

One gets the sense from the start of Gary Shteyngart’s Lake Success that this is going to be something of a status report on the nation. And it’s not just because of Trump. Barry Cohen, the doofus we’re stuck with throughout, stumbles into Port Authority bleeding from his head and trying to get a ticket out of town. A fund manager with $2.4 billion in assets wearing a Citi-branded Patagonia vest over his Vineyard Vines shirt, he’s not a bus station type but nevertheless is feeling like he needs to go off the grid. No NetJet from Teterboro or Acela train for Barry…

One of the book’s chapters was excerpted at the New Yorker.

Screening Room: ‘Hold the Dark’

In Jeremy Saulnier’s bleak and bloody adaptation of William Giraldi’s bleak and bloody novel, a naturalist investigates the apparent killing of children by wolves in Alaska, only to encounter some far more dangerous creatures.

Hold the Dark is playing now in limited release and on Netflix. My review is at Film Journal International:

Jeffrey Wright never shows up to deliver good news. It would be nice if someday soon he gets to show up in a Judd Apatow movie. Suffice it to say that when Wright appears at a woman’s doorstep in Jeremy Saulnier’s gruesomely bleak Hold the Dark, it’s not to deliver a check from Publishers Clearing House…

Here’s the trailer: