Quote of the Day: Reading as Resistance

At the American Booksellers Association’s 15th annual Winter Institute gathering, held this year in Baltimore, author Rebecca Solnit spoke about how reading and publishing can be acts of quiet resistance in an age of distractedness and “glib false certainties.” Per Shelf Awareness:

“At its best it’s a liberation project,” said Solnit of writing and bookselling.

Reader’s Corner: ‘Uncanny Valley’

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My review of Anna Wiener’s lucid and somewhat frightening memoir of her time among the confidence boys of Silicon Valley was published at PopMatters:

Anna Wiener writes about being one of those dreaming New Yorkers who had thought she could make it in publishing as a member of the $30k a-year “assistant class”. But the rising tide of capital was pricing people like her out to the margins. And people who did not have her family advantages (no college debt, health insurance) couldn’t even make it to the margins. “It was nice to get new hardcover books for free,” she writes, “but it would be nicer if we could afford to buy them”…

You can read an excerpt here.

In Memorium: Terry Jones

To honor the passing of the great Terry Jones, a comedic troubadour of some renown, let us take a moment to consider the glory that he brought to the character of one Sir Belvedere:

For something completely different, look for Jones’ highly underrated documentary Boom Bust Boom, a fantastic study of the history of economic catastrophe and irrational exuberance. Paul Krugman plus puppets. My review is here, and you should be able to find it streaming.

 

Screening Room: Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts

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‘St. Louis Superman’

The 2020 edition of the Oscar-Nominated shorts program is hitting theaters next week.

My review of the five-part documentary program, nearly all of which are fantastic if sometimes hard to watch, was published at PopMatters:

When assessing a short-film anthology, sometimes a theme presents itself and other times you have to go looking for one. The movies in The 2020 Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Documentary come from places far and wide, presenting an array of tones and personalities. But the thread that seems to link all of them together is worry that the future will not be an improvement on the problematic present…

Writer’s Desk: Who Knows?

W. Somerset Maugham, the happy-looking chap pictured above, was among the most popular writers in the English language at the height of his career in the 1930s. He had some advice for novelists:

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

Sometimes the best advice to follow can be your own. Or none at all.

Screening Room: The Oscars and ‘Joker’

Really? (Warner Bros.)

In response to yesterday’s fairly uninspiring Oscar nominations, here is a piece I wrote for Eyes Wide Open about why every single other best picture nominee deserves to win more than Joker:

Yes, that includes JoJo Rabbit. Even the cringey and self-congratulatory Nazi slapstick of Taika Waititi’s quasi-Wes Anderson anachronism-riddled World War II satire — which might have worked nicely if compressed into a 5-minute short — ultimately had something to offer, even if it was simply the not-quite-groundbreaking message that Nazis are bad. Not so Joker

 

Writer’s Desk: Know When to Stop

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Woman Reading by Henri Matisse (1895)

In John Guare’s heart-stopping 1990 play Six Degrees of Separation, one of its alternately delusional and searching protagonists is a painter-turned-art dealer named Flan. At one point Flan, who is both criminally mercenary and honestly enraptured by the paintings he flogs, soliloquizes about his past life:

I thought… dreamt… remembered… how easy it is for a painter to lose a painting. He paints and paints, works on a canvas for months, and then, one day, he loses it. Loses the structure, loses the sense of it. You lose the painting.

There is not a writer around who does not know the feeling. Going along just fine, everything hitting its mark, all the pieces of your structure falling into place like toppling dominoes, and then … nothing. Sometimes you get the piece back. Sometimes it is gone forever. Flan continues:

I remembered asking my kids’ second-grade teacher: ‘Why are all your students geniuses? Look at the first grade – blotches of green and black. The third grade – camouflage. But your grade, the second grade, Matisses, every one. You’ve made my child a Matisse. Let me study with you. Let me into the second grade. What is your secret?’ And this is what she said. ‘I don’t have any secret. I just know when to take their drawings away from them.’

Most of us are not lucky enough to have a second-grade teacher looking over our shoulder. Sometimes a piece needs hours, days, months of work to get it chiseled into shape. Other times, it just needs to be left as is.

If you feel yourself losing the thread, pull back, look again, and know when to let it go.