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)

Quote of the Day: Ike Didn’t Love Parades

According to presidential historian Michael Beschloss, in the 1950s, some generals approached former general Dwight Eisenhower about having big Soviet-style military parades to show off American military might:

“Eisenhower said absolutely not, we are the preeminent power on Earth,” Beschloss says, recalling Eisenhower’s response. “For us to try to imitate what the Soviets are doing in Red Square would make us look weak.”

Writer’s Desk: Don’t Stop

The novelist Kazuo Ishiguro said that he’d always followed the rule that said after four hours of continuous writing, the rule of diminishing returns set in. But, with the willing cooperation of his wife Lorna, he decided to try something different. They called it a “Crash”:

During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.

Ishiguro didn’t let anything stop him, no matter how awful the material that he was producing. He just kept at it. Four weeks later, he basically had The Remains of the Day finished.

Listen to Ishiguro. After all, he did win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Writer’s Desk: Be Ruthless

williamfaulkner1When William Faulkner was interviewed by The Paris Review in 1956, he was asked whether writers need to be “completely ruthless.”

The sage of the South replied in the affirmative, with vigor:

The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.

He may not be right about the literary importance of “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” but the point is, nevertheless, an uncomfortable truth.

Screening Room: ‘Fifty Shades Darker’

The first great unintentional comedy of the year, Fifty Shades Darker is the second movie installment in E.J. James’s we-should-all-be-embarrassed bestselling trilogy of erotic novels. It opened last week, Lord help us.

My review is at Film Journal International:

In Fifty Shades of Grey, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson)—these people have monikers that sound like superheroes’ secret civilian names—was a mousy, brown-haired wallflower who fell into a BDSM relationship with Grey. A controlling billionaire who flies his own helicopters and has secret lairs and a bodyguard—again, like a superhero, only ultimately far more boring—Christian took the dominant thing too far with Anastasia. She fled from the dark cruelty she saw in him. Now, in the sequel, he’s trying to win her back. But she’s making her way in the world, working at a small publisher and getting the eye from her just-as-chiseled boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), and not willing to put up with Christian’s domineering nonsense.

Until she does…

Eyes Wide Open 2016: The Worst


Usually around this time each year, I would be finishing up the new edition of Eyes Wide Open, my annual guide to the best and worst films of the past year.

Since a good part of last year was spent working on two new books that will be coming out this summer—The Handy New York City Answer Book in May and Monty Python FAQ in June—there just wasn’t enough time to put together Eyes Wide Open 2016.

But, there was still a lot to talk about in 2016, film-wise. So, this week over at the Eyes Wide Open site, I’ll be running a series of posts counting down the good, the bad, and the blah films of the year.

Starting with today’s installment: The Worst and Most Disappointing Films of 2016.

Tomorrow I’ll start getting to the good stuff.

Weekend Reading: December 16, 2016