Reader’s Corner: The State of American Reading

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The latest Pew Research Center poll on the state of American reading is out, and there are few surprises: Print is holding up strong against ebooks, and slightly fewer people are reading overall (yet again).

Some key findings:

  • The percentage of Americans who read any book in the past twelve months (73%) is down from 2011 (79%)
  • Women read more than men overall and were more likely to read for pleasure
  • City-dwellers read more than people in rural communities
  • Youngsters (aged 18–29) read more than oldsters (65+)
  • The median American reads 4 books a year

Weekend Reading: September 2, 2016

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Reader’s Corner: ‘The Last Days of New Paris’

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In the latest novel from China Miéville, the year is 1950 and World War II is still dragging on. Paris is in Stalingrad-like ruins from years of battle. Oh, and a crack in the fabric of reality has resulted in major works of Surrealist art coming to life and joining in the fight themselves.

My review of The Last Days of New Paris is at PopMatters:

Time is a slippery thing in China Miéville’s writing. Reality, too. Whether he’s cracking open the concept of language (Embassytown) or layering dimensions and urban histories on top of and through each other like so many strands of literary string theory (The City & The City), Miéville plays with the nature of consciousness in a way that few other writers of the fantastic manage these days…

Screening Room: ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

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Meryl Streep’s latest role requires her to do some stretching, as it involves playing a woman who was absolutely terrible at doing the thing she loved most.

Florence Foster Jenkins is playing now. My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

There’s an old joke about the difference that money makes for people suffering from mental illness. Most mentally ill people are just referred to as “crazy.” The ones with money, though, are tagged as “eccentric.” Very few statements have more clearly defined the advantages that wealth bestows upon those who have it. Until, that is, the release earlier this month of Florence Foster Jenkins. It’s a dialed-in, feel-good period piece in which almost all the main characters bend over backwards to protect the fragile delusions of one extremely eccentric woman…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Wodehouse Kept It Simple

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wodehouseP.G. Wodehouse (1881–1975) didn’t live to such a ripe age by worrying about things, like directions or keeping cash about the place.

In this 1975 interview from the Paris Review, he lays out a brisk but simple writing schedule:

I still start the day off at seven-thirty. I do my daily dozen exercises, have breakfast, and then go into my study. When I am between books, as I am now, I sit in an armchair and think and make notes. Before I start a book I’ve usually got four hundred pages of notes. Most of them are almost incoherent. But there’s always a moment when you feel you’ve got a novel started. You can more or less see how it’s going to work out. After that it’s just a question of detail…

Wodehouse made a living out of making his comedy, in the Jeeves books and others, seem effortless. But when a writer has more notes than final pages, clearly there was more going on under the surface than meets the eye.

Weekend Reading: August 26, 2016

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Screening Room: ‘Imperium’

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In his newest film, Imperium, the increasingly adventurous Daniel Radcliffe plays an FBI agent who goes undercover to infiltrate a white nationalist group that might also be a terrorist cell. The playwright Tracy Letts (August, Osage County) and Toni Collette co-star.

Imperium is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International.

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Whistle While You Work

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Do you need absolute, deafening quiet when you work?

Maybe you’re one of those people that likes to work in a loud cafe.

Or are you the type that writes at home but with music on? And if so, what’s your album(s) of choice? Do you prefer background noise so that the lyrics don’t interrupt your train of thought?

undergroundrailroadIn the acknowledgments to his newest novel, the Oprah-picked The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead has some very specific notes along these lines:

The first hundred pages were fueled by early Misfits … and Blanck Mass. David Bowie is in every book, and I always put on Purple Rain and Daydream Nation when I write the final pages; so thanks to him and Prince and Sonic Youth.

That’s a fantastic range of music, but sterling selections all. Speaking from experience, this writer can attest to the imagination-fueling powers of repeatedly playing Daydream Nation, though be warned it works best if you’re writing in a minor science-fiction key.

Weekend Reading: August 19, 2016

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Quote of the Day: Nostalgia Kills

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From Peter Pomerantsev’s Granta essay, “Why We’re Post-Fact“:

‘The twenty-first century is not characterized by the search for new-ness’ wrote the late Russian-American philologist Svetlana Boym, ‘but by the proliferation of nostalgias . . . nostalgic nationalists and nostalgic cosmopolitans, nostalgic environmentalists and nostalgic metrophiliacs (city lovers) exchange pixel fire in the blogosphere’. Thus Putin’s internet-troll armies sell dreams of a restored Russian Empire and Soviet Union; Trump tweets to ‘Make America Great Again’; Brexiteers yearn for a lost England on Facebook; while ISIS’s viral snuff movies glorify a mythic Caliphate. ‘Restorative nostalgia’, argued Boym, strives to rebuild the lost homeland with ‘paranoiac determination’ . . . In extreme cases it can create a phantom homeland, for the sake of which one is ready to die or kill. Unreflective nostalgia can breed monsters’…