Writer’s Desk: Find a Group

In his great literary guide and memoir On Writing—read it now, if you haven’t already—Stephen King unpacked many secrets of the scrivening trade. Among the more salient was this:

Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.

Finding a writers’ group helps. So does suborning your friends and family to read what you’re working on. Feedback is never a waste, even if you end up ignoring it completely.

Reader’s Corner: Home Decor for People Who Don’t Read

People put up many pointless pictures on the self-reflecting pool of impending cultural demise known as Instagram. Food they ordered for its look instead of taste. Their feet in front of some gorgeous place they want you to know they’ve visited. Here’s a new one:

The social media chattering classes have spent the past few days rolling their eyes at #backwardsbooks, an Instagram-perfect interior design trend that takes the idea that books are pretty to look at and flips it 180 degrees. See, their unadorned pages, actually, can be pleasingly neutral and minimalistic when shelved in a row.

Good luck actually finding the book you want to read, of course.

Nota Bene: Weird Tales from the Yiddish Press

Eddie Portnoy’s book Bad Rabbi: And Other Strange But True Stories from the Yiddish Press is chock-full of goodies printed in prewar Yiddish-language papers in New York and Warsaw. The New York Times review approvingly noted Portnoy’s collection of stories about “vengeful lovers, demented blackmailers and unscrupulous abortionists.”

Here’s a good one, per David Mikics:

Portnoy spends some time on the story of Martin (Blimp) Levy, a professional wrestler who in his heyday weighed more than 600 pounds. Levy, who started his career in 1937, was, according to his manager, “a freak with class.” He was flexible, even agile: Bad Rabbi contains a photo of him doing the splits. Levi was also a bona fide chick magnet. He was married at least three times, always to young, svelte women. (In one divorce case, Levy testified that his spouse physically abused him; the judge ruled in his favor.) In 1946 he married an 18-year-old fan. That same year, he was barred from wrestling in the United States because doctors feared he would drop dead in the ring. A few years later he was reduced to playing the fat man in a circus. Levy, who ended up weighing 900 pounds, died at age 56 in an Alabama motel…

Quote of the Day: Moderation vs. Justice

From Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“:

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate … who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice … Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Writer’s Desk: Keep it Professional

Writing is work. You wouldn’t show up to the office in your pajamas, right? (Well, maybe you would.)

For some writers, keeping a separate office and even a separate demeanor and outfit from their home routine helps keep them in a mental space that’s good for writing. Think of it as putting on your uniform before going to work.

Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert Caro keeps it businesslike, even when there’s nobody around to know the difference, and for good reason:

It’s very easy to fool yourself that you’re working, you know, when you’re really not working very hard. I mean, I’m very lazy. So for me, I would always have an excuse, you know, to go – quit early, go to a museum, you know. So I do everything I can to make myself remember this is a job. I keep a schedule. People laugh at me for wearing, you know, a coat and tie to work…

Reader’s Corner: ‘Fire and Fury’

My review of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, currently on backorder at bookstores around the country and potentially turning into the president’s Harvey Weinstein moment, is up now at PopMatters:

Here we are, just 12 months into the presidency of Donald J. Trump and already just about every writer in the nation has sharpened their pens into knives. But despite the reams of Trump denunciations that have hit screens and bookshelves, none will probably be seen to have cut as deep as Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury…

Nota Bene: A President Who Reads

In this year’s annual New Year’s address, Chinese president Xi Jingping sat in front of a wide array of bookshelves, as always. And as always, viewers scoured the shelves to see what the president is reading. To wit:

Xi is said to be a voracious reader, and other books spotted on his shelf this year included a growing collection of Western classics (from War and Peace and The Old Man and the Sea to The Odyssey and Les Misérables), economic texts like Money Changes Everything by William N. Goetzmann and Michele Wucker’s The Grey Rhino, and numerous titles on Chinese history and military strategy.

Apparently, per his remarks at a Seattle speech in 2015, Xi is also a Hemingway fan:

He said in his younger years he read Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Payne, and…

” ‘I was most captivated by Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea,’ Xi said.

“And that’s not all. When he visited Cuba, the Chinese president said, ‘I dropped by the bar Hemingway frequented and ordered his favorite rum with mint on rocks.’

Interesting. A president who reads. Books.

(h/t: MobyLives!)