Department of Lists: 2018 Edition

(image by KangZeLiu)

Since it’s the end of the year, and there’s only so much champagne one can drink while watching Andy Cohen/Anderson Cooper and hoping that 2019 will show 2018 how things should have gone, it’s time to look back at some of the best that the year that was had to offer.

To that end, I contributed some pieces to a few different publications who make a point of cataloging this sort of thing:

Now you’ll have something to do this January besides catch up on new TV shows and ignore your dieting pledges.

Reader’s Corner: LeVar Burton Has No Time for Trump, Kanye

LeVar Burton has a podcast, too

LeVar Burton, who taught–and continues to teach–generations of kids and adults about the importance of literacy through Reading Rainbow and now LeVar Burton Reads, had something to tell Vice about certain celebrities who proudly proclaim their ignorance of books:

I got something to say about those people like Donald Trump and Kanye West who self profess themselves as non-readers … I ain’t got time for anyone like that anymore. I ain’t got time for the Kaynes or the Trumps who don’t read … Go somewhere else with that nonsense and take that bullshit someplace else. For as long as people like that will continue to publicly profess this idea to a generation of people, I’ll be standing here for literature until my very last breath. I repeat, until my last very dying breath. I’ll stand for it always in the living world. That’s where I’m at right now as far as those two and anyone like them.

Reader’s Corner: Kanye’s Writing a Book. On Philosophy

Here’s another book Kanye kind of wrote.

Kanye West says he’s writing a book of philosophy called Break the Simulation. Because that’s where we’re at right now. (Any bets it will claim reality is just a Matrix-like computer simulation?)

Per Entertainment Weekly:

I’ve got this philosophy — or let’s say it’s just a concept because sometimes philosophy sounds too heavy-handed … It takes you out of the now and transports you into the past or transports you into the future … It can be used to document, but a lot of times it overtakes [people]. People dwell too much in the memories. People always wanna hear the history of something, which is important, but I think it [sic] there’s too much of an importance put on history.

Lot to unpack here, starting with the concept that “there’s too much of an importance put on history,” but we can let the reality of all human endeavors serve as a definitive rejection of that idea.

There’s also the issue that even though his mother was a university English professor, Kanye has called himself “a proud non-reader of books.”

Still, we should welcome Kanye to the authors’club. Even if he never reads his own book.

Reader’s Corner: Bookstores Versus Nazis

Berlin “Night of Shame” book-burning memorial, with empty bookshelves

In 2016, neo-Nazis marched through a Berlin neighborhood near the Tucholsky Bookstore. Then they marched again. The bookstore started organizing. From the New York Times:

By last summer, when a third march through this neighborhood was announced, the group was ready: They had teamed up with “Berlin Against Nazis,” a city-funded organization that targets racism and anti-Semitism. A friend of Mr. Braunsdorf’s designed colorful posters and fliers and together they set up three protest stations along the marchers’ route. Between 200 and 300 neighbors showed up with soup spoons, banging on pots and pans, to protest the march.

According to Johanna Hahn, director of the German Association of Booksellers in Berlin and Brandenburg, bookstores by definition are at the forefront of such resistance:

The book industry has always reacted with great sensitivity to the political climate,” she said, “and bookstores are always a place where social change occurs … In every book there’s a new perspective, so bookstores automatically fall on the side of openness and diversity.”

(h/t: Shelf Awareness)

Reader’s Corner: National Book Critics Circle Awards

The fine group of folks known as the National Book Critics Circle—who graciously suffer my inclusion among their ranks—have just announced their 2017 winners. Minnesota press Graywolf snagged awards in two categories, an impressive feat. See here:

Poetry — Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (Graywolf)

Criticism — Carina Chocano, You Play The Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Trainwrecks, & Other Mixed Messages (HMH/Mariner)

Autobiography — Xiaolu Guo, Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China (Grove)

Biography — Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Metropolitan Books)

Nonfiction — Frances FitzGerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (Simon & Schuster)

Fiction — Joan Silber, Improvement (Counterpoint)

The John Leonard Prize — Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf)

The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing — Charles Finch

The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award — John McPhee

Writer’s Desk: Solitary but Productive

Philip Roth spent about a half of a century writing. In the process, he produced one of the greatest and weirdest bodies of work in American letters. How did he do it? Sitting down and plugging away, for one:

The day-by-day repertoire of oscillating dualities that any talent withstands — and tremendous solitude, too. And the silence: 50 years in a room silent as the bottom of a pool, eking out, when all went well, my minimum daily allowance of usable prose…

Set yourself a goal and get to it. Every great book starts with the first word, it’s true. But there’s a lot of words that have to follow. A daily allowance of usable prose is a good place to start.

Writer’s Desk: First, Make Yourself Happy

Let’s face it: Sitting at a desk and putting words on paper or a screen and then (hopefully) printing them out in a big block of pages that will (again, hopefully) not immediately end up in the remainder stacks, can be drudgery. So find some joy in it.

Per Michael Holroyd:

The only happiness one gets from writing is doing a good day’s work, of suddenly discovering something on the page which works. You pick up the page, you shake it, it’s there, it doesn’t come to bits, and you didn’t know it at the beginning of the day and now you know it. Now that’s a real happiness, and unless there is some element of that, well why on earth is one writing? Because otherwise moving a pen across the page is not all that enjoyable…