That time I read the beginning of almost everything
This past weekend, I visited San Francisco to get a lay of the land. A friend and I took a field trip to the new farmer’s market in the Richmond (holy fruit samples, batman!) and then to Green Apple Books.
The great part about going to a good bookstore with writer/reader friends is that no one comes to find you to say: are you ready yet? Meaning, I got to read the beginnings of all sorts of books, and the middles of others, many of which were already on my list or on my bedstand, others that are now. So glad that I will live in wander-in distance from Green Apple this fall.
Here’s a list I’m excited about (And if you visit Green Apple, you’ll see I didn’t get in very far beyond the front tables. This time.)
WE NEED NEW NAMES, NoViolet Bulawayo
TIRZA, Arnon Grunberg
NEAR TO THE WILD HEART, Clarice Lispector
THE BOOK OF MONELLE, Marcel Schwob
SUBMERGENCE, J.M. Ledgard
CITY OF BOHANE, Kevin Barry
AN ELEMENTAL THING, Eliot Weinberger
WE OTHERS, Steven Millhauser
A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA, Anthony Marra
SPEEDBOAT, Renata Adler
IN THE HOUSE UPON THE DIRT BETWEEN THE LAKE AND THE WOODS, Matt Bell
Lots of unputdownable stuff, but the trance that held me fastest was a Buyer’s Pick, TRANSPARENCY by Marek Bienczyk, translated by Benjamin Paloff. Here he writes about rereading James Joyce’s “The Dead”:
Just as the story’s slow, languid flow changes imperceptibly into the unbridled rush of the closing passages, the time it takes to read them becomes an avalanche that yanks us out of our safe, quiet moment. One more time, then: An hour has passed since the party, and now there is only this hotel room, the string of a petticoat hanging off the chair…
Anyway, you should read it. You’ve probably read everything on this list already because you, Tumblr, are an erudite collective.
Don’t tell me how they end.
Off and on the grid
I’ve been trying to figure out how to say this eloquently, but screw it: I really liked being off the social media grid for basically the last month since completing ye olde MFA. Didn’t miss refreshing a dashboard, counting my characters. Liking stuff. And that weird thing where you feel compelled to add something more clever, more summing to anything you like enough to repost on tumblr? Didn’t miss that either.
Instead, had some amazing 1.0 experiences with seacliffs, traintables, kissing gates, climbing stiles, cows, and a ghost horse. Lots of silence and miles. Almost no wifi.
This didn’t help, either.
I like what Orner says about social media being a skill set that one can choose to develop—or not. One that some people have in spades. (Not to mention his great Say Anything reference.) As he observes, the ROI (as in Risk of Ignoring) of social media for writers of a certain vintage is a given—and an oft-repeated cautionary tale anytime 2 or more writers get together, especially to those whose publication record has not, in some way, grandfathered them in.
Deeper down, in the second layer of that conversation about writers in 2.0, it’s also accepted wisdom that you can’t do this thing halfway. Be authentic, be positive, be frequent, we’re told. At very least, be interesting.
And as a former social media consultant who’s been to a lot of great NTEN conferences, I agree on authenticity, and I agree that you don’t do yourself any favors by looking like someone’s got you by the scruff. My Editor Made Me is not a good look on anyone.
But taking off that hat and putting on my writer one for a moment—the crumpled hat of a recluse, or at least someone who needs a lot of solitude to thrive—the piece of the conversation I haven’t heard nearly as often is the one about the opportunity costs of doing social media, and doing it well. “What goes inside the books,” Orner writes: let’s not forget to talk about that.
Yes. But also: how does the social media we’re doing change or shape ‘what goes inside the book’?
Don’t get me wrong: I am not a sucker with a dial-up, pleading for us to just go back to the good ole days of AOL or Underwoods.
Social media has certainly enlivened literary communities in big and important ways, enabled many others to form. I’m not out to knock it. Or to diminish the benefits many of us get from participating in these communities we wouldn’t necessarily have access to otherwise.
But as a community, perhaps we ought to admit in bigger font that social media comes with opportunity costs. And acknowledge those costs alongside the Just Do Its on panels about writers online. Time curating your social media existence is time spent away from other pages. Obvious, maybe, but I think under-discussed. And we ought to encourage each writer to calculate that cost for herself, since it will be a highly idiosyncratic formula.
And from my chair, it sure looks like social media is pushing on and shaping what goes in the book. I’m interested in the hows. I’m sure brighter souls are already talking about this—if you know of this conversation, could you tune me in to it?
Anyway, I’m reluctant to come back, and reluctant about my reluctance. Maybe I won’t.*
*(or maybe I kinda will. I’m having an idea…)
A silence which comes over my life as well, I am not unwilling to express it. It is not the great squares of Europe that seem desolate to me, but the myriad small towns closed tight against the traveler, towns as still as the countryside itself. The shutters of the houses are all drawn. Only occasionally can one see the slimmest leak of light. The fields are becoming dark, the swallows shooting across them. I drive through these towns quickly. I am out of them before evening, before the neon of the cinemas comes on, before the lonely meals. I never spend the night.
—James Salter, A Sport and A Pastime
From the Stealing from Yourself Files
Max kissed my hand when he left, a little bow that reminded me I have always wanted to be the person who remembers the difference between frankincense and myrrh — Joyous, but with facts. I am not that person. I am the person who has always known how to spell myrrh.
Why no one writes lyric realism anymore
Because it isn’t real, for A.
The rest is up at Necessary Fiction today. Thanks to Steve Himmer for giving a story that starts with cheese-crisps and Pac-Man a chance.
(See, now you want to read it…Pac-Man!)