Aimee Bender on “Goodnight Moon”

"Yes, move around in a structure. But also float out of that structure. ‘Goodnight nobody’ is an author’s inspired moment that is inexplicable and moving and creates an unknown that lingers. How wonderful that this oddly compassionate moment, where even nobody gets a good night, shows up in the picture book that is the most popular! There is no template, ever. When writing, how do we allow those moments of impulse, of surprise? How do we not censor that kind of leap? (I’d argue for following tangents — for not feeling bound to the topic at hand.) And when to end a story or poem or novel or essay? It’s one of the most common questions at readings: ‘How do you know when it’s done?’

How did Brown know? On some level, it had to have been a felt ending, a note she hit that must have seemed right and took confidence and daring to pull off. The reader has time to linger with that end and accept it — it’s not the obvious closing note of the music, it’s not the fully resolved major chord. But she trusted it. How something ends is so much about a writer training her own instinct and her own sense of that note.” —Aimee Bender, "What Writers Can Learn From Goodnight Moon in The New York Times

Taking Marriage One Year at a Time

image

"On our anniversary every year, Patrick and I agree to stay married. We renew our contract, so to speak. We are committed for life, but sometimes that feels overwhelming. It’s the months ahead that must be lived through, whether they are wonderful or weird or terrible or just O.K. — or all of the above, as life usually is. We agree to stay together and love each other for that amount of time — one year — no matter what." – from Edan Lepucki’s Modern Love essay in NY Times 

An Honorable Human Relationship…

image

"An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other." –Adrienne Rich via Brienne Walsh via Brian Pickings

Why does Jhumpa Lahiri look naked—or, at the very least least, topless—in her author photo, the one featured alongside a MUCH smaller picture of her book, The Namesake, in GQ’s list of "The 21 Books From the 21st Century Every Man Should Read."Lahiri is included with other writers such as Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Franzen, George Saunders and Junot Diaz. Any one of them might have a clavicle as pretty as Lahiri’s, but we wouldn’t know. These men are portrayed in black ink drawings, ostensibly fully clothed. Lahiri, the 21st of the 21 authors included on the list, is the only one who appears so… undressed.I’m not sure what to make of this. I’d be a prude if I said the picture of Lahiri was inappropriate. It’s tasteful. She looks stunning. It’s not as if there’s any cleavage, just the aforementioned clavicle and her smooth, glistening skin. So why am I so put off by this? Because I feel like she’s using her “pretty” to gain publicity and attract an audience. Because I think the quality of someone’s writing should have nothing to do with his or her appearance. Because I think Lahiri should pretend her looks are incidental to her success, and this picture suggests otherwise. Because I don’t want to question my own success (miniscule compared to Lahiri’s, but still), and consider the role my appearance has played.

Why does Jhumpa Lahiri look naked—or, at the very least least, topless—in her author photo, the one featured alongside a MUCH smaller picture of her book, The Namesake, in GQ’s list of "The 21 Books From the 21st Century Every Man Should Read."

Lahiri is included with other writers such as Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Franzen, George Saunders and Junot Diaz. Any one of them might have a clavicle as pretty as Lahiri’s, but we wouldn’t know. These men are portrayed in black ink drawings, ostensibly fully clothed. Lahiri, the 21st of the 21 authors included on the list, is the only one who appears so… undressed.

I’m not sure what to make of this. I’d be a prude if I said the picture of Lahiri was inappropriate. It’s tasteful. She looks stunning. It’s not as if there’s any cleavage, just the aforementioned clavicle and her smooth, glistening skin.

So why am I so put off by this? Because I feel like she’s using her “pretty” to gain publicity and attract an audience. Because I think the quality of someone’s writing should have nothing to do with his or her appearance. Because I think Lahiri should pretend her looks are incidental to her success, and this picture suggests otherwise. Because I don’t want to question my own success (miniscule compared to Lahiri’s, but still), and consider the role my appearance has played.

Playing Dead

"To die your whole life. Despite the morbidity, I can’t think of a better definition of the writing life. There’s something about writing that demands a leave-taking, an abandonment of the world, paradoxically, in order to see it clearly. This retreat has to be accomplished without severing the vital connection to the world, and to people, that feeds the imagination. It’s a difficult balance. And here is where these ruminations about writing touch on morality. The same constraints to writing well are also constraints to living fully. Not to be a slave to fashion or commerce, not to succumb to arid self-censorship, not to bow to popular opinion—what is all that but a description of the educated, enlightened life?"

(via Jeffrey Eugenides’s Advice to Young Writers: The New Yorker)

writing

Rock Me, Mercy

The heartbreaking loss of lives in Newtown, Conn., moved the Louisiana-born poet Yusef Komunyakaa to put his emotions into words. The global distinguished professor of English at New York University knows too well how it feels to lose a child and poetry’s power to calm and heal. —from NPR.org

Rock Me, Mercy: A Poem Written In Mourning
by Yusef Komunyakaa

The river stones are listening,
Because we have something to say.
The trees lean closer today.
The singing in the electrical woods has gone down.

It looks like rain, because it is too warm to snow.

Guardian angels, wherever you’re hiding,
We know you can’t be everywhere at once.

Have you corralled all the pretty, wild horses?
The memory of ants asleep,
And day lilies, roses, holly, and larkspur?

The magpies gaze at us,
Still waiting.

River stones are listening
But all we can say now is,
Mercy, please rock me.

 Brutal honesty from F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Price of Admission
November 9, 1938 Dear Frances: I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell. This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile. The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see. That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is “nice” is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the “works.” You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave. In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than, Your old friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.
(via Letters of Note: You’ve got to sell your heart)

Brutal honesty from F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Price of Admission

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is “nice” is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the “works.” You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.

(via Letters of Note: You’ve got to sell your heart)

Trust me, this is important work

"And if you’re gonna be a writer, you just truly have to be a writer. You have to throw yourself into it and deal with the negative consequences of that. And there are negative consequences. I mean, there are. But, it’s also true that you wouldn’t be interviewing me right now if I had worked at the post office. You wouldn’t. I would be still writing, but I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I’ve gotten, because I wouldn’t have had the time. I just wouldn’t have, I have two little kids. You do have to take those risks that other people are not going to think are reasonable or good risks to take. And the advice that your mom gave you, to say you don’t have to justify your life, it’s all about that. Every artist at some point had to decide that they didn’t have to justify themselves to the people around them. It did feel frivolous to me, to be a writer. But I had to always say, but trust me, this is important work." —Cheryl Strayed on The Millions

Books as Cupcakes: I feel like there’s a taste-related pun to be made here, but I’m all punned out from a day at the office.

Books as Cupcakes: I feel like there’s a taste-related pun to be made here, but I’m all punned out from a day at the office.

You, You, You

"In another analysis of the Google Books Archive, this time of 766,513 books published from 1960 to 2008, researchers found that ‘first person plural pronouns (e.g., we, us) decreased in use, first person singular pronouns (I, me) increased 42%, and second person pronouns (you, your) quadrupled'—an unbelievable 300% increase in you between 1960 and 2008.

The huge increase in you, she [Professor Jean M. Twenge) says, is even more complicated. ‘It can mean so many different things. My theory all along is that it has to do with self-help books—how to live your best life, which fits the idea of increasing individualism. The author is speaking to the individual reader and giving advice.’ She adds, ‘When people sat down to read a book in previous eras they didn’t have to feel like the author was talking to them, and now more people want that feeling. It’s now very common to have you in the title.’ Maybe the apparent increase in memoirs reflects this hypothesis, too.”—The Atlantic Wire

(Source: theatlanticwire.com)

writing

And one more ode to Cheever. Here’s a still from “The Swimmer,” starring Burt Lancaster and based on one of Cheever’s most well-known stories. I haven’t seen the movie or read the story, not in the traditional sense of reading. But I did listen to an audio version of it from The New Yorker. 

And one more ode to Cheever. Here’s a still from “The Swimmer,” starring Burt Lancaster and based on one of Cheever’s most well-known stories. I haven’t seen the movie or read the story, not in the traditional sense of reading. But I did listen to an audio version of it from The New Yorker

writing movies

On Choosing Your Words Carefully and Deliberately
"Here are a few examples (italics my own) of his embedding into a sentence a word or phrase that any poet might envy: ‘a gentle and excursive mountain shower’; ‘I have cheerfully praised the evening sky hanging beyond the disheveled and expatriated palm trees on Doheny Boulevard’; ‘where one heard in the sounds of a summer rain the prehistoric promises of love, peacefulness, and beauty’; ‘her countenance was long, vacant, and weakly lighted’; ‘[The dog] was as black as coal, with a long, alert, intelligent, rakehell face’; ‘There is something universal about being stood up in a city restaurant between one and two—a spiritual no-man’s-land, whose blasted trees, entrenchments and ratholes we all share, disarmed by the gullibility of our hearts.’ Many of his best effects are quiet and slow to emerge. In what may be his greatest story, ‘The Swimmer,’ the protagonist, Neddy Merrill, contemplates a neighbor in swim trunks who has undergone extensive abdominal surgery: ‘Gone was his navel, and what, Neddy thought, would the roving hand, bed-checking one’s gifts at 3 A.M., make of a belly with no navel, no link to birth, this breach in the succession.’ It’s a sufficiently spooky moment that a reader may not readily appreciate how strange and wonderful a verb-choice is ‘bed-checking’ how unexpected and ravagingly sad is ‘gifts.’
(via Cheevers’ Art of the Devastating Phrase on The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog)

On Choosing Your Words Carefully and Deliberately

"Here are a few examples (italics my own) of his embedding into a sentence a word or phrase that any poet might envy: ‘a gentle and excursive mountain shower’; ‘I have cheerfully praised the evening sky hanging beyond the disheveled and expatriated palm trees on Doheny Boulevard’; ‘where one heard in the sounds of a summer rain the prehistoric promises of love, peacefulness, and beauty’; ‘her countenance was long, vacant, and weakly lighted’; ‘[The dog] was as black as coal, with a long, alert, intelligent, rakehell face’; ‘There is something universal about being stood up in a city restaurant between one and two—a spiritual no-man’s-land, whose blasted trees, entrenchments and ratholes we all share, disarmed by the gullibility of our hearts.’ Many of his best effects are quiet and slow to emerge. In what may be his greatest story, ‘The Swimmer,’ the protagonist, Neddy Merrill, contemplates a neighbor in swim trunks who has undergone extensive abdominal surgery: ‘Gone was his navel, and what, Neddy thought, would the roving hand, bed-checking one’s gifts at 3 A.M., make of a belly with no navel, no link to birth, this breach in the succession.’ It’s a sufficiently spooky moment that a reader may not readily appreciate how strange and wonderful a verb-choice is ‘bed-checking’ how unexpected and ravagingly sad is ‘gifts.’

The perfect desk: The queen of J.Crew, Jenna Lyons, and I have the same desk: Strut in Watermelon from BluDot. (This is her workspace that’s pictured, not mine. Hers looks a lot cooler.)

The perfect desk: The queen of J.Crew, Jenna Lyons, and I have the same desk: Strut in Watermelon from BluDot. (This is her workspace that’s pictured, not mine. Hers looks a lot cooler.)

Good advice: "What makes Simpson’s stories sing is that she seems tacitly to acknowledge the lie embedded in the tired notion of a story’s ‘resolution.’ Characters go through situations, sometimes life-changing, even life-threatening, yet they don’t necessarily improve or discover truth. They don’t, despite popular psychology’s insistence on it, ‘grow and change.’ They just move a little to the left or the right, and in doing so, their view of life alters ever so slightly and ours widens immeasurably." –from Marisa Silver’s LA Times review of Helen Simpson’s In the Driver’s Seat 

Good advice: "What makes Simpson’s stories sing is that she seems tacitly to acknowledge the lie embedded in the tired notion of a story’s ‘resolution.’ Characters go through situations, sometimes life-changing, even life-threatening, yet they don’t necessarily improve or discover truth. They don’t, despite popular psychology’s insistence on it, ‘grow and change.’ They just move a little to the left or the right, and in doing so, their view of life alters ever so slightly and ours widens immeasurably." –from Marisa Silver’s LA Times review of Helen Simpson’s In the Driver’s Seat 

writing