Category Archives: Olga Grushin

Links: Running Numbers

Aimee Bender: “I think a lot of writers do think mathematically, actually, because fiction, a made-up world, requires a lot of working through of logic. So it’s a kind of math, on the page, using words. A word problem, of sorts.”

The legal squabbling over Katherine Anne Porter‘s estate drags on.

Olga Grushin on The Line: This is not just any community; it’s a community that forms in the face of repression. On some basic level, this story, of hoping, of waiting, could have been set anywhere—say, waiting in line to audition for “The American Idol”—but the Soviet setting allowed me to explore additional aspects of oppression, danger and trust, and how the darkest times can bring out the worst and the best in ordinary people.

What is Southern lit? I don’t know. You get knocked down. Black holes burnt into a map. There is moss and gonorrhea. You scramble back up but don’t know your mind. What you were was it worth reaching fer? You can’t tell your Bad Faith actions from your authentic mind. It’s all a low fog, over soybean fields and the jawbone of a deer.” (This riff reminded me of George Singleton‘s comic short story “Which Rocks We Choose” [PDF excerpt], which sends up some of Southern culture’s best-loved cliches.)

In a Daily Rumpus email, Stephen Elliott talks about Frederick Exley‘s A Fan’s Notes with Tobias Wolff: “‘It was a writer’s book,’ Tobias said. We decided that it was better than a book that makes a big splash. Better to write a book that people are still reading 40 years later. He said Exley’s other books weren’t quite as good. Some of them were very good, but not quite to the level of A Fan’s Notes. It’s a hard well to return to. How does one write another book like that?”

Jonathan Franzen on putting current events in Freedom: “I had to cut the noise down by 99 percent, and just let that one percent trickle in.” A necessary literary strategy if you’re writing for posterity, or just evasive?

Yesterday I was a guest on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midmorning program to discuss the National Book Awards and the upset win of Jaimy Gordon‘s racetrack novel, Lord of Misrule. (More on that book soon.) Asked to suggest a couple of books the NBA judges might have considered short-listing, I put in for Yiyun Li‘s Gold Boy, Emerald Girl and James HynesNext. National Book Foundation executive director Harold Augenbraum gently noted that Li wouldn’t have qualified because she’s an American resident but not a citizen. He also noted that the foundation is giving some thought to breaking up the awards’ nonfiction category into smaller ones such as memoir, history, etc. It’ll be interesting to see if that happens, though I can’t imagine they’ll go as hog-wild with multiple categories as they did in the early 80s.

Adam Langer: “You could probably view the history of invention in storytelling as having begun all the way back in the Garden of Eden when Eve said ‘Apple? What do you mean, apple? I didn’t eat any apple.’ But, in that case, if Eve was the first fake memoirist, then it might be useful to point out that the first literary critic was a snake.”

“The majority of [Mary] Gaitskill’s lecture focused on something that creative writing courses tend to shy away from, considering that it cannot really be taught: the question of unseeable content, the form under the plot, ‘the deeper quality, the unconscious soul,’ the ‘inner weaving of a story that you can’t read—you have to feel,’ as Gaitskill put it.”

Stephen O’Connor on how he came to write the brilliant, peculiar story “Ziggurat.”

On David Foster Wallace‘s ill-fated attempt to balance a serious pursuit of philosophy and writing The Broom of the System.

Curtis Sittenfeld: “I think in general, novels by men tend to be taken more seriously than novels by women. But I also think that novels being taken seriously is kind of a nebulous concept. I mean, what does that mean? Getting multiple reviews in the New York Times? Personally, I have never wished I were a male novelist.”

Gish Jen:

Paul Auster: “All my stories are about America, they’re impregnated with American history, American literature. But… people care little about books, there’s no book culture here.”

Ed Park reviews the Chicago Manual of Style as if it were a postmodern novel.

Guess that settles it: “It is questionable whether Franny and Zooey is even a classic at all considering Wikipedia does not list it as a notable Salinger work.”

Our Fascinating Russian-Americans

I’m not sure how you get away with writing a lengthy piece on big-deal Russian-American novelists without once mentioning Olga Grushin; perhaps only the Russian-American novelists living in New York count. Still, Emily Gould‘s awful-titled piece on the alleged trend for Russia! is an interesting read, even if a lot of the quotes from Gary Shteyngart and Keith Gessen suggest they’re wary of her thesis that these writers are (ironic caps Gould’s) So Hot Right Now. (Gessen, for his part, is resistant to be included in this grouping, and no agent or publisher is quoted.) And Gould’s riff on Lara Vapnyar seems to argue that Russian-American authors have truly arrived only because you can now treat them with easy condescension:

[Vapnyar] is the most authentically Russian member of the club for the simple reason that her spoken English is still somewhat wobbly. She’s been able to distill that linguistic insecurity into an emphatically plain, nearly featureless writing style the New Yorker fell in love with. It gave her a career: “I had never written fiction before, in any language, and I spoke English with a monstrous accent and tons of grammatical mistakes,” she reminisces in a recent essay. It also made her a few enemies. “When my first story appeared in the New Yorker… one of my American friends said, ‘What should I do to get published in the New Yorker? Screw up my English?’” (This magazine’s editor once opined in a public forum that Vapnyar’s fiction “gets published for the same reason Thai elephants’ paintings get exhibited in galleries”; he has since recanted, and even translated one of Vapnyar’s short stories into Russian).

Dept. of Self Promotion

My brief review of Manil Suri‘s The Age of Shiva is now available at Washington City Paper‘s Web site. Suri reads at Politics & Prose on Monday.

Another D.C. note: I’ll be spending much of tomorrow, Saturday, at American University, checking out Washington Independent Writers’ Fiction Writing All-Day Seminar. A number of interesting writers are on the docket, including Susan Richards Shreve, Olga Grushin, and Edward P. Jones. The walk-in registration rate is a bit steep, but it’s a full day, and casual opportunities to meet writers don’t come along too often.