Category Archives: Rick Moody

Links: Dead Tongues

Marilynne Robinson: “If you want your prose to be good, studying Latin is good for you.”

Pushcart Prize founder Bill Henderson remains optimistic about small presses and literary magazine.

Paul Auster: “I believe that the whole idea of the consumer society is tottering. We’ve kept ourselves going by producing more and more goods, most of which people don’t need. I’m anti-consumerism; I own four pairs of black Levis and that’s it.”

However outdated its notions about psychotherapy might be, Millen Brand‘s 1937 novel, The Outward Room, is worth revisiting.

“I don’t think [Jonathan Franzen] was literally saying that America invaded Afghanistan so that Americans could continue to drive SUVs. I think he was trying to trace a connection between American foreign policy and Americans’ own understandings of freedom, which is both a value and an emotional imperative that they understand in particular ways and struggle to achieve in their personal lives.”

This nonsense about how “[dead writer] would never use Twitter and Facebook” needs to stop.

Rick Moody on parenthood and home.

“Twenty-five years since its initial publication, White Noise feels like an important and ongoing philosophical experiment…”

In praise of Leonard Michaels‘ Nachman stories.

An excellent interview with Boston Globe literary critic Katherine A. Powers (J.F. Powers‘ daughter), covering Charles Portis, rereading, short stories, fiction in translation, and her admirably simple metric for a book’s success: “When I think of the novels I really like, I can think of only one thing that unites them: their authors proved trustworthy, that is, my suspension of disbelief was not betrayed.”

“The internet’s most ruinous effect on literacy may not be the obliteration of long-format journalism or drops in hardcover sales; it may be the destruction of the belief that books can be talked and written about endlessly. There are fewer official reviews of novels lately, but there are infinitely more pithily captioned links on Facebook, reader-response posts on Tumblr, punny jokes on Twitter. How depressing, to have a book you just read and loved feel so suddenly passé, to feel—almost immediately—as though you no longer have any claim to your own ideas about it.”

Lastly, it’s off this blog’s chosen beat, but I had run catching up with Salman Rushdie‘s work while working on my review of his new children’s book, Luka and the Fire of Life, for the New York Times Book Review. Being a new father may have more kindly attuned me to it, but I suspect I’d recommend it regardless.

Ministorage As a Way of Life

As many people noted yesterday, the Paris Review has freed up its stellar collection of author interviews, making them available in full online. It’s still not quite preferable to having the four-volume set of the Paris Review interviews, which I’d still suggest you pay cash money for—the sample manuscript pages reproduce better there, for one thing. But it’s hard to complain about having so much great material available instantaneously. For instance, here’s Rick Moody on whether he considers himself an American writer:

What else could I be? I guess to be an American writer means, uh, that I have dined multiply at drive-through windows and that I have no choice but to occasionally darken the inside of a shopping mall, and that I come from a country of former slave-owners, and that I feel the Manhattan Project as a blot on my conscience that I will never expiate, and that there is something in baseball that I think is close to my heart (it was once a Native American game), and it means that I daily have contact with guys who think that our government exists only in order to hinder the magnanimous philanthropic work of large corporations, and it means that there’s constant vacillation in my head between the ethical messages of Judeo-Christianity and a desire to cast off these messages entirely, and it means, hmm, that I like artificial cheese food products, and it means that I conceive of nature as an expanse of space, and it means that I believe that spirituality is best experienced in landscapes emptied of human beings, and it means that I like to spin the dial on a television set, just can’t stop myself from spinning that dial, and it means that I only speak one language well, and it means that I don’t mind listening to people on the street talking incessantly about stock prices, and it means that I look to Europe for a definition of the high arts, and it means that I sometimes can’t tell the difference between high and low arts, and it means that the sentimental reiteration of family as the origin of all good is never far from my mind, even though I resist this idea entirely, and it means I know a lot about cars, and it means that I can talk for half an hour about the best kind of computer, and it means that I have a lot of opinions about the best operating system for a computer, and it means that I prefer music with guitars to music with electronic keyboards, and it means that I think ketchup is a vegetable, and it means that I am to some degree or other worried about my weight, and it means I believe strongly in ministorage and the ministorage way of life, and it means I can’t imagine anyone would disagree with all these American things. Guess it means a lot of things, huh?

I confess I’m not picking Moody at random: Like every good American, I have a sales pitch. If you’re in the Washington, DC, area and are free tonight, please consider paying a visit to the George Mason University campus: As part of my work on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, I’ve helped put together a panel discussion tonight on the next decade in book culture for GMU’s Fall for the Book festival. The panel features Moody along with four bright DC-area literary folk: Sarah Courteau of the Wilson Quarterly, Allan Fallow of AARP The Magazine, Britt Peterson of Foreign Policy magazine, and moderator Bethanne Patrick, host of the Book Studio. The panel starts at 6 p.m. and runs till 7:15 p.m. at GMU’s Johnson Center Cinema; stick around after the panel for a reading by Moody, who’ll be joined by Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit From the Goon Squad. Admission is free; hope you can make it.

The Big Story

Writing at the Nervous Breakdown, Matt Stewart would like to know why, in a nation that’s increasingly obese, we lack novels that are about being fat, or that feature fat characters:

Nimbly presenting the moral implications of obesity, while crafting sympathetic characters, is an undeniably tall order. But not even trying is worse; obesity is an issue too commonplace to ignore…. I have to think there’s an untapped market here, that the American public hungers for perceptive insights about struggling with obesity, the sort of poignant, deep-trawling meditation that only a novel can provide.

Stewart is already aware of A Confederacy of Dunces and Jennifer Weiner‘s novels, and the article’s commenters offer a few more suggestions, including Wally Lamb‘s She’s Come Undone. The book I immediately thought of was Rick Moody‘s sprawling 2005 novel, The Diviners, which stars Vanessa, an overweight film and TV producer whose very size is intended to make her a metaphor for America’s gluttony for attention and entertainment. Which is to say that Vanessa isn’t intended to be a realistic portrait of being fat, and Moody makes that clear early on: After leaving an Overeaters Anonymous meeting, Vanessa heads to Krispy Kreme, where “she is destined to have a doughnut that melts in her mouth, a doughnut that tastes like the happy ending of a romantic comedy as purveyed by a vertically integrated multi-national entertainment provider under German ownership.” So.

But if Moody isn’t crafting a realistic portrait of obesity, what of it? Novels “about” being fat might be lacking for the same reason we don’t have many novels “about” working out a lot. (Harry CrewsBody being an exception that proves the rule.) The body, in itself, isn’t especially fascinating fictional territory. But self-consciousness is, which makes me think that the book Stewart is hoping for might be Zoe Heller‘s 2009 novel, The Believers. It’s a book that’s admirable for a whole host of reasons, but in one of its characters, Karla, Heller does a brilliant job of evoking the shame and embarrassment many overweight people are taught they ought to feel. In one scene, a casual question from a coworker about her being on a diet sends Karla crying to the restroom, where an inevitable session of self-scrutiny follows. (“Her nose was swollen and glowing, a joke-store accessory. Her blouse had ridden up, revealing several intersecting lines of pink and white crenellation where her waistband cut into her belly.”) Were Kelly just the novel’s Representative Fat Person, she wouldn’t be an especially memorable character. But Karla’s size is a way for Heller to get into questions about anxiety and belonging, and if nothing else Heller is smart enough to know that making her into a hero doesn’t involve sending her to the gym.

The Death of the Revision?

Big Think’s interview with Rick Moody covers a lot of ground—the problems with writing workshops, writers and antidepressants, the damage the recession has done to writers (especially experimental ones), and the effect of the internet has had on our attention spans. Those thoughts aren’t new ones, but Moody comes at them from a boots-on-the-ground perspective. And I hadn’t heard one idea that Moody puts forth in the interview, which is that writers aren’t revising the way they used to:

How it affects writers of literary fiction is sort of coming into view, but one way that I notice it is that books that were written primarily on a screen and never printed out and worked with by hand are now more numerous than they used to be. And I imagine sometimes that I can kind of tell. There are certain writers who work really quickly and the project goes straight from their screen to the editor to the copy editor to the printer—and it never got dealt with the way people used to deal with prose, which was to patiently revise. And that period of time in which one patiently revises is a period of time in which you can make important decisions about whether that particular passage, or that entire idea, or even the book itself is really worthy or not. And if you’re just sort of working fast and hitting “send,” you miss out on that opportunity to think about what you’re doing.

This is an occupational hazard with journalists, especially bloggier ones—and don’t think Moody won’t call you out for sloppy bloggy argumentation—but lacking specific evidence, it’s hard to say that revision is a lost art, or that the internet is helping to kill it. The fact that copy editors at publishers have disappeared at publishing houses has been well-documented, but if anything that seems to have prompted writers to take even more care with their own work, and forced agents to push their writers to rework more in order to get their work seen in a crowded marketplace. Whether the books are getting refined and polished to appeal to a certain set of tastes is worth discussing, but I’ve never gotten the impression that self-respecting authors at any serious major or indie press go from rough draft to published book with minimal fuss.

Links: Kiddin’ on the Keys

Jason Hartley reviews page 86 of Jennifer Egan‘s A Visit From the Goon Squad: “Later, Stephanie and Bennie have gin and tonics, while watching fireflies and listening to a pianist playing ‘harmless melodies on a shining upright.’ … I find the word harmless a strange choice; is it a value judgment? Should a pianist play harmful melodies while people have cocktails? Is there even such a thing as a harmful melody?” I’m probably wrong, but I think that in the context of the critical theory Hartley helped invent, Hartley is being Overt; more on this Sunday.

Paul Auster‘s City of Glass is 25.

David Means on how even short-story collections that aren’t linked are still…linked: “As a reader, you’re moved from one completely individual unit to the next, and you know that they’re not linked and that they can stand on their own, but you still have a kind of sense, in the end, that you’ve been through an experience that comes from the complete entity.”

A lengthy profile of The Taqwacores author Michael Muhammad Knight in the Abu Dhabi National.

Adam Langer recalls the deep imprint Beverly Cleary‘s books had on him.

Barbara Kingsolver: “My inspiration comes from living in the world and seeing things that aggravate me to the back of my teeth or sing for joy.”

Some pushback on the Gary Shteyngart hype (note the comments as well).

Chicago crime novelist Marcus Sakey on the anxiety-inducing but curiously predicable process of writing a novel.

The Wall Street Journal talks with Rick Moody about Kurt Vonnegut‘s reputation, music, New York, and the “old-fashioned, big long story.”

Vendela Vida on the Believer, which she edits: “I think a lot of the people who like The Believer are people who will always be devoutly attached to the physical object of the magazine.”

I’m still conducting email Q&As with literary websites for the National Book Critics Circle blog: Interviews with Three Percent and Open Letters Monthly are now up. More coming; if you have suggestions for sites to cover, please let me know. (Simple criteria: I’m looking for online publications that are committed in some way to regularly reviewing and covering books, and use multiple contributors to do so.)

Links: Passing the Torch

Joyce Carol Oates: “Virtually all of my novels depict crimes—from a perspective of the tragic rites of sacrifice, redemption, and the passing of the old order—that is, an older generation—to the new order—the younger generation. It’s somewhat unusual that a novel of mine, like Blonde, is purely tragic, without any apparent hope of redemption.”

The voices in Shalom Auslander‘s head.

Grand Street editor Ben Sonnenberg, who founded the literary magazine in 1985 “to follow the model that the New Yorker once provided and fell away from—to be informative and insolent”—has died at 73.

Andrew Seal is beginning a series of posts on John Dos Passos‘ U.S.A. Trilogy—valuable for folks like me who only got through The 42nd Parallel in high school and who have since forgotten most of it.

The opening pages of William Styron‘s Sophie’s Choice might serve as the great Brooklyn novel. (via)

This year’s William Faulkner conference at the University of Mississippi will focus on his screenplays and movies adapted from his work. (Apparently not on the docket for some reason: The Reivers, a 1969 Steve McQueen vehicle that scored two Oscar nominations.)

Meanwhile, an attempt to connect Faulkner and Scott Turow. Not buying it. (via)

How Prague’s literary culture started in Louisville, Kentucky.

Rick Moody on the difficulty of putting Walt Whitman‘s words to music: “The only challenge is, it’s freaking hard to set the lines because there’s no meter…. Why couldn’t they do a Dickinson event? Those could all be sung to ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas.’”

In connection with a Lush Life-themed exhibition taking place in Lower East Side galleries, Richard Price talks about the neighborhood and his perspective on the art world, putting in a plug for The Horse’s Mouth as “the Citizen Kane of artist movies.”

Was the food writing in American Psycho ahead of its time?

Colum McCann finally has time to make progress on a new novel.

Links: Leftovers

What foreigners might read to better understand the “American character.”

An author gives up on writing criticism: “I know intimately that the worst novels ever written took more fearlessness, will and soul than the best book reviews ever written.”

To buy the time work on a play or another book, Richard Price is working on a screenplay for Lush Life.

Raymond Carver biographer Carol Sklenicka: “It boggles the mind how someone who is said to be gentle can hit his wife over the head with a wine bottle and sever her artery.” I have a review of Sklenicka’s book in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Is To Kill a Mockingbird keeping Southern writers from addressing race?

Colum McCann
‘s win at the National Book Awards somewhat redeems Ireland’s failure to qualify for the World Cup.

Rick Moody starts tweeting a story tomorrow at @BlackClockmag.

A visit to the graves of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau. And the guy who played Coach on Cheers.

The publication of Vladimir Nabokov‘s The Original of Laura is an opportunity to dump on living authors: “Richard Powers drones on in high, wooden prose about love, Philip Roth engages in bottomless carnal rumination, Foerian pornographers of tragedy eagerly show us their wares—and Nabokov’s fragments … reveal how hollow so much serious (a synonym, these days, for self-serious) contemporary literature is.”

The publication of The Original of Laura is an opportunity for Roger Ebert to write about the film version of Lolita for Playboy. [NSFW]

The publication of The Original of Laura is an opportunity to come up with some new covers for Nabokov’s backlist.

Jonathan Yardley likes Ben Yagoda‘s book on memoirs, though he’s not much for the recent spate of memoirs themselves.

Jonathan Lethem on the Kindle: “I like old, crapped-out books. For me, it’s an unapologetic fetish, and my house is loaded with them and I’ll always be in love with these things. I worked in used bookstores for a long time. But again, in the cause of not being the cranky old man, even though I can feel all kinds of intense sensory resistance to this thing I choose not to believe it’s the enemy. I’m just going to decide that the world has enough room for this innocuous little guy, too. Why not?”

Links: Installment Plan

In the Wall Street Journal, Lee Siegel argues that we are no longer living in an “episodic” era for fiction, stories more about events than transformations featuring Huck Finn and Augie March. We are now, somewhat unfortunately, living in the “narrative” era, where we crave closure and emotional growth in our characters. This is, of course, all 9/11′s fault. Arguments to contrary will abound, I’m sure—hasn’t popular fiction always been “narrative,” and aren’t most satirical fiction writers today (George Saunders, etc) dealing in “episodic” fiction, as comic writers always have? Somebody organize a conference!

Speaking of: The International Conference of Mark Twain Studies is going on now in Elmira, New York. According to the video, discussions of cats and studious beard grooming are on offer.

A lovely collection of Rockwell Kent‘s illustrations for Moby-Dick.

Constance Fenimore Woolson sold more books in her time than her would-be beloved, Henry James, but James got global fame and a bust in the National Portrait Gallery; Woolson gets a plaque on Mackinac Island.

The Bud Billikin parade is this weekend, which may mean nothing to anybody reading this outside of Chicago. But it’s a big deal there—a South Side to-do launched to get the kids excited to go back to school, and the brainchild of novelist Willard Motley, considered “the most prolific novelist associated with the concluding years of the Black Chicago Renaissance.”

Rick Moody listens to music while writing, but no lyrics please: “He has a fondness for ‘experimental or serious music that doesn’t have lyrics.’ For him, this includes music by La Monte Young, Morton Feldman, Meredith Monk, Steve Reich, Arthur Russell and Rhys Chatham.”

In addition to writing a new novel and a horror movie, Michael Cunningham is working on the screenplay to a Dusty Springfield biopic.

Larry McMurtry is pretty much done: “I’m about at the end of it. I can write certain things. I don’t think I can write fiction any more. I think I’ve used it up over 30 novels. That’s a lot of novels.”

Budd Schulberg—novelist (What Makes Sammy Run?), screenwriter (On the Waterfront), and Papa’s sparring partner—died this week at 95.

And PopMatters draws a few interesting connections between manga pioneer Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Raymond Carver.

Rick Moody Is Blogging About Music. Get Nervous.

The Rumpus, a new-ish blog created by industrious Bay Area novelist and essayist Stephen Elliott, has tapped Rick Moody to blog on a regular basis about…music. This is a little troubling, because to the best of my recollection Moody’s last piece of sustained music writing was a tedious, humid paean to Sleater-Kinney that somehow turned into the official bio for the band’s final album, The Woods. I mean, c’mon:

Now, before us, we have The Woods, which appears in the Sleater-Kinney catalogue as opus number seven, and like many things with sevens on it, it features an itch, a need to try new things.

Was it a parody of the written liner notes that appear on the backs of Z-grade jazz albums in the dollar bin? It was awfully hard to tell, if so. Moody’s first blog entry doesn’t seem quite so bad. But he is playing the same old, tired, “the album is dead” card that so many music bloggers do, and he suggests (threatens?) that his thoughts will have larger implications for the radio and publishing industries too:

The methodology is completely democratic and wide open, therefore, and the style is going to be my actual style, which is to say all tangled and slightly incoherent as written at 8:00 AM on a Saturday morning (like this post) before I’ve even had a cup of tea. The lessons I’m imagining to find are lessons that are not confined to music making, but ones that might have implications for rear guard industries like book publishing or, at another extreme, radio (where I also occasionally ply my hand).

Roundup: Cutting-Room Floor

Rick Moody on studying with Angela Carter at Brown University, in the Age: “On the first day, the class was overenrolled. She basically got it down to 14 people by scaring people out of the room. Some guy raised his hand and said, ‘Well, what’s your work like anyway?’ She said, in her mild-mannered way, ‘My work cuts like a steel blade at the base of a man’s penis’.”

Kate Christensen
, on winning the PEN/Faulkner award (and being only the fourth woman to do so in 28 years), at NPR: “For writers and artists, it’s always a balancing act between wanting to be the center of attention and wanting to be invisible and watch what’s going on,” she says. “It makes you vulnerable to win an award. It’s nice to get the attention, but your neck is stuck out.”

Toni Morrison, clarifying that “first black President” statement, in Time: “People misunderstood that phrase. I was deploring the way in which President Clinton was being treated, vis-à-vis the sex scandal that was surrounding him. I said he was being treated like a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp. I have no idea what his real instincts are, in terms of race.”