Category Archives: Stuart Dybek

Links: Cleaning Up

A handy database of what appears to be all the fiction that has run in the New Yorker. Have fun with the tag function: “Dogs” appears 82 times; “Cats” 38 times; “prisoners” seven times; “littering” once.

I haven’t read a romance novel in forever, but I’ll read anything Jessica Tripler writes about the genre. She considers A Visit From the Goon Squad though that filter: “It struck me that the dominant emotion in VGS is one not so often encountered in romance: shame…. [T]he kind of abject shame so many of VGS characters inhabit is not one that makes for a romantic read. I think the difference is that in romance, the shame is either (a) not really earned (it’s really a virtue in disguise), or (b) centers on a character flaw that gets fixed in the narrative (the cop who is afraid of commitment, for example). The shame in VGS is, at one and the same time, both unique to the characters and universal.”

Gertrude Stein gets an iPhone: “Stopping everything is something. Stopping everything and stopping all of that thing is something. Stopping everything and then doing nothing in stopping everything is something.” (via)

Egyptian translator Hala Salah Eldin Hussein: “I have recently been contemplating the value of literature in these times, where your step in Tahrir Square—protesting and demanding civil rights—should be more valuable than translating fiction. Can fiction really take second place after revolutionary activism? How can fiction help us in a time of political unrest? Should I stay in my office finishing this marvelous piece by Susan Straight, or should I just go out with my fellow countrymen, six hours or more every day, in the square? It seems that translating political articles will be of more use to the revolution, but for the time being I’ll keep the belief that a day translating Lorrie Moore or Edward P. Jones will teach me how to be a better human being, I’ll get to see the world in its true colours, I’ll learn about myself, others and humanity.”

Andrew Seal isn’t blogging these days, alas, but his very busy Tumblr, Fuck Yeah, Historiography, is stuffed with gems from texts on American literature, sociology, political history, and more.

Catch-22 at 50. (via)

Lynne Tillman: “I think it’s true that unless human beings experience something, they simply don’t understand what people are going through. Now that I am conscious of the world of chronic pain, when I see somebody walking down the street who’s having trouble, I feel a sadness for them. I notice. I’m very lucky that I could get a hip replacement.” (via)

“If you really want to publish a book one day you will publish a book. The time that you spend getting there is kind of wonderful. Don’t cut it short. The emotional range is valuable.”

Robert Pinsky unearths a document listing three reasonable rules for writing a book review.

On Tobias Wolff‘s debut novel, 1975’s Ugly Rumours, which few know about and which the author himself is disinclined to discuss.

Defending Herman Melville‘s poetry.

We will always want narratives, but will we always want endings?

John Steinbeck‘s affection for Arthurian England.

Dept. of Sausage Making: Stuart Dybek and an editor discuss whether the name of a public housing project in one of his stories needs some additional explanation. (via)

Well put, by Rae Bryant: “One of the masteries in Nabokov’s stories, what I admire so much, is how smoothly the stories turn readers into accomplices.”

Somewhat less well put: “Maybe Vladi­mir Nabokov wasn’t referring to America’s favorite confectionery on a stick when he wrote Lolita,’ but he should have been.”

Links: Whatever

“[Stuart Dybek] submitted a story called ‘Thread’ to a literary magazine without the label of fiction or nonfiction. A representative at the publication demanded a classification for the story. He responded with what he calls a ‘shrug of the shoulders,’ and the story went on to be published in Harper’s in 1998.”

Scenes from the ceremony inducting the first class of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.

Matthew Hunte‘s “75 Notes for an Unwritten Essay on Literary Prizes” is essential reading for anybody who wants to understand the peculiar, heartbreaking, often compromised processes involved in celebrating one author ahead of others. The 1996 C-SPAN video of an NBCC panel, linked to from the article, is particularly revealing in terms of how the PEN/Faulkner, NBCC, NBA, and MAN Booker prizes function, or at least functioned at the time. And it’s great to see Paul Fussell in action. (Also: a look back at the disastrous 1980 American Book Awards.)

Susan Straight (intensely) appreciates Toni Morrison‘s Sula.

“O unteachable ass”: Mark Twain responds to an editor.

Adam Ross on making the shortlist for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. (And, from the archives, wondering why bad sex writing is getting picked on when there are so many other forms of bad writing out there.)

“The work of the class of 2010 is also reflective of a certain hard-to-define American malaise. [Joshua] Ferris‘s novel The Unnamed and Rivka Galchen‘s Atmospheric Disturbances are both about mysterious maladies that overcome their protagonists without warning. The subjects of Wells Tower‘s stories are inclined to unexpected outbursts of violence and depression; [Chimamanda Ngozi] Adichie‘s wandering African émigrés are perpetually disappointed by the stifled promise of American life. The stories of 20 Under 40 are similarly weighed down by a creeping unease that seems emblematic of life in the United States today.”

Claim: John Steinbeck‘s Travels With Charley isn’t factually accurate.

Grace Paley: Collected Shorts, a documentary on the writer, screens in D.C. this Sunday as part of the Washington Jewish Film Festival (via). The trailer:

Francine Prose: “It’s very hard when you are writing a novel because you really have to get back into that imaginary world. So unfortunately, sometimes, if I have been away from it for a long time, like two or three weeks, I will actually have to go back to the beginning, to start writing again … just so I can get enough momentum and kind of figure my way back in.”

A quick gloss on why Bonnie Jo Campbell‘s “The Solutions to Ben’s Problem” works.

Walter Mosley: “The biggest misconception that people have about the literary life is the romance of it. That, you know, that a writer has this large world available to him or her of people, of ideas, of experiences, of interchange of ideas; that they don’t understand really, not how isolated the life of that person is because the life of that person is dependent on who they are, but the literary life of that person. How hard it is to get recognized, how hard it is to get people to read your books. How hard it is to get people to even to understand what they’re reading when they’re talking to you about their books.”

A few good books Ruth Franklin didn’t get around to reviewing this year.

Louis Auchincloss wasn’t like Trollope. He was worse.

A Sense of Where You Are

“For American novelists who have begun their careers since 1970, geographical variation appears to be a way of lending variety to their novels,” writes D.G. Myers, lamenting the death of regionalism in American fiction. Myers lays the blame for all that sprawl on writing workshops, though it could just as easily say something about how the explosion of information in the past two generations has broadened writers’ horizons; if nothing else, the research is now easier. I’d also figured that writers’ breadth of interests, geographic or otherwise, mainly reflected the fact that Americans in general have become much more mobile in the past 30 or 40 years. But that isn’t actually the case; a majority of Americans haven’t moved from the state in which they grew up, and a majority of those people—more than a third of the U.S. population—have never moved from their hometown.

Of course, writers are different from the rest of us, and many successful ones will likely have to at least consider leaving town and finding a perch in academia. If that means we have a generation of writers who are promiscuous about place, so be it—I’m not convinced Michael Chabon would be a better writer if he’d ditched his MFA program and decided to focus exclusively on writing about hometown of Columbia, Maryland. But Myers’ post does make me realize that regionalist writers in recent years are hard to come by, and even then they tend not to stick around long. Adam Langer, the last great hope for the great Chicago novelist (or at least the most recent great hope) wrote two sprawling novels about the city and then shifted his focus to New York; Stuart Dybek, the great Chicago hope who preceded him, is now in Michigan.

Being a regionalist writer today seems to mess with your productivity; time was, William Faulkner could write a steady stream of novels and stories about Yoknapatawpha County, but now Marilynne Robinson has a long career with only three novels to show for it. And Edward P. Jones—the name that springs quickest to mind when I think of great contemporary regionalist writers—takes his time as well. Perhaps it’s less stressful to be a polymath with an MFA than a writer interested in the details of a particular place.

Links: Boy Meets Tractor

Incoming Paris Review editor Lorin Stein: “Ten years ago I found a book of proletarian erotica in a slush pile. I just asked the author to send me another copy so I could read those stories again.”

Even if Jeffrey Eugenides did teach his own books in class—a practice many students criticize—he says he wouldn’t enjoy much of a windfall from it. “Probably about $10 per semester, if you add it up.”

Reality Hunger‘s “assault on authority and its radical solipsism are of a piece with Oprah culture and anti-intellectual movements that have taken root in academia since the 1950s.”

Are vampire novels dead?

Lorrie Moore: “Right now, I’m writing stories about money. I’m very interested in what people will do for money. Money: it’s timeless.”

Debut fiction writer Adam Schuitema rightfully praises his teacher Stuart Dybek‘s The Coast of Chicago: “It’s like a really great album, where the first song makes sense as the first song, the last song makes sense as the last song, and each song gains strength as part of the collection.”

Online excerpts from the new book Letters of Sylvia Beach include the pioneering Paris bookseller’s correspondence with Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Richard Wright, William Carlos Williams, and others.

The case for thinking of Walter Mosley as a Jewish author.

How Mark Twain‘s death was covered by the media; and how one Brit spent his time in Hannibal, Missouri, to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of his death.

Audio of John Updike reading Frank O’Hara‘s “The Day Lady Died.” (via)

Lionel Shriver: “You’re better off not waiting for inspiration. I find inspiration is something that you demand of yourself that will arrive in due course if you sit in front of a computer long enough, you just have to concentrate.”

One Paragraph: Stuart Dybek, “Blight”

Over the weekend I was reading a forthcoming collection of short stories set in Chicago. It’s not bad, but it’s also clearly attempting to evoke Stuart Dybek’s classic collection, The Coast of Chicago, and it inevitably looks worse for the comparison. It’s been a few years since I read Dybek, but “Blight” in particular reminded me pretty quickly what Dybek was best at—arraying small details of everyday city life (well away from the city centers) that seem to speak for whole communities. “Blight” is set just after the Korean War and follows a group of South Side buddies who learn that their neighborhood has been declared blighted by the mayor. “Blight” is an unfamiliar word to them, and it’s not good news, but it becomes a deeper part of their identity than they’d expect; one man works on a novel called “Blight,” and the narrator is in a band called the Blighters. Dybek’s South Siders aren’t much for existential discussions, but they still find a way to voice their slightly despairing worry that outside forces are telling them who they are. The passage below is about how this kind of naming plays into local softball teams, and in the process Dybek reveals much about a community’s social strata. (This is two paragraphs, I know; this feature’s a work in progress.)

We had liked being the No Names at first, but had started to seem like an advertisement for an identity crisis. The No Names sounded too much like one of the tavern-sponsored softball teams the guys back from Korea had formed. Those guys had been our heroes when we were little kids. They had seemed like legends to us as they gunned around the block on Indians and Harleys while we walked home from grade school. Now they hung out at corner taverns, working on beer bellies, and played softball a couple of night a week on teams that lacked both uniforms and names. Some of their teams had jerseys with the name of the bar that sponsored them across the back, but the bars themselves were mainly named after beers—the Fox Head 400 on Twenty-fifth Street, or the Edelweiss Tap on Twenthy-sixth, or down from that the Carta Blanca….

There seemed to be some unspoken relationship between being nameless and being a loser. Watching the guys from Korea after their ball games as they hung around under the buzzing neon signs of their taverns, guzzling beers and flipping the softball, I got the strange feeling that they had actually chosen anonymity and the loserhood that went with it. It was something they looked for in one another, that held them together. It was as if Korea had confirmed the choice in them, but it had been there before they’d been drafted. I could still remember how they once organized a motorcycle club. They called it the Motorcycle Club. Actually, nobody even called it that. It was the only nameless motorcycle gang I’d heard of.

New Dybek

The Washington Post‘s Sunday Magazine is its Valentine’s fiction issue, featuring stories by Stuart Dybek, Julia Alvarez, Walter Kirn, and Julie Orringer. Missing Chicago a little lately, I went straight to Dybek’s “Road to Cordoba,” a small North Side love story set in a very large Chicago blizzard; it’s a beautifully turned piece, with a quick detour into a bar that neatly evokes every red-brick-facade-Old-Style-sign-in-front-joint in the city:

The cramped, low-lit space was packed, or so it first appeared. Though only three men sat at the bar, they were so massive they seemed to fill the room. Their conversation stopped when I came in. I’d heard the rumor that players for the Chicago Bears sometimes drank there, but hadn’t believed it, probably because I’d heard it from Lise’s stepfather, Ray, who’d also told me that as a cliff-diver in Acapulco he’d once landed on a tiger shark with an impact that killed the shark. With all of Rush Street waiting to toast them, why would Bears drink at a dump like the Buena Chimes?

Dybek will discuss the story on the Post‘s Web site Monday.

New in 2008: Love

Maybe it’s just that we’re sick of all the war stories we didn’t bother seeing in theaters anyway, and tired of paging through stacks of Iraq/al Qaeda/failures-of-the-Bush-administration tomes that have arrived in the past year. I know I’ll need one more example here to argue for a trend, but I have two books in hand collecting top-shelf literary writers on the topic of love. Last week I received a copy of Four Letter Word: Invented Correspondence From the Edge of Modern Romance, in which writers reimagine the love letter. Among the participants: David Bezmozgis, Leonard Cohen, Jonathan Lethem, Sam Lipsyte, Audrey Niffenegger.

And today, Very Short List (a daily e-mail I’ve found very addictive, spot-on as it often is in its recommendations) is pushing My Mistress’s Sparrow Is Dead: Great Love Stories, from Chekhov to Munro, a collection of love stories edited by Jeffrey Eugenides. Sez VSL:

This handsome new anthology contains 26 exhilarating and heartache-producing love stories written by familiar masters (Chekhov, Faulkner, Joyce, Nabokov) as well as some new ones (Denis Johnson, Miranda July, Lorrie Moore, Eileen Chang). From the early-adolescent longing in Stuart Dybek’s “We Didn’t” to the crushing choices made in Alice Munro‘s “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” (the basis for last year’s film Away From Her), each tale chips away at the mysteries of the human heart.

That’s some purple prose there. But the book is for a good cause: Proceeds benefit literacy nonprofit 826 Chicago.