Category Archives: Susan Sontag

Links: Discussion Group

A local programming note: If you happen to be in the greater D.C. area tomorrow, I’ll be at the Annapolis Book Festival, moderating a panel of three fine local novelists: Howard Norman (The Bird Artist, Devotion, What Is Left the Daughter), Eugenia Kim (The Calligrapher’s Daughter), and Tania James (Atlas of Unknowns). The entire lineup is pretty impressive, and I’m told that the Key School is a great venue for the fest.

In the letters page of the latest n+1, Paul Maliszewski pushes back against the clean delineations of the magazine’s “MFA vs. NYC” essay:

MFA programs long ago discovered that the surest way to compete for the best students is by hiring big-name writers from, that’s right, NYC. Just look at any advertisement for an MFA program, with its obligatory roll call of bold-faced names, those literary luminaries whom applicants might one day work with. Just a few years ago, when a writer at one of the top creative writing programs retired, the department sought to woo a young bestselling author who had no MFA and no experience teaching. In the end, the author wasn’t interested even in applying, but I doubt that stopped the school from gazing longingly over the hedges, to NYC.

Related: The Iowa Writers Workshop turns 75 this year.

Maybe Terry Castle‘s critique of Susan Sontag was more on-point than she was given credit for.

Porochista Khakpour on her anxiety as she finished her first novel. And an equally good essay on her discovery of James Salter‘s Light Years.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the novel he’s working on, set in antebellum Virginia: “Black history is so often rendered as series of episodes of suffering, stunning triumphs, and painful disappointments. I don’t have much interest in any of that. There’s a basic black narrative that goes something like this: Chains!–Whips!–Rape!–Lincoln!–Free!–Lynching!–King–March.–Dream–Free!–Crack!–Murder!–Obama!–Free!! Or some such. I want something different.”

Louis Menand on the death of monoculture as a boon for criticism: “[Y]ou want to have available to people lots of opportunities to experience literature, art, movies, whatever it is, without feeling that there’s some moral question that’s involved in that appreciation. Sometimes there is, sometimes it’s important to engage it, but I don’t think that taste should be the decider of moral issues.”

A passage from Cormac McCarthy‘s Blood Meridian as an accidental commentary on our primal need for videogames. (Or games, at least.)

John Steinbeck played fast and loose with the facts in Travels With Charley. Frank Wilson doesn’t feel that automatically diminishes the book; D.G. Myers considers the book “silly and forgettable” but doesn’t think much of the squabbling over its “authenticity” either.

Smelling dirt with William Faulkner.

Mary Karr isn’t going back to read her old poetry: “It feels scatological to me, like a turd you just left. It’s none of my business if it’s any good. I’ve thought about it all I can think of it, and if I’m not actively engaged in thinking of something, I move on.”

Madison Smartt Bell on his forthcoming novel, The Color of Night, which deals with 9/11 (or at least footage of it): “The 9/11 sequence of events, after briefly bringing the country together, seems to me to have deepened a rift which existed before, this one regional and cultural. We all abhor the idea of Islamic fundamentalist theocracy, but there’s a significant minority of our citizens who would embrace a Christian version of that. We are fortunate that, since the blue states surround the red states (I should mention that I divide my time between the two regions), civil war is geographically unfeasible.”

Links; Housekeeping

David Foster Wallace used his Amherst undergraduate thesis to dismantle a philosophical brand of fatalism. Quite successfully, to hear some scholars tell it.

Tobias Wolff‘s short story “Awake” is available in full on the London Times‘ Web site.

Jhumpa Lahiri
wins a lot of prize money. She gives a lot of it away.

The young, brilliant, intellectually and sexually tormented Susan Sontag.

Care to go on a train ride with Paul Theroux?

Bantam is reprinting Ernest Callenbach‘s ’70s cult novel, Ecotopia, which imagined a world of slow food and recycling bins years before such things got traction in American life. (Also: Nice to see the byline of Scott Timberg, who was recently laid off by the Los Angeles Times.)

Denis Johnson doesn’t have a damned clue what the future of the book is, and it’s anybody’s guess why he was invited onto a panel to discuss the matter. “He admitted to an audience member who wondered how much of the panel’s resistance to digital media was old fogeyism, ‘I think I can give you an exact figure on that: 87 percent. We’ve become irrelevant. We no longer point the way for the culture, but we’ll always be important to individuals. That’s the communication and always has been — between one individual, the writer, and another, the reader.'”

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Some News About Me

When I started this blog in January, I stubbornly, perhaps foolishly, told myself that I would feed it at least once daily. Eventually I eased up on the throttle and took Saturdays off, then wound up using that day to update the D.C.-Area Readings list. (Some great events have recently been announced, by the way, especially the Nextbook reading series at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center, featuring Etgar Keret and Rivka Galchen, among others.) Running a blog is addictive, not just because it forces you to keep an eye on a beat but because it introduces you to a whole crowd of friendly, supportive people. I’m flattered by the attention and subscribers and support my effort has received—especially from the litbloggers who welcomed my arrival to the blogosphere despite the fact that I showed up about five years late.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that things may get unsettled here in the coming weeks and months. Dec. 19 will be my last day at Washington City Paper, where I’ve worked for the past two years (following two years at its sister paper, the Chicago Reader). Starting in January I’ll be working at Associations Now, a magazine published by the D.C.-based American Society of Association Executives & the Center for Association Leadership. I’m excited about the change: I’ll be joining a group of smart people doing idea-driven journalism, working at a glossy, learning more about the nonprofit world, and hopefully finding a use for some of my more egghead-y reading on networks and organizational theory—subjects one winds up absorbing osmotically when there’s a sociologist in the house.

Happily, my new employer has no problem with my freelancing and blogging, though updates may not come as often as usual—the day job always comes first, and I’ll be spending some time getting up to speed with the new one. (And anyway, book reviewing and blogging has always been a sideline for me. With very rare exceptions, I never read or wrote about books at the office. The blogging was always completely separate.) The upside to all this, for me, is that it’s an opportunity for me to rethink this whole enterprise. If Twitter is teaching us anything, it’s that link journalism via blog has its limits; seeing as 90 percent of what this blog does is link journalism, I’ve been pondering what to do here in the way of interviews, essays, and more. (N.B.: I’ve updated the page for authors and publicists, both of whom are welcome to contact me directly regarding ARCs, readings, and interviews.)

I’ll see how things work out in the coming months. In the meantime, thanks to the many folks who read these posts, wrote in, suggested links, and commented. I’ll make this confounded thing work one way or another.