Category Archives: Tim O’Brien

Links: Interior Ideologues

Ruth Franklin asks why American fiction writers have been so hamfisted at getting into the heads of terrorists: “[John Updike and Pearl Abraham's] uncertainty about their subject matter shows through on the page in the lack of precision that each brings to the Islamic trappings surrounding their character,” she writes I can’t think of any books to contrary, just one that bolsters the argument: Don DeLillo‘s Falling Man, which includes a couple of interludes featuring the 9/11 hijackers, though they tend to talk and think in the clipped style of lots of other Don DeLillo characters. There may be something to be said about that being exactly the right tone—cold certainty strikes me as a legitimate character trait in a jihadist—but the sections are so brief DeLillo isn’t especially invested in them. Andre Dubus III‘s The Garden of Last Days might also be worth another look on that front: It spent plenty of time getting into the heads of the 9/11 hijackers living in Florida, but I recall the story straining to Americanize the characters—or at least make them conflicted about American-ness, and less for the sake of realism than generating drama. And I’m still annoyed that one character is an illiterate bouncer who keeps a book-on-tape of The Waste Land handy; overworked symbolism drives a pickup truck.

Edward P. Jones is still not working on another book, but in an interview with the Rumpus he opens up on his writing process, which largely involves memorizing the story as he goes along: “When you’re working on these things in your head and you get to that point in the story of the novel, to the line that you’ve been memorizing, and you let it out, there’s a sigh. Now you don’t have to memorize it anymore. But it stays with you forever.”

I haven’t watched the whole thing, but this video of a recent conversation between Tobias Wolff and Tim O’Brien on war fiction opens with an interesting discussion about whether it’s possible to effectively write anti-war fiction that will always be perceived as such—that there is always somebody who’ll find a certain bloodthirsty inspiration from it.

Mona Simpson: “In my 20s I was less interested in plot. I thought everything with a plot was a sellout. Now I see what a great way it is to tell a story.”

Ward Just: “America is not easy with mystery. It doesn’t appreciate mystery and it assumes there’s a bottom to everything and if you’re just prepared to work hard enough you can get to the bottom. Well, sometimes that’s true; more often it’s not true.”

At Zyzzyva‘s website, Oscar Villalon reviews The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature and questions the audience for the collection: “A lot of books—the vast majority—don’t find the readership they deserve. Would it be surprising if there were just as many, if not more, Mexican Americans than Anglos who’ve never heard of the writers in the Norton Anthology of Latino Literature? It wouldn’t. So, again, whom are you writing for? A fraction of a fraction? Does it matter?” (via)

[Willa] Cather knows that we are many different people over the course of our lives, and that some of those incarnations will be more sympathetic to us than others, because we comprehend them better or they are more neatly aligned to our values and desires. Acceptance is the best we can hope for, although nostalgia provides a bittersweet comfort.”

Arthur Phillips, who prides himself on being pretty good at teasing out an author’s intentions, explains why he feels defeated at that task when he reads Vladimir Nabokov‘s Pale Fire

Why Elif Batuman doesn’t read her reviews. (via)

A trip to Oxford, Mississippi, where it’s clear the reason William Faulkner said the past isn’t even past is because the past is confronting you everywhere you go.

A beautiful piece in the London Review of Books on how the death of Mark Twain‘s wife reshaped the tone of his writing and defined his autobiography. (via)

David Shields: “John Cheever’s ‘legacy’ is based almost entirely on his stories, whereas for me it rests, or should rest, on the massive achievement of the posthumously published Journals. It’s simply a great work: it dwarfs everything else he wrote; it’s what all his other work was building toward.”

Sam Sacks has a fine tribute to Pauline Kael. All I’d add is that she’s as engaging in conversation as she is as a writer, on the evidence of the posthumous Afterglow, which captures her in conversation with Francis Davis.

Blogger Kif Leswing had questions for me about D.C. writers, Freedom, and blogging. I had answers.

Links: No Place Like Home

You’d be surprised how interested people are in bathrooms,” the chief curator of the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, tells the Hartford Courant. Actually, I’m not, having read Anne Trubek‘s A Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses, a fine cross-country study of writers’ houses of all stripes, from the stately Mount to Jack London‘s burned-down Wolf House to a ramshackle Poe cottage in the Bronx. Wherever she winds up, Trubek finds either a curious fixation on “authentic” details—Dickinson’s chamber pot! Emerson’s hat!—or an enthusiasm for rewriting the past, as in the theme-parkification of Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. Trubek is a friend of mine, so my enthusiasm for the book only counts for so much. But even if I didn’t know her I believe I’d still admire her skill at blending elements of personal essay into a more rigorous study of literary reputation. Happily, though, she is a friend, so I get the opportunity to talk with her in public this weekend: If you’re in the D.C. area on Sunday, January 30, please come to Politics & Prose, where I’ll be doing a brief Q&A with her before her signing.

Patricia Chu, an English professor at George Washington University who specializes in Asian-American literature, delivers a three-part response to the Wall Street Journal excerpt of Amy Chua‘s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chu argues that the excerpt plays into “model minority” stereotypes about Asian-American families, and looks at how “Asian Extreme Parenting” plays out in a handful of novels. “In many books, it seems that Asian Extreme Parenting is supremely successful,” Chu writes, “because the children work hard in order to get out of their parents’ house as soon as possible.”

Cynthia Haven reports from an onstage conversation at Stanford University earlier this week where Tobias Wolff and Tim O’Brien discussed the kitschification of Vietnam in fiction—the “ossified conventions” of the form, as Wolff put it.

Conveniently enough, proof of that very kitschification arrives in the form of Apocalypse Moby (PDF), a mashup of Apocalypse Now and Moby-Dick. (via)

And speaking of Herman Melville: the unusual path of his copy of Robert Burton‘s The Anatomy of Melancholy.

Revisiting Elizabeth Hardwick‘s New York stories.

Barnaby Conrad lasted all of five months as Sinclair Lewis‘ assistant in 1947, after which Lewis stole his girlfriend and ran off to Paris. But Conrad has finally made good on his promise to Lewis to write a novel about John Wilkes Booth.

Do financial types read? The post’s author might’ve rung up Martha McPhee, whose 2010 novel, Dear Money, had plenty to say about how people who work in high finance relate to art. (Short answer: They care about it more than you’d think, though they care about how money moves in that world about as much as you’d expect.)

In a letter to his hometown paper, Alan Gribben immodestly defends his “gribbenization” of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. “I have published 40 or 50 scholarly articles celebrating Mark Twain’s genius as a craftsman with words. No one has a better or lengthier record in print of admiring his prose style than I do.”

The final volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English, which was scheduled to come out last year, won’t appear until 2012 this fall (correction per the comment from chief editor Joan Houston Hall below). In the meantime, samples from it are appearing on its Twitter feed, @darewords.

Asked to consider the notion that Martha Gellhorn might have looked at Ernest Hemingway as her muse, Victoria Best has an angry retort: “Ernest Hemingway, who sucked the vitality out of every woman he married, who exploited them, ignored their emotional needs, insisted they serve his every whim? The Hemingway who argued and physically fought with Martha Gellhorn because she wouldn’t give up her work for him, and who bewildered him by her inability to ‘tag along and like it’, as other wives had done? This man is to be considered a muse?” (What follows isn’t so much about the Hemingway-Gellhorn relationship as it is about giving and receiving criticism, and it’s worth reading in its own right.)

War Stories

A couple of weeks back the Virginian-Pilot interviewed Tim O’Brien about his books, more specifically his novels and stories about Vietnam. Even more specifically, he discussed the role that truth-bending plays in any narrative about war. He explains, for instance, why he chose to have a narrator in 1990’s The Things They Carried named Tim O’Brien:

I’ve intentionally used my own name (as a character) and tried to blur the line a little more. To get my readers to think about what’s true or what’s not, why does it matter to me, and to think about can a story be literally true but emotionally false, or vice versa. Truth is a fluid and volatile thing. Truths about our country that were believed 150 years ago have evolved, and they evolve every day. With our sense of what’s true about ourselves and our country, we learn things about ourselves that we didn’t know yesterday.

I’ve had this idea on the brain lately, between finishing up David Simon‘s HBO miniseries on the Iraq invasion, Generation Kill, and reading Mark Danner‘s latest dispatch on the Red Cross report on torture in the New York Review of Books. One’s a fiction and one’s fact, but both get at how slippery the truth becomes in a war zone, and perhaps more important, how arbitrarily human lives become valued in a war; they shift radically depending on the conditions of the moment.

I’m many years away from my first reading of Going After Cacciato, so I don’t recall just how much soldiers’ pride and insecurity played into the lies that get told about war. But it certainly has a prominent place in a more recent, unfortunately neglected nonfiction book: Tracy Kidder‘s My Detachment, his 2005 memoir about his experiences during Vietnam (and his failed attempts to write a novel about it). I suspect that part of the reason why the book didn’t get much heat was because there’s not a lot of action in it; it doesn’t allow the reader to fall into the shoot-‘em-up fantasies about war that even Generation Kill indulges in every so often. (Kidder didn’t see combat. He was what infantrymen called a REMF—“rear echelon motherfucker.”) But what it does get into is how those fantasies start, and how frustrating it is to be in a war zone and not get to participate in any actual fighting. Kidder writes of the letters, full of evasions about how much he was doing, he sent back home. “For months I’d been trying to convince myself, by convincing everyone back home, that in the crucible of war I’d made that great transition,” he writes. Later, he writes a letter to his increasingly distant girlfriend, acting out his aggression and piling on the b.s., closing:

“I have nothing to lose. I really lost my virginity over here. I shot a man through the head and little pieces of his brain and a great quantity of blood colored by gun and my clothes and my face. I never cried so hard over you. But, not unlike you, I am becoming a whore of a different sort. I like it. I LIKE it. You filthy, rotten bitch. One letter from you at any one time would have done so much for me. You fucking bitch.”

Kidder at least had the good sense not to send the letter.

Toward a Complete Guide to Haruki Murakami’s Translations of American Writers Into Japanese

Last May I blogged about Haruki Murakami‘s translations of major works by American authors, including The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and more. At the time I idly speculated about the depth of Murakami’s translation efforts. Today I received a little more clarity. The list below comes courtesy of Naoko Mayuzumi (aka Miss Brolly), based on the Japanese Wikipedia entry for Murakami and her own research.

I’m deeply grateful for the time she took to assemble this; it’s a fascinating list. I’m not surprised that there’s so much Raymond Carver in here, nor is it shocking to see the early-’80s Sudden Fiction collection—both contain plenty of exemplars of the minimalist style that Murakami made his own. But it’s interesting to see a little John Irving thrown in there, and a whole lot of Chris Van Allsburg and Ursula K. Le Guin. I’ve tweaked some of the formatting here, but everything else, including links, comes direct from Mayuzumi.

List of American Books and Essays Translated (from English to Japanese) by Haruki Murakami

Note: The month and year in parentheses indicates the time when the Japanese translation was published in Japan.

By author:

C. D. Bryan:

The Great Dethriffe (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in November 1987)

Truman Capote:

I Remember Grandpa (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in March 1988)

One Christmas (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in December 1989)

A Christmas Memory (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in November 1990)

Children on Their Birthdays (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in June 2002)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in February 2008)

Raymond Carver:

Where I’m Calling From (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in July 1983; includes “Why Don’t You Dance?,” “Tell the Women We’re Going,” “Cathedral,” “Sacks,” “Are You a Doctor?,” “Where I’m Calling From,” “So Much Water So Close to Home,” and “Everything Stuck to Him”)

At Night the Salmon Move (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in July 1985; includes “Feathers,” “The Pheasant,” “Vitamins,” “Put Yourself in My Shoes,” “Jerry and Molly and Sam,” “My Father’s Life,” “At Night the Salmon Move,” “For Semra, with Martial Vigor,” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is”)

A Small, Good Thing (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in April 1989; includes “They Are Not Your Husband,” “Neighbors,” “Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes,” “I Could See the Smallest Things,” “Popular Mechanics,” “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” “A Small, Good Thing,” “The Bridle,” “Boxes,” “Whoever Was Using This Bed,” “Menudo,” and “Elephant”)

Carver Country: The World of Raymond Carver (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in October 1994)

Carver’s Dozen (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in December 1994; collected and translated by Haruki Murakami; includes 10 stories ["Fat," "Nobody Said Anything," "Are You a Doctor?," "Collectors," "So Much Water So Close to Home," "Why Don't You Dance?," "Cathedral", "Where I'm Calling From", "A Small, Good Thing," and "Errand"], 1 essay ["My Father's Life"], and 2 poems ["Lemonade" and "Late Fragment"])

The Complete Works of Raymond Carver (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc./Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc.)
* Volume 1: “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” (February 1991)
* Volume 2: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (August 1990)
* Volume 3: “Cathedral” (May 1990)
* Volume 4: “Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories” (September 1992)
* Volume 5: “Where Water Comes Together With Other Water / Ultramarine” (September 1997)
* Volume 6: “Elephant / A New Path to the Waterfall” (March 1994)
* Volume 7: “No Heroics, Please” (July 2002)
* Volume 8: “Call if You Need Me” (July 2004)

Raymond Chandler:

The Long Goodbye (published by Hayakawa Publishing Corporation in March 2007)

Bill Crow:

From Birdland to Broadway (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in January 1996)

Jazz Anecdotes (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in July 2000)

Terry Farish:

The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup (published by Kodansha Ltd. in November 2005)

F. Scott Fitzgerald:

My Lost City: Personal Essays (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in May 1981)

The Scott Fitzgerald Book (published by TBS-Britannica Co., Ltd. in March 1988; a book by Haruki Murakami about Scott Fitzgerald, but it includes his translations of Fitzgerald’s two essays, “On Your Own” and “The Rich Boy”)

Babylon Revisited (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in April 1996)

The Great Gatsby (published by Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. in November 2006)

Jim Fusilli:

The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in February 2008)

Mikal Gilmore:

Shot in the Heart (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in October 1996)

Mark Helprin:

Swan Lake (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in December 1991)

John Irving:

Setting Free the Bears (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in May 1986)

Ursula K. Le Guin:

Catwings (published by Kodansha Ltd. in March 1993)

Catwings Return (published by Kodansha Ltd. in December 1993)

Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings (published by Kodansha Ltd. in June 1997)

Jane on her Own (published by Kodansha Ltd. in September 2001)

Tim O’Brien:

The Nuclear Age (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in October 1989)

The Things They Carried (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in October 1990)

July, July (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in March 2004)

Grace Paley:

Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in May 1999)

The Little Disturbances of Man (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in June 2005)

J. D. Salinger:

The Catcher in the Rye (published by Hakusuisha Publishing Co., Ltd. in April 2003)

Mark Strand:

Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in October 1998)

Paul Theroux:

World’s End and Other Stories (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in July 1987)

Chris Van Allsburg:

The Wreck of the Zephyr (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in October 1985)

The Polar Express (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in December 1987)

The Stranger (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in August 1989)

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in November 1990)

The Widow’s Broom (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in June 1993)

The Sweetest Fig (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in September 1994)

Ben’s Dream (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in April 1996)

The Wretched Stone (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in November 2003)

Two Bad Ants (published by Asunaro Shobo in September 2004)

The Garden of Abdul Gasazi (published by Asunaro Shobo in September 2005)


Collections:

Watashitachi No Rinjin, Raymond Carver (Published by Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. in March 2009; the title translates to “Our Neighbor, Raymond Carver.” Murakami collected these essays about Carver by nine writers/editors who personally knew him from Remembering Ray: A Composite Biography of Raymond Carver [except “Ridin' With Ray and the Old Game” by Jon A. Jackson and “Raymond Carver” by Michiko Miyamoto] and translated them [except Miyamoto's essay which was written in Japanese originally]):

* “Raymond Carver: A Still, Small Voice” by Jay McInerney
* “Raymond Carver Had His Cake and Ate It Too” by Tobias Wolff
* “All-American Nightmares” by Marcus Morton
* “The Days with Ray” by James D. Houston
* “Ridin’ With Ray” by Jon A. Jackson
* “What We Talk About When We Talk About Carver” by David Carpenter
* “Raymond Carver” by Michiko Miyamoto
* “Hope This Finds You Well and All” by Gary Fisketjon
* “Bulletproof” by William Kittredge

And Other Stories―Totteoki No America Shosetsu 12 Hen (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in September 1988; the title translates to “And Other Stories―12 Treasured American Short Stories.” Five Japanese translators brought their favorite American stories and translated them for this collection.) Murakami translated the following stories:

* “The Moccasin Telegraph” by W. P. Kinsella
* “Thirty-Four Seasons of Winter” by William Kittredge
* “What’s Your Story” by Ronald Sukenick
* “Samuel” by Grace Paley
* “Living” by Grace Paley

Getsuyobi Wa Saiakuda-to Minna Wa Iu Keredo (Published by Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. in May 2000; the title translates to “They Call It Stormy Monday.” American short stories and essays collected and translated by Murakami):

* “The Carver Chronicles” by D. T. Max
* “Good Raymond” by Richard Ford
* “The Vietnam In Me” by Tim O’Brien
* “Nogales” by Tim O’Brien
* “Loon Point” by Tim O’Brien
* “John Irving’s (Revised) World” by John Paul Newport
* “I Am A…Genius!” by Thom Jones
* “Secret Agent” by Denis Johnson

Birthday Stories: Selected and Introduced by Haruki Murakami (I think this American edition just contains the original stories in English. The Japanese edition of this book, published by Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. in December 2002, contains translations of these American stories by Murakami.)

Murakami Haruki HybLit (published by ALC Inc. in November 2008; a bilingual book containing three stories, selected by Murakami, in English and Japanese: “On the Rainy River” by Tim O’Brien [Japanese translation by Murakami], “A Small, Good Thing” by Raymond Carver [Japanese translation by Murakami], and “Lederhosen” by Haruki Murakami [English translation by Alfred Birnbaum]; “HybLit” in the title is the compound of “hybrid” and “literature”)

Sudden Fiction is translated into Japanese by two translators (Haruki Murakami and Takayoshi Ogawa) and published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in January 1994. The following stories are translated by Murakami:

* “A Sudden Story” by Robert Coover
* “Mother” by Grace Paley
* “The King of Jazz” by Donald Barthelme
* “Reunion” by John Cheever
* “Twirler” by Jane Martin
* “Five Ives” by Roy Blount Jr.
* “Song on Royal Street” by Richard Blessing
* “The Merry Chase” by Gordon Lish
* “Popular Mechanics” Raymond Carver
* “Turning” by Lynda Sexson
* “Say Yes” by Tobias Wolff
* “The Hit Man” by T. Coraghessan Boyle
* “A Questionnaire for Rudolph Gordon” by Jack Matthews
* “I See You Never” by Ray Bradbury
* “The Bank Robbery” by Steven Schutzman
* “Tent Worms” by Tennessee Williams
* “Sitting” by H. E. Francis
* “Dog Life” by Mark Strand
* “The Hatchet Man in the Lighthouse” by William Peden
* “Happy” by Joyce Carol Oates
* “The Anatomy of Desire” by John L’Heureux
* “Class Notes” by Lucas Cooper
* “The Neighbor” by Russell Banks
* “Reading the Paper” by Ron Carlson
* “Speed of Light” by Pat Rushin
* “Gerald’s Song” by Philip F. O’Connor
* “Blind Girls” by Jayne Anne Philips
* “The Signing” by Stephen Dixon
* “The Quail” by Rolf Yngve
* “The Artichoke” by Marilyn Krysl

War Stories

At the Oxford University Press blog, Keith Gandal writes something of a, er, call to arms to academic critics to engage more deeply with the subject of literature and war. Gandal is a Northern Illinois University English professor who’s written The Pen and the Gun, which has a great thesis: “Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner were motivated, in their famous postwar novels, not by their experiences of the horrors of war but rather by their failure to have those experiences.”

Gandal figures he knows what’s created the dearth of war stories in academia:

We know why the subjects of war and the military have fallen out of favor, and why most professors in English, as well as history, prefer to oppose war and criticize the military rather than to study them. The Vietnam War changed the meaning of war and of the military in this country, at least on the left, and the cohort of professors that for the most part has dominated and set trends in these fields in the last twenty years is of the generation that came of age during the Vietnam era; most of these professors were students when the huge protest against the war took place, and most of them were against the war.

What struck me here is that thinking back to my high school and college days (late ’80s and early ’90s), I can recall that a great many novels about war were recommended to me, appearing on supplementary reading lists and the like, but I can’t think of an occasion when they were actually taught as part of the syllabus. I had to find Catch-22 and Going After Cacciato on my own; I never even heard of books like Dog Soldiers until I was out of college. This may speak more to the shortcomings of my schooling, but it’s interesting how rarely war literature made it to the discussion table.

Roundup: Get Me Rewrite

The Southwest Florida News-Press catches up with Peter Matthiessen on Shadow Country, his recent reworking of three previous novels. Money quote: “In the Watson story, there are so many things that I wanted to talk about – the frontier, indigenous people, the loss of wildlife and landscape, and the growing, growing corporate greed that takes over everything. And when I put it out in unsatisfactory form as far as I was concerned, instead of turning to a new thing, I realized I wanted to get this right because it’s a very important American story. I had to know that this book exists in its proper form somewhere.”

Orson Scott Card speaks to School Library Journal about YA lit, Mormonism, his alleged homophobia, his massive output, and more.

Four books have been added to the NEA’s Big Read program: Louise Erdrich‘s Love Medicine, Tim O’Brien‘s The Things They Carried, Thornton Wilder‘s The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Our Town, and a collection of poetry and stories by Edgar Allan Poe.

Your moment of zen: Voice of America Special English’s latest author feature is on Louisa May Alcott.