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Posts tagged "fiction"

Feb 12, 2014
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Adam Sternbergh, Shovel Ready

This was a lot of fun. Call it a terse, sci-fi hard-boiled noir: Ex-garbageman turned hit man in a post dirtybomb NYC protects a damsel-in-distress. Nice doses of humor, too.

Books like this are like a big fat reset button for my reading habits: when I’m stuck on boring books, they get me going again, turning pages.

I’ve followed Sternbergh’s writing for a few years, and it’s cool to read this after reading all his essays circling around the idea of “trash” and genre.

Last week, he published this essay on “guilty pleasures,” lamenting the point at which he stopped reading books for pleasure, and started reading books because he should. (Today I posted my own excerpt from my new book: “No More Guilty Pleasures.”) He writes: “This year, I’m making a simple resolution… I’m going to banish the word “should” from my cultural vocabulary.” (This is an attitude I’d first run into from Jonathan Lethem and then fully embraced when I read Alan Jacobs: “Read at whim! Read what gives you delight—at least most of the time—and do so without shame.”)

Here’s Sternberg debating A.O. Scott’s notion of “strained pulp”:


  This observation about “strained pulp” really struck me — in part because so much of what I love falls precisely in this category: knowing, sophisticated attempts to replicate pleasures that were once widely disdained. I like Soderbergh’s genre films like “Haywire” and “The Limey”; I like Michael Chabon’s self-consciously pulpy novel, “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”; heck, I liked “Drive.”


What’s interesting is that it seems to have taken him a while to get around to “write what you like”:


  I was probably doing what I was habitually and temperamentally inclined to do in the presence of book editors, which was mumble some half-baked ideas for nonfiction books that I thought might be commercially appealing, but which, upon further reflection, I’d realize I didn’t even want to read, let alone write. You recognized this, and forcefully reiterated the question: No, Adam—what do you want to write? At which point I think I mumbled, even more sheepishly, something like: “Well, I’d like to write fiction.”


Just as there’s that leap of getting over what you feel like you should be reading and reading what you want to be reading, there’s that leap of getting over what you feel like you should be writing, and what you want to be writing. All fiction is fan fiction. Michael Chabon in Maps and Legends:


  All literature, highbrow or low, from the Aeneid onward, is fan fiction….Through parody and pastiche, allusion and homage, retelling and reimagining the stories that were told before us and that we have come of age loving—amateurs—we proceed, seeking out the blank places in the map that our favorite writers, in their greatness and negligence, have left for us, hoping to pass on to our own readers—should we be lucky enough to find any—some of the pleasure that we ourselves have taken in the stuff that we love: to get in on the game. All novels are sequels; influence is bliss.


Anyways, thumbs up.

Filed under: my reading year 2014

Adam Sternbergh, Shovel Ready

This was a lot of fun. Call it a terse, sci-fi hard-boiled noir: Ex-garbageman turned hit man in a post dirtybomb NYC protects a damsel-in-distress. Nice doses of humor, too.

Books like this are like a big fat reset button for my reading habits: when I’m stuck on boring books, they get me going again, turning pages.

I’ve followed Sternbergh’s writing for a few years, and it’s cool to read this after reading all his essays circling around the idea of “trash” and genre.

Last week, he published this essay on “guilty pleasures,” lamenting the point at which he stopped reading books for pleasure, and started reading books because he should. (Today I posted my own excerpt from my new book: “No More Guilty Pleasures.”) He writes: “This year, I’m making a simple resolution… I’m going to banish the word “should” from my cultural vocabulary.” (This is an attitude I’d first run into from Jonathan Lethem and then fully embraced when I read Alan Jacobs: “Read at whim! Read what gives you delight—at least most of the time—and do so without shame.”)

Here’s Sternberg debating A.O. Scott’s notion of “strained pulp”:

This observation about “strained pulp” really struck me — in part because so much of what I love falls precisely in this category: knowing, sophisticated attempts to replicate pleasures that were once widely disdained. I like Soderbergh’s genre films like “Haywire” and “The Limey”; I like Michael Chabon’s self-consciously pulpy novel, “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”; heck, I liked “Drive.”

What’s interesting is that it seems to have taken him a while to get around to “write what you like”:

I was probably doing what I was habitually and temperamentally inclined to do in the presence of book editors, which was mumble some half-baked ideas for nonfiction books that I thought might be commercially appealing, but which, upon further reflection, I’d realize I didn’t even want to read, let alone write. You recognized this, and forcefully reiterated the question: No, Adam—what do you want to write? At which point I think I mumbled, even more sheepishly, something like: “Well, I’d like to write fiction.”

Just as there’s that leap of getting over what you feel like you should be reading and reading what you want to be reading, there’s that leap of getting over what you feel like you should be writing, and what you want to be writing. All fiction is fan fiction. Michael Chabon in Maps and Legends:

All literature, highbrow or low, from the Aeneid onward, is fan fiction….Through parody and pastiche, allusion and homage, retelling and reimagining the stories that were told before us and that we have come of age loving—amateurs—we proceed, seeking out the blank places in the map that our favorite writers, in their greatness and negligence, have left for us, hoping to pass on to our own readers—should we be lucky enough to find any—some of the pleasure that we ourselves have taken in the stuff that we love: to get in on the game. All novels are sequels; influence is bliss.

Anyways, thumbs up.

Filed under: my reading year 2014

Aug 08, 2013
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Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde

I read this before bedtime over a couple of nights and it CREEPED the HELL out of me. Here’s what Nabokov thought, complete with diagrams.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde

I read this before bedtime over a couple of nights and it CREEPED the HELL out of me. Here’s what Nabokov thought, complete with diagrams.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

Jul 30, 2013
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“The main difference between fiction and nonfiction is the deal the writer makes with readers regarding how his or her imagination will be used.”

My friend J.N. Devereux starts his blog back up with a nice post about fiction vs. nonfiction.

[N]onfiction uses imagination to illuminate the experience and research of the writer. Imagination picks the details from the reality, arranges them in an often unexpected order (think of the seemingly—but not at all—random structure of John McPhee’s books on geology), but tries not to alter the facts themselves, only illuminate them by description and context.

Reminds me of John McPhee’s piece on structure, where he has gathered the facts and now: “All I had to do was put them in order. What order?”

Apr 05, 2013
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One of my favorite resources for [writing] stories is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Because it’s a book written for socially inept people who can’t figure out why no one likes them. If you reverse his advice, every situation that Dale Carnegie talks about is a roadmap for how to alienate people and making your social circumstance worse. All you need to do is do the opposite of everything Dale Carnegie says, and you will have a character who does things that people really do in the real world. You and your readers will feel like you can understand why they would do these things because we’ve all done them.

Feb 24, 2013
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Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers

I love Westerns. I love a good story. I love 300-page books with super-short chapters. I love funny dialogue. I love narrators who digress.

I loved this book.

My wife got it for me for Valentine’s Day. I’d never heard of it. 100 pages in, I started reading it really slowly because I didn’t want it to end.

After I finished, I read some interviews with DeWitt, and found out that the novel was sort of an accident.

After his first novel, he’d been thrown off the scent of story, and was more concerned with “voice,” but he got really bored with his reading habits, and started re-reading some older favorites of his, rediscovering story as a kind of constraint. (He says now of his reading habits, “The moment it begins to feel like homework, I head for something more welcoming.”)

Then one day he scribbled “sensitive cowboys” on a piece of paper. He started thinking about how the neurotic is rarely featured in Westerns, instead, the hero is usually a “near mute man in black who kicks the devil in the dick before breakfast.”

So he wrote “a testy exchange between two men riding side-by-side on horseback. One of them was self-doubting and vulnerable, while the other was confident to a fault.” He didn’t know what to do with it, so he set it aside. Later, he found a book about the Gold Rush at a yard sale, and he remembered the two men. He wrote about forty pages before he discovered they were brothers. He says writing the dialogue “at times I felt I was eavesdropping.”

In the book, the brothers head out to kill a man named “Hermann Kermit Warm.” This character came about after DeWitt cut a photo of a prospector out of the yard sale book and tacked it up on his wall. The name however,


  I didn’t make it up. I stole it. I was watching Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and a Hermann Warm was credited as the art director. He’s got a Wikipedia page and everything. I added the Kermit, because I like the musicality of the added syllables, but really, I just lifted it.


Another fun tidbit: at some point he realized he was spending too much time on the internet, and that he’d actually never gotten a good idea from there, so he had his wife change the wifi password.

Anyways, this is the best book I’ve read so far this year. Highly recommended.

Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers

I love Westerns. I love a good story. I love 300-page books with super-short chapters. I love funny dialogue. I love narrators who digress.

I loved this book.

My wife got it for me for Valentine’s Day. I’d never heard of it. 100 pages in, I started reading it really slowly because I didn’t want it to end.

After I finished, I read some interviews with DeWitt, and found out that the novel was sort of an accident.

After his first novel, he’d been thrown off the scent of story, and was more concerned with “voice,” but he got really bored with his reading habits, and started re-reading some older favorites of his, rediscovering story as a kind of constraint. (He says now of his reading habits, “The moment it begins to feel like homework, I head for something more welcoming.”)

Then one day he scribbled “sensitive cowboys” on a piece of paper. He started thinking about how the neurotic is rarely featured in Westerns, instead, the hero is usually a “near mute man in black who kicks the devil in the dick before breakfast.”

So he wrote “a testy exchange between two men riding side-by-side on horseback. One of them was self-doubting and vulnerable, while the other was confident to a fault.” He didn’t know what to do with it, so he set it aside. Later, he found a book about the Gold Rush at a yard sale, and he remembered the two men. He wrote about forty pages before he discovered they were brothers. He says writing the dialogue “at times I felt I was eavesdropping.”

In the book, the brothers head out to kill a man named “Hermann Kermit Warm.” This character came about after DeWitt cut a photo of a prospector out of the yard sale book and tacked it up on his wall. The name however,

I didn’t make it up. I stole it. I was watching Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and a Hermann Warm was credited as the art director. He’s got a Wikipedia page and everything. I added the Kermit, because I like the musicality of the added syllables, but really, I just lifted it.

Another fun tidbit: at some point he realized he was spending too much time on the internet, and that he’d actually never gotten a good idea from there, so he had his wife change the wifi password.

Anyways, this is the best book I’ve read so far this year. Highly recommended.

Jan 09, 2013
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A writer understands his work as something that originates with him but then, with any luck, gets away from him.
George Saunders, who says the role of fiction is to “transfer energy from writer to reader”

Mar 17, 2012
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Feb 05, 2012
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Fiction is fun because you get to steal an identity and try to make it authentic.
Dan Chaon (Get his new book!)

Jul 26, 2011
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Jun 08, 2011
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If I had had to write only about imaginary people, I would have had to close up my typewriter. I wrote about my life in less and less disguise as I grew older, and finally with no disguise — except the disguise we create for ourselves, which is self-deception.
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