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Posts tagged "lit"

Sep 16, 2013
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Khan quotes Moby-Dick

"…To the last, I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart, I stab at thee; for hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee."
- Moby-Dick, quoted by Khan Noonien Singh

(…)

During his exile on Ceti Alpha V, Khan Noonien Singh read Moby-Dick as he became immersed in his own desire for revenge on James T. Kirk. During his search and battle with Kirk, he quoted lines from the novel. While some are direct quotes (such as the line above), some were modified from the original. For example, Khan’s stated “I’ll chase him round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom and round perdition’s flames before I give him up!”

The original, from the novel’s thirty-sixth chapter, is “I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up!”

Memory Alpha is pretty incredible website.

Jun 28, 2013
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Philipp Meyer, The Son

A big fat epic historical fiction Texas family saga that kept me turning pages.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

Philipp Meyer, The Son

A big fat epic historical fiction Texas family saga that kept me turning pages.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

Mar 29, 2013
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If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader.

My friend Dan Chaon (author of Stay Awake) illustrates the problem with modern lit: everybody wants to be a writer, and nobody wants to be a reader.

The writing community is full of lame-o people who want to be published in journals even though they don’t read the magazines that they want to be published in. These people deserve the rejections that they will undoubtedly receive, and no one should feel sorry for them when they cry about how they can’t get anyone to accept their stories.

As a teacher, he runs into a lot of what I call the “I like to write, but I don’t like to read“ students:

[I]t has surprised me, over the years, how few of my creative writing students have made any effort to engage with the community that they supposedly want to be a part of.”

He then offers up a really great analogy: students who want to be rock star musicians.

They have started a band, and they are spending their weekends and off hours writing songs and practicing. Without fail, these kids know everything there is to know about new music. They are listening all the time—they can discourse on Bob Dylan as easily as they can talk about the new e.p. from a new band from Little Rock, Arkansas, or wherever, and they have a whole hard drive full of demos from obscure artists that they have downloaded from the internet.

I wish that my students who want to be fiction writers were similarly engaged. But when I ask them what they’ve read recently, they frequently only manage to cough up the most obvious, high profile examples. What if my rock star students had only heard of …um….The Beatles? We listened to them in my Rock Music Class in high school. And…. And Justin Timberlake? And, uh, yeah, there’s that one band, My Chemical Romance, I heard one of their songs once.

How awful would that be?

Young writers, if you want to be rock stars, you have to read.

It bears repeating: if you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader first.

Every writer I know worth their salt is a voracious reader, and many of them have the opposite attitude of the students mentioned above, summed up here by William Giraldi: “I don’t enjoy writing. I enjoy reading.”

See also: Blake Butler’s call to “Be an open node,” where he talks about concrete ways you can join the literary community:

(1) When you read something you like, in any form, write the author and tell them.

(2) Write reviews of books you like… You can’t expect to be recognized for your work if you aren’t recognizing others for their work. Open the doors.

(3) Interview writers… I have done this for years and have made friends by doing it, have ‘opened doors’ so to speak: in other words, by helping others, you are also helping yourself.

(4) If you have free time, start an online journal. Start a blog, a review, an anything. If you don’t know how I’ll help you. Say stuff. Mean what you say.

(5) If you have a journal already, respond faster. Pay attention to your inbox.

Filed under: reading

Mar 14, 2013
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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.

Sep 22, 2012
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Portrait of a fella reading Steal Like An Artist courtesy of Underground New York Public Library, a great blog featuring photos of people reading in the NYC subway. Very cool.

Portrait of a fella reading Steal Like An Artist courtesy of Underground New York Public Library, a great blog featuring photos of people reading in the NYC subway. Very cool.

Sep 12, 2012
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Vladimir and Vera Nabokov

Spirit animals.

(via [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7])

Jun 22, 2012
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10 Things I Learned On Book Tour by Austin Kleon

I wrote a little something about the lessons I learned on the Steal tour…

Mar 18, 2012
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Orwell’s “dos” vs. Orwell’s “don’ts”

Shaun at Lists of Note recently posted George Orwell’s “Rules for Writers” from his incredible “Politics and the English Language”:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Great list, but I think I like this list of questions that comes earlier in the essay better:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
  5. Could I put it more shortly?
  6. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

And of course, the best thing is to not read these lists out of context, but to read the whole essay.

Mar 07, 2012
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K.K. Ruthven, Faking Literature (2001) & Critical Assumptions (1984)

I don’t remember how exactly I found these books. I think I was Googling a bunch on originality and copying and imitatio while I wrote Steal, and the chapter in Assumptions on “Imitation and originality” was so good I went ahead and tracked down the book, then picked up Faking later.

These are thick, academic texts. Not by any means light reading, but man, if you are interested in ideas of originality, copying, and authenticity, there’s some good stuff here.

I particularly love this quote on influence from Critical Assumptions:


  Our understanding of literary ‘influence’ is obstructed by the grammar of our language, which puts things back to front in obliging us to speak in passive terms of the one who is the active partner in the relationship: to say that Keats influenced Wilde is not only to credit Keats with an activity of which he was innocent, but also to misrepresent Wilde by suggesting he merely submitted to something he obviously went out of his way to acquire. In matters of influence, it is the receptor who takes the initiative, not the emitter. When we say that Keats had a strong influence on Wilde, what we really mean is that Wilde was an assiduous reader of Keats, an inquisitive reader in the service of an acquisitive writer.


Faking Literature might be an even better starting point, as a lot of Ruthven’s ideas about originality make their way into the chapter, “Fantasies of Originality.” (A title I just love.) Here’s a collage of phrases I have underlined:


  …copying makes us what we are…all pretentions [to originality] are ludicrous…a student required to imitate canonical writers would not only appreciate their artistry but learn how to emulate or even surpass them…improving on it by doing something different…to write is ‘first of all to quote’…evolution in literature as in life depends on errors in the copying process…Since nothing human is created ex nihilo, everything is made of something else, and is in that respect a bricolage…good and bad borrowing…the disturbing recognition that plagiarism is not a corruption of literature but systemic to it…the fetish of originality, that mystification…by judiciously selecting precursors to steal from you actually ‘honor’ them with the ‘benediction’ of [your] theft…since writers tend to be readers, what they have read is likely to show up in what they write…


I could go on and on. What Ruthven is saying in the book is that even though we decry them and shun them, literary forgeries tell us just as much about literature as does literature itself, and that, in the end, all literature is a forgery.

When I mix all Ruthven’s thinking in with this Andrew Potter sentence from The Authenticity Hoax (“Plagiarism is the flip side of forgery: forgers pass off their own work as that of someone else, while plagiarists pass off the work of others as their own.”), it get all kinds of ideas. (I’m currently working on a little mini-essay presenting forgery as a better model for creative work than plagiarism, but I’m not quite ready to post it yet…)

Anyways, thank you Professor Ruthven!

Filed under: my reading year 2012.

K.K. Ruthven, Faking Literature (2001) & Critical Assumptions (1984)

I don’t remember how exactly I found these books. I think I was Googling a bunch on originality and copying and imitatio while I wrote Steal, and the chapter in Assumptions on “Imitation and originality” was so good I went ahead and tracked down the book, then picked up Faking later.

These are thick, academic texts. Not by any means light reading, but man, if you are interested in ideas of originality, copying, and authenticity, there’s some good stuff here.

I particularly love this quote on influence from Critical Assumptions:

Our understanding of literary ‘influence’ is obstructed by the grammar of our language, which puts things back to front in obliging us to speak in passive terms of the one who is the active partner in the relationship: to say that Keats influenced Wilde is not only to credit Keats with an activity of which he was innocent, but also to misrepresent Wilde by suggesting he merely submitted to something he obviously went out of his way to acquire. In matters of influence, it is the receptor who takes the initiative, not the emitter. When we say that Keats had a strong influence on Wilde, what we really mean is that Wilde was an assiduous reader of Keats, an inquisitive reader in the service of an acquisitive writer.

Faking Literature might be an even better starting point, as a lot of Ruthven’s ideas about originality make their way into the chapter, “Fantasies of Originality.” (A title I just love.) Here’s a collage of phrases I have underlined:

…copying makes us what we are…all pretentions [to originality] are ludicrous…a student required to imitate canonical writers would not only appreciate their artistry but learn how to emulate or even surpass them…improving on it by doing something different…to write is ‘first of all to quote’…evolution in literature as in life depends on errors in the copying process…Since nothing human is created ex nihilo, everything is made of something else, and is in that respect a bricolage…good and bad borrowing…the disturbing recognition that plagiarism is not a corruption of literature but systemic to it…the fetish of originality, that mystification…by judiciously selecting precursors to steal from you actually ‘honor’ them with the ‘benediction’ of [your] theft…since writers tend to be readers, what they have read is likely to show up in what they write…

I could go on and on. What Ruthven is saying in the book is that even though we decry them and shun them, literary forgeries tell us just as much about literature as does literature itself, and that, in the end, all literature is a forgery.

When I mix all Ruthven’s thinking in with this Andrew Potter sentence from The Authenticity Hoax (“Plagiarism is the flip side of forgery: forgers pass off their own work as that of someone else, while plagiarists pass off the work of others as their own.”), it get all kinds of ideas. (I’m currently working on a little mini-essay presenting forgery as a better model for creative work than plagiarism, but I’m not quite ready to post it yet…)

Anyways, thank you Professor Ruthven!

Filed under: my reading year 2012.

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