I’m in Massachusetts at the moment, and opened up today’s Boston Globe to an interesting piece by Sven Birkerts, chiming in on the paper reviews vs. literary blogs debate. Go here to read the piece. He references Cynthia Ozick’s article in Harper’s and after much poking around online eventually comes down on the side of paper. His feeling is that we need more “intelligent reviewing”, rather than an endless series of links, and paper lends itself to a more thought-out reflection, that takes a stand, rather than simply distributes information. I can certainly see his point. It’s true that paper usually has a stronger point of view, but as more writers tell me that a good blog mention does more to increase their numbers than a NY Times Book Review, I can’t help but feel that what these two sides really need to do is find a way to work together.
In addition to upcoming photos by the Observer, One Story managed to snag a few of Robin Romm in action. So download the podcast from our audio archive, and scroll down here for the full One Story Reading effect.
Robin takes the mic.
Several in the crowd appeared very into Robin’s tale of love, loss, and most importantly–found.
Robin Romm and editor Hannah Tinti, flanked by One Story authors Emily Benz and Kiara Brinkman
Owen King, Hannah Tinti and Scott Snyder
One Story’s reading series will recommence in September with Dalia Sofer, winner of the 2007 Sirenland Fellowship to Positano Italy.
“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.” from George Plimpton, “Interview with Ernest Hemingway,” The Paris Review 18. Spring, 1958.
Today is the birthday of sun and light and yes. Ernest Hemingway turns 108 today. Source of the stereotype that writers are mad as snakes and thousands of ill-advised beards, Papa Hemingway is also the voice in my head that complains I am not doing enough. Here, it is already noon and I haven’t yet shot a rhinoceros.
Ernest Hemingway is the patron saint of earnest small business owners who in pre-dawn hours brick-wall into the question: what should we name this bookstore? A Clean Well-Lighted Place in San Francisco (RIP), Hemingway’s Books in Canada, and The Lost Generation bookstore in cyberspace are three of many named for the bearded writer. Hemingway also lends his enigma to the annual look alike contest in Key West. But you don’t need to leave New York to visit a namesake: I have on good authority that a cat living in our very own Williamsburg is named Mr. Bumby after a character in A Moveable Feast.
Which brings us to Hemingway’s area of greatest contribution; the world of cats. A lifelong feline enthusiast, Hemingway and his wife Mary at one time owned 34 cats. The next time you are in Key West, stumble drunkenly to Hemingway’s House and Museum. There your ankles will be encircled by several of Hemingway’s feline descendants, who sport more toes than necessary and bear unforgivably literary names.
“I like to have Gertrude Stein bawl me out because it keeps one’s opinion of oneself down–way down–she liked the book very much she said–but what I wanted to hear about was what she didn’t like and why–she thinks the parts that fail are when I remember visually rather than make up…” –To F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1929
As a writer who is also a lady, I’ve been told I am not supposed to like Hemingway but I do I do I do. The rarely stocked book Ernest Hemingway On Writing, contains the best advice/musings on writing ever collected (you can keep your Letters to a Young Poet). The book is slim and hard to find; slim because Hemingway did not like to talk about writing, saying it “takes off whatever butterflies have on their wings,” hard to find because for the past 15 years I have bought every copy I’ve come across to garnish shower gifts, shove into the backpacks of beloved friends, and send to prisoners.
Over the years, Hemingway’s enigma has been shined up and exaggerated, but some facts remain consistent: he was between 7 and 8 feet tall, weighed 650 pounds and had his heart surgically replaced with a Magic 8 Ball that always read Ask Again Later.
Hemingway commonly spoke of other writers as boxing opponents. On Writing also documents some of Hemingway’s infamous opinions on other writers.
“I wouldn’t fight Dr. Tolstoi in a 20 round bout because I know he would knock my ears off…If I can live to 60 I can beat him (MAYBE). I tried for Mr. Turgenieff first and it wasn’t too hard. Tried for Mr. Maupaussant and it took four of the best stories to beat him…Mr. Henry James I would just thumb him once the first time he grabbed and then hit him once where he had no balls and ask the referee to stop it.”
“There are some guys nobody could ever beat like Mr. Shakespeare (The Champion) and Mr. Anonymous.”
“I had been told Katherine Mansfield was a good short story writer, even a great short story writer, but trying to read her after Chekov was like hearing the carefully artificial tales of a young old-maid compared to those of an articulate and knowing physician who was a good and simple writer. Mansfield was like near-beer. It was better to drink water.”
Mansfield to Hemingway: No, you dit-n’t.
In addition to “boxing” with his fellow writers, Hemingway also seemed to have a lifelong grudge match with God, who tried to KO Hemingway several times in two wars, four marriages, two consecutive plane crashes, even resorting to a brush fire which, while it debilitated Hemingway enough that he could not personally accept his Nobel Prize, did not succeed in killing him. Ultimately, Hemingway had to do that himself.
To appropriately celebrate this glorious day, run with the bulls, book a safari, write a helpful but vaguely condescending letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, grow a beard or try out a “Papa Doble,” the drink Hemingway was rumored to have invented at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West: two ounces of white or light rum, the juice from two limes, the juice from half a grapefruit, Maraschino liqueur floating on the top, served over crushed ice. Or just down a quart of scotch. He liked that, too.
You don’t know Kiara Brinkman yet, but you will soon. Her story, “Can You Hear Me Thinking” is the next issue of One Story, #91, and today her first novel is being released by Grove, Up High in the Trees. This astonishing look at Asperger’s syndrome–through the eyes of an eight year old boy–has just been chosen as a Booksense pick for the month of August, and has been getting lots of praise:
“This is a very moving and perfectly convincing portrait of the inner life of an unusual boy, Sebby, cast into the deep black waters of a mother’s death. As his family thrashes and drowns and treads water around him, he has to choose if and how to survive. Brinkman’s portrait of Sebby and his family is humane and uncomprimising, never maudlin, and, in the end, we root for Sebby as if he were our own.”
This pet peeve of mine is a quickie, and it involves the first thing most* readers will see when they get to your submission: the cover letter. Normally, this lists the author’s publications, maybe a bit about their “pedigree”, and occasionally a bit of plot synopsis. Sometimes it will note if the piece is plucked from a larger work. Personally I think cover letters inevitably sound super pompous, but I have read my own, and after much experimentation I am not sure it is possible to brag about your accomplishments without sounding self-centered. So go ahead and brag a little bit. You are going to sound silly either way, talking about yourself in the third person. One thing it should not mention, is brief explanations of your use of literary devices, and their respective significances. While you may find it helpful to alert the editors to the fact that your character’s actions to his family throughout the piece are meant to indicate his underlying personality–just don’t put that in your cover letter. If you’re really unsure, maybe just put an asterisk in the important sections, explanations in the footnote. *Some magazines remove the name, title, cover letter details before reading manuscripts–they usually note this in the guidelines if that is the case. And at other places–I am sure there are some readers who prefer to avoid the cover letter experience at all.
Another One Story writer has a book out this month! Jennifer S. Davis, author of One Story issue # 51, “Rapture,” had just released her second short story collection: Our Former Lives in Art, which received this starred review in Booklist:
“These nine heartfelt stories are set within the lives–yes, lives do indeed function as settings here–of ordinary people in the Deep South, a location that serves as the larger context in which the characters live and breathe. In sharing her ironic, sometimes sarcastic, but always deeply human vision of the quirks of human behavior, Davis shares with other southern female short-story writers, such as Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty, a sense of relish of the absurdity running through the human condition. “Detritus” perfectly showcases Davis’ take on life. She dexterously assumes the voice of a teenage boy narrating a time when, just after his father left the family for good, his mother got religion and saved the life and soul of a brain-damaged girl left in her care. “Pilgrimage in Georgia,” more serious but no less cut-to-the-quick in capturing human frailty, is a beautiful articulation of the theme of accepting life as just an arrangement of ordinary things, not all things in life being “art” and thus rarefied and elusive. And “Giving Up the Ghost” is even more serious, about an accident that becomes a catalyst for reconciling the male protagonist’s sense of self and what he wants in life and marriage.”
–Brad Hooper, Booklist
Our Former Lives in Art inclues “Rapture.” And it is being released today!
In response to the NY times article on the “new” librarian:The interesting thing about this article — apart from the sinking feeling that, with my would-be profession now identified as a trend in the New York Times, it’s only a matter of time before librarianship will be officially “over” — is how it closely it reflects my most idealized self-image: smart, adorable, glasses-wearing twenty-to-thirtysomethings with artistic aspirations — mostly living in Greenpoint, even! Were they all born in upstate New York, too? Maybe own several They Might Be Giants t-shirts?
In my experience, there is anecdotal truth to this article (beyond the fact that the librarians profiled presumably do exist): a couple of my good friends are librarians (though both of them live in Boston, not New York), and I’ve come across a fair number of young, hip, socially-conscious types during my part-time librarian schooling at Queens College.
But just as many — really, if I’m being honest, far more — of my classmates fit the librarian stereotype, well, if not exactly to a “t,” certainly somewhere around that vicinity of the alphabet: Socially awkward, anxious, a little square. I will agree that the “shush”ing stereotype appears to be wholly untrue, inasmuch as I’ve yet to take a library class without several members willing to speak out and ask extraneous or obvious questions.
Don’t get me wrong; my classmates are generally good-hearted and sometimes interesting people. And I can see traces of a hip-young-librarian movement, albeit without quite the fashion-trend vivacity depicted in the Times (most library students I know are more concerned about getting those jobs so idyllically described in the article than going to hipster bars to dance trade books). Maybe the young librarian force is more pronounced at private grad schools, which might explain why I felt more than a little agist and classist when I read the Times article and found myself thinking, “if only.”
Check out tomorrow’s New York Times Book Review for the fantastic review of One Story author Robin Romm’s collection of stories, The Mother Garden, which talks a lot about the story Robin published with One Story, “The Arrival”:
“Death may not be proud, but in The Mother Garden, Robin Romm’s whimsical and affecting debut collection, there’s nothing shy about it either. Here’s the first sentence of the first story: “My mother’s going to die.” The mom in question has cancer, like many of the mothers in this book, and Romm clearly knows the territory: in short order she describes the wheelchair and the oxygen tank, the bald scalp and the steroid bloating. But just when you’re thinking “Oxygen Network,” the story takes a sharp turn. The narrator, visiting her parents at their Oregon beach cabin, watches a young woman swim ashore, dressed in capri pants and a pink sweater. “What the hell?” the arrival snarls. “It would be nice of you to tell me what’s going on here.”
Go here to read the rest of the review.
Go here to check our Robin’s website.
And be sure to come out to Pianos on Friday, July 20th, when Robin reads from her collection for us. Books will be sold at the event, provided by Mobile Libris.