Reading Material

Today marks the tenth anniversary of when I began keeping a record of every book that I read.  Therefore, without further ado, I present the complete reading material of a decade.

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Miguel, ma belle
These are words that go together well
My Miguel

Miguel, ma belle
Sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble
Tres bien ensemble
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Categories: Sort Of, Writing | 1 Comment

Closing Windows

Bill Simmons ‘meditation’ on the uncertainty of the future, the ephemerality of opportunity.

The thing about sports is they tell you when it’s over.  Everybody talks about giving 110% and never quitting, but only as long as the game is going on.  When the final buzzer sounds, whether you’ve won or lost you know to go home.  Nobody calls you a quitter when you walk off the court or the field after the final buzzer.  But in other walks of life you may not know when your chance has passed.  Maybe you figure it out eventually, and eventually you do die, so I guess you know it’s over then, but while you’re alive there’s no moment when you can be sure it’s over.  The buzzer sounds silently and no one tells you.  If you think you’ve heard the buzzer and you walk off the field, then they do call you a quitter.  And if you don’t quit and still haven’t succeeded by the time you die, then they say that you sucked.

Another way sports is different from art is there are clear criteria for quality.  Nobody is going to say a team that won the championship is a bad team or a team that failed to make the playoffs is a good team.  But in art you do hear similar arguments all the time.  A writer who sells relatively few copies may not have been trying to sell many copies; his aim may have for something else, but that defense only goes so far.  A commercial writer is justified by the number of copies he sells; an artistic writer by the perceived artistic quality of his work, but only as long as his sales are above some minimum number; sell fewer than that or fail to be published at all and then they *will* say that you are bad regardless of what your aim was.

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Brain Teasers

  • I’m a big white rectangle with sheets and blankets on top and people sleep on me.  What am I?
  • I’m invisible, yet you can know what I am by using a clock or watch or a sundial or in a pinch you can just guess what I am.  What am I?
  • What’s black and white and is a four-legged ungulate native to the east African plains? Read more »
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Non-Insane Proposals for Publishing Industry Professionals

What I don’t understand is why we writers believe that those on the other side of the transom act in such illogical ways, ways in which I definitely wouldn’t act if I were in their shoes.

Agents.  If I were an agent I wouldn’t read anybody’s stories or novels.  Read more »

Categories: Non-Fiction, Writing | 4 Comments

Begging the Question

We call a story good because of what is written, not who wrote it.  But sometimes people invert the relationship—i.e., we believe a story must be good because a particular name is attached to it.

In “A Legend in His Own Mind” (The New Yorker, Dec. 22 & 29, 1997, pp. 54-65), John Walsh reports an exchange between editor Mike Petty and novelist James Thackara: “Once, Petty recalls, he queried a piece of dialogue. ‘Look,’ I said.  ‘You can’t say this.  It’s bad dialogue.  It’s bad art.’  Thackara said, ‘Faulkner could do that,’ and I said, ‘But, James, you’re not Faulkner.'”

So Thackara wasn’t Faulkner, but who was Faulkner?  How did Faulkner know he was Faulkner—i.e., how did he know it was acceptable for him to do the things Petty called bad dialogue and bad art?—and how did others recognize his Faulkner-hood?  And when Faulkner did whatever it was Petty was accusing Thackara of doing, how did readers know to call it good, and how do they know to call it bad when done by Thackara?

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Annals of Superhuman Persistence, Vol IV: Veronica Roth

On March 31, 2010, 21-year-old Veronica Roth wrote a blog post titled “You + $$$ = ?”  Two weeks later, Roth sold her first book, a dystopian YA novel about a society segregated by moral virtues and a girl who doesn’t fit in.  “I was in Psych learning about exposure therapy,” she recalls. She started writing about those people instead of doing her college homework, and within 40 days she had a completed draft.  Divergent sold quickly—after four days, to the first editor who finished reading it.  Divergent was published in May 2011 and spent eleven consecutive weeks on the New York Times’ children’s best-seller list; the sequel, Insurgent, debuted at No. 1 a year later. The series has remained there ever since.  Since no popular YA series is without a movie franchise, Summit Entertainment—the studio behind Twilight—will release Divergent early next year, and its cast (Kate Winslet, Next Big Thing Shailene Woodley) suggests similar expectations for the film version. Meanwhile, the contents of the trilogy’s upcoming final book, Allegiant (coming out October 22), are being guarded like Katniss Everdeen in the first half of Mockingjay.

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Annals of Superhuman Persistence, Vol. III: Samantha Shannon

21-Year-Old Novelist Samantha Shannon on Her Debut, The Bone Season

Samantha Shannon’s “inspiration for The Bone Season, the ambitious first novel in a projected seven-part series to be published by Bloomsbury, came from an internship with literary agent David Godwin the summer after her first year at Oxford.   Read more »

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Fade in on an office building at sunset.  Mournful music plays.  Cut to interior of the building as the white collar workers leave.  One turns back on the threshold and calls, “See you in the morning, John.”

Cut to John, late twenties, All-American looks, clean-shaven but with a lock of hair falling over his forehead, tie loosened and sleeves rolled up, waving goodbye.  He remains in the office as night falls, drawing with a T-square on a large tilted desk.

In a laboratory, John pipets a small amount of blue liquid into a test tube, his face rapt with excitement.

Establishing shot of New York in the 1950’s.  Old man’s voiceover: “They say that when a true genius appears in the world…”  Read more »

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Conceptual Art Thief

Today, I can confidently state that I am the greatest conceptual art thief in the world.  I have perpetrated dozens of elaborate heists, stealing many of the most valuable works of 20th century art, and not only have I never been caught, but nobody has ever even found out my crimes had ever taken place.  Yes, even the museums that I have stolen from are unaware their precious conceptual artworks have been snatched away right under their noses.

Lesser thieves may have stolen the Mona Lisa or The Scream or what have you.  But while they may have stolen wooden panels or canvases daubed with oil paints, I had bigger game in mind.  Yes, I am an aesthete; I love beauty, and what could be more beautiful than an idea or set of instructions for creating some kind of object or experience?  Read more »

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