Dear Elizabeth Bachner…


11 May 2010

Dear Elizabeth Bachner:

I’ve been reading your feature essays over at Bookslut for some time now, so I’m writing you this fan letter.  I’ve tried seeking you out in the typical web-stalking ways — Facebook, at Bookslut, etc. — to no avail.  Good for you for minding your online privacy!  I even sent a review copy of Long for This World to you at Bookslut, care of Michael Schaub, which perhaps you received; no offense taken that it may be buried in a pile somewhere.

When I first started blogging, I posted some thoughts about a certain well-known writer’s Twitter essay, and shortly thereafter was contacted by that author.  It seemed a fluke, but then a few months later I posted about another writer’s online essay, and that writer contacted me as well.  I realized, hmm, maybe this is how it works; posting about someone is a little like waving at them from across a crowded bar?  So here’s a try at contacting you…

Your March essay about Marilyn Monroe, play writing, Oscar Wilde, Jillian Weise, and David Mamet is terrific.  I wanted to thank you for, essentially, reinventing the book review.  I’ve always thought that the veneer of “objectivity” in book reviewing seemed odd, and unnecessary; I love that your “reviews” indulge your very personal experience of books, putting your responses and reactions into the context of a person’s (yours) life and literary journey, and synthesizing your thoughts and questions about a number of works at once.  How else could it be?  How else, after all, do we read?

It must be strange to be an icon, even if that’s what you’ve chosen for yourself. Although, I guess in this world, of branding, of Facebook, of photo-retouching and plastic surgery and cybersex and virtual everything, we’re all icons, things instead of people, things instead of artists, and our art, if we have any, is a product, like our lives and bodies. Maybe the difference is that some people are good at being icons, and others mediocre. I don’t really need to be a famous playwright. But, I don’t want to be an image, or a thing. If you have to be a thing, instead of a full person, maybe it’s best to be a famous icon?

This passage struck me as so insightful.  To be a mediocre “brand” or icon just seems like a waste of time, and perhaps a recipe for unhappiness for an artist. With all the self-promotion we’re expected to do, one can fall into this trap.  If you can make the branding work for you, at a high level, that seems probably worth it; otherwise… probably best to just get to work on the art itself.

“Things” versus humans, the multiple-selves existence of artists (wonderful quote from Borges), mid-life reinvention, engaging in art with your whole body, solitary art-making versus collaboration — all ideas that swim around for me constantly.  Thanks so much for exploring and synthesizing so compellingly.

Good luck with your play writing.  It’s a goal of mine as well — to write a stage play, but also to work on a project that has a collaborative element to it.  I do think, however, that novels can be whole-body experiences, both for the writer and reader.  The best fiction engages all the senses, I think; minds, spirits, and bodies, all cylinders firing.

My best regards,
Sonya Chung

p.s.  Haven’t yet read your piece on The Ecco Anthology, but look forward to it.

p.p.s.  You are the third person this month to mention/recommend The Picture of Dorian Gray; I’ll be getting on that this summer.


4 Responses to “Dear Elizabeth Bachner…”

  1. Nicole Says:

    Hi Sonya. I am also a fan of Ms. Bachner. I am frequently astounded with her level of insight & adore her straightforward style. I’m terribly curious to know more about her. She seems like such a genuine and mature spirit. We could all use a lot more like her!

    • sonyachung Says:

      Hi Nicole — yes, and one of the few who writes long-form online (very effectively).

      Thanks for stopping by. Are you in fact “A cafe in Paris”? Sounds very romantic. Best, SC

  2. tembi Says:

    Hi There – I was just looking up Elizabeth Bachner after reading her October 2010 review. I also love her very personal and sensitive way of writing about her reading life. Her perspective on Settling for Mr. Good Enough was refreshing. It would have been easy to pointedly critique that book, but what she does is wiser. She emphasizes the sadness that resonate with those logics, instead of just their wrongness – which is easy enough to see and point to. And how wonderful to put that book of psuedo-facts alongside the poetry and the history. Because who is ever really reading the best travel writing of 2010 – unless that is they are doing so to write a piece about it. What could be disjointed and murky is fluid and organic in Bachner’s hands. What a great and inspirational talent.

    • sonyachung Says:

      Agreed. And now, I am going to post the Grunbein poem and a link to EB’s piece. Thanks!

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