30 January 2012

This month, my Post-40’s Bloomers column at The Millions features Daniel Orozco, whose story collection Orientation will (in my humble opinion) both engage and inspire you.

26 December 2011

Phew — made it.

Every year, during the month that starts at Thanksgiving and ends after Christmas, I feel like an undersized running back at the two yard line (deep in my own team’s territory), working my way down the field.  I keep hoping that the quarterback will hail-mary us to the end zone in one gorgeous, painless swoop; but it ends up being more like piecemeal progress, fending off tackles, a little achey and bruisey.

There’s just too much expectation around these holidays.  Some of which I feel unable to meet, some of which I am unwilling.

In a few days my homage to Giuseppe di Lampedusa‘s The Leopard will go up at The Millions; and in it I write about how much I sympathize, and even empathize, with Don Fabrizio, the novel’s middle-aged Sicilian protagonist, a Prince circa 1860 no less.  What could I possibly have in common with the Prince of Salina during Italy’s Risorgimento?  Well, principally this:

I belong to an unfortunate generation, swung between the old world and the new, and I find myself ill at ease in both.

My family life is not conventional enough to conform to holiday expectations; and I suppose I am not (yet) unconventional enough at heart to truly feel free from all those expectations.

Anyhoo — officially, we (if you happen to relate to this) can now come out of hiding.  It is okay to be doing non-holiday things — like work, correspondence, etc — without seeming too much like a sad weirdo.  Here is a bit of what we did on Dec 25, here in Buenos Aires, Argentina:

Parque de la Memoria (for The Disappeared) — “To Think/Contemplate is a Revolutionary Act”


Kitschy Nativity Scene, outside Congreso


Quiet subway platforms — a gathering of tourists mostly!


Families fishing along the Rio de la Plata


Football (soccer) stadium, River Plate Team, the rich team (think Yankees)


In Once (OHNsay) – an immigrant neighborhood centered around a place called Plaza Miserere (yikes) that reminded me of Queens (and not really miserable at all)


And what did we eat?  Leftover Chinese takeout, sauteed gai-laan, leftover peach pie (homemade, by a lovely young expat  who hosted us for Christmas eve dinner), and flan from the corner bakery.  Whiskey and soda, cheap Malbec. Good stuff.

26 Sept 2011

At The Millions today, the launch of a new monthly feature I’m working on, “Post-40 Bloomers,” which will (to quote myself, weirdly), “highlight authors – living and deceased, new-on-the-scene and now long-established – whose first books debuted when they were 40 or older.”

Check it out, offer suggestions, and, perhaps, if you are a post-40 writer, be encouraged.

24 September 2010

I’ve written a piece about Matthew Crawford‘s Shop Class as Soulcraft over at The Millions.  Crawford was an academic philosopher/director of think tank before realizing he hated the abstraction of his work, and so he opened up a motorcycle repair shop.  I really enjoyed the book and find myself more and more aware of my relationship with things – a different kind of materialism from mere ownership, but rather stewardship.  This is not to say that I am especially handy (though I can handle a power tool or two), or that I will necessarily become more so.  But there is something to be said for curiosity; for paying attention to how things work, and to longevity of function in an increasingly short-term society.

My essay was positioned in the header next to an article called “Coffee With James Franco.”  Well, heck: you can guess which article most folks are clicking on when they get to the home page (though I’m sure it wasn’t intended that way).   But I’ve been seeing Mr. Franco everywhere lately, and so does he really need to appear next to my essay about slowing down and paying attention and focusing on concrete work?  Oh, the irony.   Protest clicks in favor of Shop Class welcome.

15 September 2010

I’m doing a two-part “Staff Pick” for September at The Millions:  two books about work.  Today, a brief look at Donald Hall‘s Life Work, a book that’s been vital to me since my early years of “Am I a writer?” angst.  Also, very much my inspiration for lighting out to the country and finding my (slow) rhythms for work.  This, along with Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life would likely be among my top 5 desert-island books.

Next week, I’ll write about Matthew Crawford‘s Shop Class as Soulcraft — wherein “a philosopher-motorcycle mechanic makes the case for the cognitive riches of manual work, for living concretely in an abstract world.”

13 September 2010

A good overview piece from Library Journal about the ever-changing landscape of book reviewing:

Over the last 15 years, the book review landscape has changed seismically. Reviewing is no longer centralized, with a few big voices leading the way, but fractured among numerous multifarious voices found mostly on the web. In turn, readers aren’t playing the captive audience any more. Undone by economics, many traditional print sources have been shuttered or, like the formerly stand-alone Los Angeles Times and Washington Post Book World review sections, either collapsed into the rest of the paper or moved entirely online. The New York Times Book Review is still standing but is half the size it was a few decades back.

Meanwhile, book talk thrives on the web, with eager readers thronging LibraryThing and Goodreads, trading recommendations on Facebook and Twitter, and pushing their own reviews on Amazon and barnesandnoble. com. From the most casual forums to rich and rigorous sites like the Millions, reviews are energetically spun out, then tweeted, rated, challenged, and otherwise subject to endless ­feedback.

Nice mention of The Millions, where I am a staff writer.  I also like this comment about the relative reliability/quality of “big” reviews versus “small” ones:

Falling back on glam sites like the Huffington Post or The New Yorker‘s Book Bench is definitely a cop-out. “I’ve learned as much from a ‘small’ review as I have from a ‘big’ one,” says Free Press’s Qureshi, “and, having written myself, I know better than to be snobby about my sources.”

Here’s the link to the full piece.

11 August 2010

I’m catching up — on lots of things — but specifically on all the great writing at The Millions.   Enjoyed this piece by JC Hallman about the ways in which writers repeat themselves (or not) in successive work, and the conundrum thereof.  “Do more of that,” an agent or editor might say or imply, after a literary success.   Or, “That again?” readers might complain.

There are two kinds of repetition. There is the kind we find inside our work, the themes that burble up lava-like from our subconscious again and again, and which we cannot resist and should not, I think, criticize in others. And then there is the repetition that ought to be resisted, that which gives us a program, a strategy that can be applied to any subject. This we should criticize in others. Art should never be the result of habit, it should strive eternally for the fresh and the new even when we work in forms we did not invent. Craft, we should vigilantly remind ourselves, means to make something absolutely new where before there was nothing at all.