Reading, Writing, and Publishing

My Lanyarded Brethren

My Lanyarded Brethren

Report from AWP 2020

AWP 2020, sparsely attended compared to the usually robust turnout in years’ past, was spread out on a soft teal green carpet that looked a little like grass. Rows of bright white tables, some empty, others covered in books and candy and tote bags, formed aisle after aisle. Planted in the middle of the broad avenues, where guests wandered, dazed or determined, were old-timey benches presumably for guests to sit and read under the fluorescent lights.

Pollito, Chicken; Gallina, Hen

Pollito, Chicken; Gallina, Hen

American Dirt in Mexico

Notice how the register of the prose, with its figures and rates, evokes the rhetoric of nonfiction. The use of general, declarative sentences about Mexico, in particular, makes me think of what my journalism professors used to call the nut-graf—the paragraph in the article where the journalist briefly pauses her account of the news to establish, in the most efficient way possible, the context for the events on which she is reporting. The result is that Cummins’s book often slips into didacticism.

An Evening With George Steiner (1929–2020)

A critic and his critics

George Steiner is a charming but monstrous narcissist, and the evening spent with him and the Poet at the Professor of Poetry’s house was amazing. Things got started when another Professor, the Poet, and an Artist (the Poet’s spouse), complained laughingly about the xerox machine in the University English Department.

Working Through

Working Through

On Vigdis Hjorth and the incest novel

Why did this story in particular of loss and violation raise such a tumult in me? I’ve been no stranger to them. Bergljot keeps referring to some Danish film I’d never heard of, called Festen. For me, it was finding my mother’s copy of The God of Small Things when I was maybe twelve or thirteen, reading it over and over since, the similarities between my own family and the family in the novel becoming ever clearer. Some parts, even thinking about them as I write this, are seared into me, even now, they send currents thrilling through my electrified blood.

Adrift

On Amit Chaudhuri

Chaudhuri’s attachment to a middle-class cultural moment limits his novels’ social scope; but it also suggests a certain feeling for collective life, famously foreign to modernism. For, as his early novels make clear, Chaudhuri’s writing emerged out of a modernist world; the sense of shared imaginative space in the middle-class Calcutta of his childhood allowed Chaudhuri early on to lose patience with modernism’s asocial obsessions, replacing alienation with affirmation, atomized angst with a troubled but real impression of community.

We Had a Shakespeare

We Had a Shakespeare

People called her Toni

But people do such horrifying things in the name of love and in such violent contexts in her novels. The Bluest Eye is the source of the quote that’s been circulating since she passed: “Love is never any better than the lover.” In a novel in which intimate partner violence and child abuse take center stage, it’s hard not to read this sentence as a claim about love’s uselessness. Because of her dedication to chronicling the fallibilities of lovers under assault by the state and by their communities, her work seems quite ambivalent about love.

Smorgasbords Don’t Have Bottoms

Publishing in the 2010s

No one wakes up in the morning hoping to be as vapid as possible. But eventually you internalize the squeeze. Everyone down the chain adjusts their individual decisions to the whim of the retailer, or to their best guess at the whim of the retailer. If it’s Barnes & Noble, you may hear that a cover doesn’t work, that the store won’t carry the title unless you change it. If it’s Amazon, you may not hear anything at all. You go back and adjust your list of wildly optimistic comparative titles — it’s The Big Short, but . . . for meteorology!