Reading, Writing, and Publishing

Gonna Try for the Kingdom if I Can

Gonna Try for the Kingdom if I Can

On Denis Johnson, 1949–2017

For all of its glorious derangement—hallucinatory tales of druggies and low-lives and murderers and fuck-ups, including a guy so far gone his friends all call him “Fuckhead”—Denis Johnson’s writing is always rooted in the conviction that life is sacred, that evil is a symptom of suffering, which is to say of estrangement from the sacred.

Writing for Rejection

Writing for Rejection

And reading Doris Lessing.

Of course I’ve owned feminine clothing all my life. But I wore it in public only as a gesture of deference toward my hosts or my audience—never as a way of being myself. For reasons I struggle to comprehend, The Golden Notebook made me feel that a woman can be as valuable as a man, as limitless in her potential, with the same right to drape her body in a lot of extra fabric. (Maybe you know Umberto Eco’s 1976 essay on the emasculating effect of putting on jeans when you’re used to a suit. He should see the jeans they have now.)

On Jenny Diski

On Jenny Diski

1947–2016

Jenny Diski was my friend. We exchanged a flood of ideas during her preparations for her 2013 book, What I Don’t Know About Animals. I am re-reading parts of our exchange now—the writing, by some sort of magic I’ll never really understand, continues to live. The preoccupations we shared, at least at the time, were: animals; humans; the vague boundaries of what constituted cannibalism (she brought up the rumor that Keith Richards had snorted the ashes of his own father, which plainly trumped my example of tuberculosis patients getting prescriptions, well into the 19th century, to drink the blood of executed prisoners); our reclusiveness; and, occasionally, our day-to-day accomplishments, travails, and happinesses.

Episode 23: Inherited Disorders

Episode 23: Inherited Disorders

“It started as a normal novel about fathers and sons, one of those, so I always knew I wanted to write about fathers and sons. And I thought I could do it in a realist way, tracking a father and a son through a relationship or whatever, and I was completely unable to do that. There were two or three years where essentially, everyday, I would start from scratch. I liked the starting out, I liked having a father and a son in some weird situation, and then I would sort of try to maneuver them in a realist way, and it would fall apart and collapse. After a couple of years of this and feeling crazy, probably under the influence of some other books that had somewhat similar forms, I realized I could just sort of take each of the beginnings and turn them into their own mini story and have the relationship kind of come out of the way the stories interacted with each other.”

Sports Talk

Sports Talk

On Grantland

In 2011, Bill Simmons founded Grantland, a niche sports blog that operated out of ESPN’s website. For around a decade Simmons had enjoyed his own “Sports Guy” column on ESPN, where he opined about all things sports- and culture-related, reading sports through culture and culture through sports. Part of Simmons’s The Book of Basketball contains an extended comparison of Kobe Bryant with Michael J. Fox’s character in Teen Wolf, for instance.

The Piazza and the Parking Lot

The Piazza and the Parking Lot

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and literary activism

In this business of recollecting the world before the free market, before globalization, voluntary memory misleads, and the flicker of involuntary memory throws up, as ever, an array of fragments and sensations, but doesn’t, in itself, instruct us in the ethics of the vanished order, an ethics we have critiqued but whose proximity we no longer sense. So it is almost impossible now to remember—as it was impossible then to predict the fall of the Berlin Wall and the advent of President Obama—that poetry was the literary genre to which the greatest prestige accrued until the mid-’80s.

The South African Novel of Ideas

The South African Novel of Ideas

It is difficult to exaggerate the extent to which talk about African writing centers on how to talk about African writing. The most common topic of debate is the Caine Prize, a high-profile short-story competition based in London and open only to authors of African descent (earning it the derivative and slightly patronizing epithet “the African Booker”). Each summer when the shortlist is announced, there is a flurry of op-eds and interviews with African writers who decry the neocolonial hold of British institutions on their careers. Many writers go on to question the very idea of a prize designated for “Africans,” arguing that it threatens to impose false geographical and thematic restrictions on a vast range of writers.

Episode 18: Labor & Letters

Episode 18: Labor & Letters

On this episode of the n+1 podcast, podcast editor Aaron Braun speaks with Jo Livingstone about intern labor in publishing. Mixed in with their conversation are excerpts from n+1’s Labor and Letters Symposium in April discussing the state of labor in publishing today. Nikil Saval moderates the Symposium panel, featuring guests Aaron Braun, Sarah Jaffe, Maxine Phillips, and Maida Rosenstein.

Gonna Try for the Kingdom if I Can

Gonna Try for the Kingdom if I Can

On Denis Johnson, 1949–2017

For all of its glorious derangement—hallucinatory tales of druggies and low-lives and murderers and fuck-ups, including a guy so far gone his friends all call him “Fuckhead”—Denis Johnson’s writing is always rooted in the conviction that life is sacred, that evil is a symptom of suffering, which is to say of estrangement from the sacred.

Writing for Rejection

Writing for Rejection

And reading Doris Lessing.

Of course I’ve owned feminine clothing all my life. But I wore it in public only as a gesture of deference toward my hosts or my audience—never as a way of being myself. For reasons I struggle to comprehend, The Golden Notebook made me feel that a woman can be as valuable as a man, as limitless in her potential, with the same right to drape her body in a lot of extra fabric. (Maybe you know Umberto Eco’s 1976 essay on the emasculating effect of putting on jeans when you’re used to a suit. He should see the jeans they have now.)

On Jenny Diski

On Jenny Diski

1947–2016

Jenny Diski was my friend. We exchanged a flood of ideas during her preparations for her 2013 book, What I Don’t Know About Animals. I am re-reading parts of our exchange now—the writing, by some sort of magic I’ll never really understand, continues to live. The preoccupations we shared, at least at the time, were: animals; humans; the vague boundaries of what constituted cannibalism (she brought up the rumor that Keith Richards had snorted the ashes of his own father, which plainly trumped my example of tuberculosis patients getting prescriptions, well into the 19th century, to drink the blood of executed prisoners); our reclusiveness; and, occasionally, our day-to-day accomplishments, travails, and happinesses.

Episode 23: Inherited Disorders

Episode 23: Inherited Disorders

“It started as a normal novel about fathers and sons, one of those, so I always knew I wanted to write about fathers and sons. And I thought I could do it in a realist way, tracking a father and a son through a relationship or whatever, and I was completely unable to do that. There were two or three years where essentially, everyday, I would start from scratch. I liked the starting out, I liked having a father and a son in some weird situation, and then I would sort of try to maneuver them in a realist way, and it would fall apart and collapse. After a couple of years of this and feeling crazy, probably under the influence of some other books that had somewhat similar forms, I realized I could just sort of take each of the beginnings and turn them into their own mini story and have the relationship kind of come out of the way the stories interacted with each other.”