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Date: Wednesday, 23 Jul 2014 19:41

It seems as if David Mitchell, the author of intricate, metafictional, time-twisting novels like “Cloud Atlas,” might be drawn to Twitter, which, seen in a certain way, is a massive, ever-expanding, self-referential catalogue of modern thought. Yet in a recent interview with the BBC, he took a dimmer view: “I don’t want to add to this ocean of trivia and irrelevance; it’s already vast and deep enough.” Mitchell said this at the very same time that he was promoting a new Twitter project: an original short story, titled “The Right Sort,” which was published in a series of more than two hundred and eighty tweets in the course of a week, ending this past Sunday. He was plain about the fact that the idea had come from his publisher, as a way to generate excitement about Mitchell’s forthcoming novel, “The Bone Clocks.” Fair enough, but everything that Mitchell writes is worth reading, and his recent experiment suggests some of the possibilities, and the limitations, of Twitter fiction.


See the rest of the story at newyorker.com

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This Week in Fiction: Saïd Sayrafiezadeh

Author: "Ian Crouch"
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Date: Monday, 21 Jul 2014 14:48

The narrator of this week’s story, “Last Meal at Whole Foods,” is a twenty-eight-year-old man who is struggling to come to terms with the diagnosis of his mother’s terminal illness. When did you first start thinking of this young man and the ways in which he and his mother would spend her final days? 

It can be traced back to my own mother and her sudden diagnosis of lymphoma two years ago. She was given four months to live if she didn’t begin chemotherapy immediately, and even then she only had a fifty per cent chance of surviving. I flew to Pittsburgh and found an assisted-living facility—in twenty-four hours—that could provide respite care for her. Amazingly, she beat the odds, and the lymphoma went into remission, but the terror and stress of that affair did not subside so quickly. I didn’t actually start thinking about the experience in terms of fiction until a few months ago. I was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, sitting in one of their many lounges reading “The Quiet American,” by Graham Greene. There was something so soothing about the motion of the ship, the tranquility of the lounge, and the straightforward, simple, witty prose of Greene. Unless you’re Christopher Hitchens, who can write about dying while you’re dying, I think most writers need some distance from their calamities. I suppose I was being a quiet American on that cruise ship—amid three thousand passengers—and in that contemplative space the spectre of my mother’s death transformed itself into a story. It was instantly clear to me that it would begin at Whole Foods and end at the diner. It was clear that it would have a game of Scrabble and a visit to an assisted living facility. I took two thousand words worth of notes in my iPhone. When the ship returned to port, I wrote the story.


See the rest of the story at newyorker.com

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The Great American Twitter Novel
Love Stories
This Week in Fiction: Greg Jackson

Author: "Cressida Leyshon"
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Date: Monday, 21 Jul 2014 04:05

This summer, to celebrate the re-launch of our Web site, we’ll be pulling selected articles together into mini-anthologies, starting with a collection of love stories from the fiction archive.

Putting together a love-themed fiction issue this summer had us asking ourselves questions about what exactly makes a story a love story, and thinking back to other memorable love stories from the past decade or two. First, of course, a love story requires one character (human or otherwise) to be in love or fall in love with another character (human or otherwise). Second, there must be some obstacle to the love—or else there’s love but no story. Whether it’s an unwanted pregnancy that comes between the lovers (as in T. Coraghessan Boyle’s “The Love of My Life”) or war (as in Colm Tóibín’s “Summer of ’38”) or infidelity (as in Junot Díaz’s “The Cheater’s Guide to Love”) or brain-implanted advertisement-testing devices (as in George Saunders’s “Jon”), something must keep the lovers apart for a period of time, or tear them apart after a period of time.


See the rest of the story at newyorker.com

Related:
The Great American Twitter Novel
This Week in Fiction: Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
This Week in Fiction: Greg Jackson

Author: "Deborah Treisman"
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Date: Sunday, 20 Jul 2014 20:24

The New Yorker has published more than four thousand issues since it first came out, in February, 1925. If you think you have a lot of back issues to read, imagine that stack of magazines—it would be, by our calculations, nearly seventy feet high. Through the decades, the magazine has published stories on an unusually diverse array of subjects. We’ve covered momentous historical events, such as the D Day landings, and humble ones, like the first signs of spring in midtown. We’ve published Profiles of enduring personalities (Truman Capote on Marlon Brando) and those who are relatively unknown (John McPhee on Don Ainsworth). Over the years, all of these pieces have been carefully catalogued in our in-house library.


See the rest of the story at newyorker.com

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Letter from the Archive: Nora Ephron’s Apartment
Author: "Joshua Rothman and Erin Overbey"
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Date: Friday, 18 Jul 2014 15:22

“Mississippi was at once my ancestral land, and the sinister setting in any number of Hollywood movies, a villain in our national narrative, the place where a black boy named Emmett Till was tossed into the Tallahatchie River with a cotton gin fan around his neck.” There we are, toes curled at the edge, with Nikole Hannah-Jones, of ProPublica, as she dives into her uprooted family’s history. In 1947, Hannah-Jones tells us, her family was pushed north; nearly seventy years later, she was pulled back down South. What she found might not surprise some, but it still haunts:

It was eerie being down here where it happened, just a few miles from where my dad grew up, and realizing how easily he could have been Till. We somehow convince ourselves that this is ancient history. But I am not even 40, and my dad was but four years younger than Emmett Till. Like my dad, Till’s mother had also left as one of hundreds of thousands of black Mississippians who fled their homeland during the Great Migration.


See the rest of the story at newyorker.com

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Weekend Reading: Deadly Jellies, Children in Limbo

Author: "Matthew McKnight"
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Date: Thursday, 17 Jul 2014 20:37

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You pick up a novel. If it’s any good, before long it has you trying to get into its characters’ heads. What are they feeling? What will they do? Can they be trusted? But, behind such thoughts, broader and subtler questions arise: What is the author aiming at? What was he or she feeling when these paragraphs were written? As for the book’s perceived inconsistencies: Was the author being inattentive, or were you? Literary reading soon grades into complex efforts at mind reading.

But more complicated still—and, in some ways, more rewarding still—is the attempt to read a book through someone else’s eyes. Your thoughts triangulate. You wonder, What did person X feel when he read Y’s book?

...read more
Author: "Brad Leithauser" Tags: "books"
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Date: Thursday, 17 Jul 2014 11:35

You pick up a novel. If it’s any good, before long it has you trying to get into its characters’ heads. What are they feeling? What will they do? Can they be trusted? But, behind such thoughts, broader and subtler questions arise: What is the author aiming at? What was he or she feeling when these paragraphs were written? As for the book’s perceived inconsistencies: Was the author being inattentive, or were you? Literary reading soon grades into complex efforts at mind reading.

But more complicated still—and, in some ways, more rewarding still—is the attempt to read a book through someone else’s eyes. Your thoughts triangulate. You wonder, What did person X feel when he read Y’s book?


See the rest of the story at newyorker.com

Related:
The Great American Twitter Novel
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Gordimer and Me

Author: "Brad Leithauser"
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Date: Thursday, 17 Jul 2014 00:31

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In 2008, a publisher asked me to edit a collection of nonfiction by Nadine Gordimer, who died this week at the age of ninety. There had been a couple of short selections before, but the idea behind the project was to collect pretty much everything. Six decades of work, arranged chronologically, would provide a kind of blow-by-blow record of the times she’d lived through—from the crackdowns of the nineteen-sixties to the new democratic South Africa of the nineties, from the banning of her novels to her emergence as a leading voice in the anti-apartheid struggle and a Nobel Prize laureate.

...read more
Author: "Leo Carey" Tags: "books, postscript"
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Jul 2014 21:20

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The first published works by the thirty-five-year-old writer and artist Ariel Schrag were earnestly, painfully, sometimes astonishingly honest autobiographical comics, begun in ninth grade, self-published by tenth grade, and picked up (while Schrag was in eleventh grade) by the prestigious indie publisher Slave Labor Graphics. Each of the four graphic novels—“Awkward and Definition” (1997), “Potential” (1999), and “Likewise” (2000, collected 2009) records one year of high school; each is longer than the last. The comics follow Schrag’s struggles in A.P. chemistry, her parents’ divorce, and her love for the band No Doubt, but they keep coming back to sex, and to sexual identity. She comes out as probably lesbian in tenth grade, then spends much of senior year pining after—and masturbating while thinking about—a girlfriend who’s moved away.

...read more
Author: "Stephen Burt" Tags: "books"
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Jul 2014 18:16

In 2008, a publisher asked me to edit a collection of nonfiction by Nadine Gordimer, who died this week at the age of ninety. There had been a couple of short selections before, but the idea behind the project was to collect pretty much everything. Six decades of work, arranged chronologically, would provide a kind of blow-by-blow record of the times she’d lived through—from the crackdowns of the nineteen-sixties to the new democratic South Africa of the nineties, from the banning of her novels to her emergence as a leading voice in the anti-apartheid struggle and a Nobel Prize laureate.


See the rest of the story at newyorker.com

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Author: "Leo Carey"
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Jul 2014 14:08

The first published works by the thirty-five-year-old writer and artist Ariel Schrag were earnestly, painfully, sometimes astonishingly honest autobiographical comics, begun in ninth grade, self-published by tenth grade, and picked up (while Schrag was in eleventh grade) by the prestigious indie publisher Slave Labor Graphics. Each of the four graphic novels—“Awkward and Definition” (1997), “Potential” (1999), and “Likewise” (2000, collected 2009) records one year of high school; each is longer than the last. The comics follow Schrag’s struggles in A.P. chemistry, her parents’ divorce, and her love for the band No Doubt, but they keep coming back to sex, and to sexual identity. She comes out as probably lesbian in tenth grade, then spends much of senior year pining after—and masturbating while thinking about—a girlfriend who’s moved away.


See the rest of the story at newyorker.com

Related:
The Great American Twitter Novel
See Spot Get Depressed
Reading Through Someone Else’s Eyes

Author: "Stephen Burt"
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Jul 2014 19:30

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During a trip to the United States in the nineteen-seventies, the Tibetan scholar, translator, and lifelong meditator Lobsang Lhalungpa found himself in San Francisco’s financial district. Struck by the hordes of rushing bodies, he stopped, turned to his guides, and said, “I don’t see any humans here.” This was before A.O.L.

Now, in mid-2014, a spate of recent articles and self-help books advocate the kind of mindfulness that Lhalungpa practiced, not only as a means of improving one’s health and well-being but as a way to get ahead in one’s career. Two of these books—Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive” and the “Nightline” co-anchor Dan Harris’s “10% Happier”—have remained on the Times best-seller list for months. A recent Bloomberg News article reported on the increasing use of meditation among hedge funders to maximize performance (some call themselves corporate samurai and ninjas). How did strivers everywhere come to appropriate a twenty-five-hundred-year-old philosophy of non-striving?

...read more
Author: "Jacob Rubin" Tags: "books"
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Date: Monday, 14 Jul 2014 13:00

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Your story in this week’s issue, “Wagner in the Desert,” is about a group of thirtysomethings embarking on artistic and entrepreneurial careers who meet up in Palm Springs for one last lost week before settling into their adult lives. Where did the inspiration come from? Do you know anyone who’s actually done this, or some version of this?

Yes, me. It feels terrible to admit that I’ve modeled a story on an experience I’ve had, in part because I so rarely do this, and in part because it tempts readers to see me in the characters. While pieces of a writer necessarily find their way into his or her work, I never write from a perspective I believe to be my own. And I feel that the natural distancing effect of turning life into fiction means that my characters end up bearing little, if any, resemblance to anyone who might have inspired them. Typically, I find myself patching a few real details into largely imagined material. Here, I took something I had actually done as the contextual foundation on which to build a fictional story, one whose possibilities were, in many ways, inspired by the world I encountered in Palm Springs—which is a very weird place.

The thing that appealed to me about Palm Springs was its contradictions: it’s a desert near the California coast; it’s a gay destination, but it also has a culture that’s unabashedly nostalgic for “Mad Men”-era values—patriarchy, materialism, traditional gender roles; the Koch brothers hold king-making meetings there, while massive wind farms turn in the desert breeze and, presumably, power the very grids the Kochs use to project their flowcharts (or whatever) about how to retain market share against renewables; and Palm Springs is, in fact, a popular vacation spot for New York Hasidim, who, when I was there, showed up in the strangest places, and offered a decided contrast to the group I was travelling with, which, as in the story, was comprised almost entirely of Jews, though of a more secular and libertine sort. (My name belies me—my mother is Jewish.) I find it energizing when contradictory worlds come into close proximity, because it forces us to consider the choices we’ve made—or haven’t made but defaulted to—and the contingency of our lives. The more time you spend around people like you, of course, the less often you are compelled to ask tough questions of yourself and to justify your own decisions and values.

...read more
Author: "Deborah Treisman" Tags: "This Week in Fiction, fiction"
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Date: Monday, 14 Jul 2014 12:01

On Monday morning, news came that Nadine Gordimer, who won the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature, died Sunday, in Johannesburg. She was ninety years old. Over the decades, Gordimer wrote dozens of pieces for The New Yorker. Her first, a short story called “A Watcher of the Dead,” was published in 1951. After that, she continued to publish stories about life in South Africa, with occasional excursions into other genres. In 1954, she published a memoir of her childhood, called “Allusions in a Landscape”; in 1995, she wrote about being a juror at Cannes; and, in 2001, she recalled, in a short, pensive meditation on memory, running into an old friend on a London street.


See the rest of the story at newyorker.com

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A Summer in the Archive
Reading Through Someone Else’s Eyes
Gordimer and Me

Author: "Joshua Rothman"
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Date: Saturday, 12 Jul 2014 20:05

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This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer, when hundreds of activists, both black and white, flooded into Mississippi to campaign for civil rights. In “Ghosts of Greenwood,” for Pro Publica, Nikole Hannah-Jones goes to Greenwood, Mississippi, the town where her father grew up before his family moved to Iowa to escape the Jim Crow South. She writes, “Mississippi flavored our cuisine, inspired our worship and colored our language. Still, when speaking about the land of their birth, my dad and grandmother talked about family and loved ones, but seldom about the place.” Hannah-Jones travels to Greenwood and its surrounding areas with an elderly aunt and begins uncovering the reality of the violence and fear that shaped the paths of black families from Mississippi, including her own.

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Author: "Andrea DenHoed" Tags: "books"
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Date: Wednesday, 09 Jul 2014 18:15

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Mary Rodgers Guettel, who died at the end of June, was not a household name like her father, the composer Richard Rodgers, but she had legions of fans—among them her lifelong friend Stephen Sondheim; Leonard Bernstein; the legendary children’s-book editor Ursula Nordstrom; Juilliard students, who chanted her name affectionately when she addressed them, as the chair of the school’s board in recent years; and a great many children. Rodgers published “Freaky Friday,” her freewheeling mother-daughter body-switch novel, in 1972, and followed it with two enjoyable sequels, “A Billion for Boris” and “Summer Switch.”

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Author: "Sarah Larson" Tags: "books, movies"
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Jul 2014 12:51

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In my teens, I asked my Great Aunt Rose where in Romania our family had come from. She claimed that she didn’t remember. I said, “Aunt Rose, you lived there until you were nineteen. What do you mean, you don’t remember?” She said, “It was a horrible place and we were lucky to get out of there. There’s no reason for anyone to go back.” I begged her to tell me at least the name of the place. She gave me an uncharacteristically steely glare and said again, “I don’t remember.” That was the end of the conversation.

My paternal grandfather—Aunt Rose’s brother, a farm laborer—preceded her to the United States when he was sixteen, fleeing pogroms and generational poverty. He was processed at Ellis Island and then settled in New York City, where he made neckties out of dress remnants. He insured that my father got a good education, and my family has lived in prosperity ever since. I’ve often wondered about the life my grandfather left behind. Presumably my forebears had inquiring and capacious minds much like mine and my father’s, and I have often pondered what it would be like to be us and to live like that.

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Author: "Andrew Solomon" Tags: "Europe, books"
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Jul 2014 05:01

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I met Daniel Genis at a bookstore. It was March, and I was there to speak on a panel about Sergei Dovlatov, the comic novelist of late Soviet decay, and Genis came up to me afterward, wanting to talk about books. Books, it became clear, were something he knew about. Genis talks quickly and often, and his pale, insinuating eyes make him look like he’s in on a really stupendous secret. On that night, he wore a T-shirt pulled snugly over a substantial belly and an ill-fitting blazer. He had a good reason to be at the bookstore: his father is Alexander Genis, a collaborator of Dovlatov’s who happens to be one of the best-known nonfiction writers working in Russian; a collection of his essays is currently on Russia’s best-seller list. The younger Genis and I talked. It came out that our parents knew each other slightly, and we had gone to the same high school, and after a while I wondered out loud why we hadn’t met. The reason, he confided, was that some weeks earlier he had been released from prison, where he spent ten years and three months after pleading guilty to five charges of armed robbery. He also remarked, offhandedly, that his authentic education as a reader began not while he was a history major at N.Y.U. or working at a literary agency in Manhattan but at the Green Haven Correctional Facility, in Stormville, New York. There, he offered, he had read a thousand and forty-six books.

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Author: "Alex Halberstadt" Tags: "books"
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Date: Friday, 04 Jul 2014 16:02

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What does it mean to cry over a book? It’s a question that has been in the foreground lately, thanks to “The Great Y.A. Debate of 2014”—the conversation, sparked by Ruth Graham last month in Slate, about the merits of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” and other young-adult fiction. The debate has been about a lot of things, including the tension between high and popular art, the role of criticism, and the fate of maturity as a cultural value. But it has also been—peculiarly—about the value and meaning of tears. “I’m a reader who did not weep,” Graham wrote, defiantly. “Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up?” By contrast, Lorin Stein, the editor of The Paris Review, revealed that he had read the book lying down, “to obviate the need for a hanky”; Dana Stevens, Slate’s film critic, left the movie version with dry eyes and wondered, “Am I a bad person?” What might have been a purely intellectual debate about our collective literary taste often centered on a personal, emotional question: Did I cry?

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Author: "Pelagia Horgan" Tags: "books"
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Date: Thursday, 03 Jul 2014 20:30

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Ben Lerner’s new novel, “10:04,” which comes out in September, holds up his fiction to his meta-fiction—or just abandons the pretense of fiction, depending on how seriously you take jacket copy. Lerner is still identifying and tagging the clock-stopping epiphanies he can’t seem to escape. His emotional attention to events is military grade, strong enough to render a hairline crack of the psyche in fat strokes. Those events include selling a story to this magazine and then using the paycheck from that to help inseminate his best friend. If neurosis writ small and fraught sperm don’t say beach reading, what does?

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Author: "The New Yorker" Tags: "What We're Reading, books, reading"
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