Brief review of Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes: “In her new book, she argues that 1898, the year the United States annexed Hawaii, was perhaps the most significant in American history. It was the year the country officially became a colonial power, a charge led by Theodore Roosevelt, who, she writes, ‘pined for these [island] bases for years the way a normal man envisions his dream house. All [he] ever wanted was a cozy little global empire with a few islands here and there to park a fleet of battleships.'”
Archive for the Writers Category
Next Wednesday, Deborah Blum, Michael Perry, and J.C. Hallman will be discussing the art of nonfiction storytelling at the Open Book Center in Minneapolis. There is a reception, with wine and cheese, at 7 pm, followed by Panel Discussion at 7:30, and a book signing after the event. Admission: $10, $5 for Loft/American Society of Journalists & Authors members, and students.
The future of publishing may be in flux, but one thing remains constant: There will always be a need for writers who can tell a good story. This panel brings together three master storytellers to discuss their craft and to examine the role of narrative journalism in the 21st century.
Deborah Blum is a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and the author of four books including her latest, The Poisoner’s Handbook. She has written for The New York Times, Slate, The Wall Street Journal The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Discover, Science News, and New Scientist. She has appeared as a guest on The Today show, Good Morning America, and NPR’s This American Life, Morning Edition, and Talk of the Nation/Science Friday. (deborahblum.com)
Michael Perry is a humorist and author of the bestselling memoirs Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time, Truck: A Love Story and Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting, as well as the essay collection Off Main Street. Perry has written for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Outside, Backpacker, Orion and Salon.com, and is a contributing editor to Men’s Health. His stories have appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007, the Oxford American Book of Great Music Writing and other anthologies. (www.sneezingcow.com)
J.C. Hallman is the author of three books of literary journalism, In Utopia, The Chess Artist, and The Devil is a Gentleman, and a book of stories, The Hospital for Bad Poets. As a journalist, he has interviewed a tyrant, attended satanic rituals, joined Scientology, lived at communes, dissected heads, and sailed on the world’s first residential cruise ship. His stories have appeared in the Best American Travel Writing and other anthologies. (www.jchallman.com)
Sponsored by The Loft Literary Center, the ASJA Educational Foundation and the Upper Midwest chapter of the American Society of Journalists & Authors
The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40,” Umberto Eco on the power of lists, and how to navigate a million books a yearPosted in America, Books, Clips, Writers on December 27, 2010 by frankbures
Last summer, The New Yorker made the announcement that sent shock waves through the ranks of youngish American writers: It had decided who the 20 best of them under 40 were (though it carefully avoided the word “best”). The list did indeed include some of the most formidable writers of their generation: Wells Tower, Daniel Alarcon, Rivka Galchen, and many others, and their stories have now been collected in a new anthology, “20 Under 40: Stories from The New Yorker.”
Needless to say, in the cloistered hothouse of the writing world, the list caused a mix of panic (existential and aesthetic), celebration (fiction matters!) and sour grapes (a record harvest).
But amid backlash came a procession of alternative lists: 20 more under 40, 10 over 80, 41 over 40, and so on, while others cataloged the most overrated writers, the most underrated writers, etc. The New York Times summed up the reaction with the headline: “20 Younger Writers Earn the Envy of Many Others.” Gawker.com posted a primer on how to complain about the list, “without looking jealous and bitter.”
Why all the fuss?
“[P]robably each generation has different things that force the generation to grow up. Maybe for our grandparents it was World War Two. You know? For us, it’s going to be that, at a certain point, we’re either going to have to put away childish things and discipline ourself about, ‘How much time do I spend being passively entertained, and how much time to I spend doing stuff that isn’t all that much fun minute by minute, but that builds certain muscles in me as a grown-up and a human being?’”
David Foster Wallace, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself
At some point while I was reading V.S. Naipaul’s new book, The Masque of Africa, it became hard not to picture the venerable Nobel Prize winner in a pith helmet and khakis, doddering around the continent looking for bits of religious trivia he could take home and put on his mantel. This was not, of course, his stated purpose, which was, instead, to investigate the current state of “belief” in Africa, and to see how the modern world is intermingling with the older one on which it rests.
To this end, Naipaul travels to Uganda, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Gabon and South Africa, an impressive itinerary for the nearly 80-year-old. Along the way, he spends time with witch doctors, politicians, businessmen, professors and the like, all the while peppering them with questions about their rituals and religions and historical events.
Those events are something in which Naipaul is steeped: The writings of Mungo Park, John Hanning Speke, Henry Morton Stanley and others who first wrote about the continent. In a way, this is refreshing since that context is sometimes lacking in writing about Africa. But in the end, Naipaul seems perhaps too steeped in it…
There are some stories, some pieces of writing, that stay with you forever. You remember where you were when you finished them. They change something deep inside you. You get so lost in them that when you reemerge into the world, you feel like you might have become a little different person. That’s how I’ve always felt about Meghan Daum’s essays, particularly the ones collected in her book, My Misspent Youth, and that’s why I jumped at the chance to profile her for Poets & Writers Magazine, a story which appears in the issue that’s on stands now. Daum has had quite a circuitous route to Los Angles, via Nebraska, since her famous farewell to New York City, and much of that journey is chronicled in her great new book, Life Would be Perfect If I Lived In That House. More about her story as a writer is chronicled in my profile of Daum, who is now a columnist for the L.A. Times, who still writes at the top of her game and who has settled, for the moment, in California.