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« Chicago vs. New York | Main | A New Sarah Susanka Book »

June 16, 2004

Book Elsewhere

Dear Vanessa --

* Is it unjust to bitch about how ingrown current American lit-writing can be? Those who think so might want to take a look at this amusing piece here for the Guardian by Katharine Viner, who was one of the judges for this year's Orange Prize. Like the other judges, Viner read 46 candidate books in six weeks -- heavens! Where's the discussion about how that kind of pressure might affect one's reading pleasure, let alone one's judgment about which books are best?

Anyway, what did Viner find the low points of her read-a-thon to be?

One was when I had a run of books about nothing. These were usually by authors from the US, who have attended prestigious creative writing courses, often at the University of Iowa. They are books with 500 pages discussing a subtle but allegedly profound shift within a relationship. They are books where intricate descriptions of a man taking a glass out of the dishwasher, taking a tea-towel off a rail, opening out the tea-towel, then delicately drying the glass with the tea-towel, before pouring a drink into the glass, signify that he has just been through a divorce.

In other words: quit trying to impress your writing-workshop buddies with your exquisite sentence-making, and get on with the story, please.

* Many thanks to Doug Sundseth, who passed along a link to this funny Tedi Trindle piece entitled "How to Write A Literary Novel," here.

* A few years ago, having gotten it into my head that I might enjoy composing short verbal things that rhymed, I signed up for an intro-to-poetry-writing class. What a surprise it turned out to be. I'd expected to be given a down-to-earth introduction to poetry writing, and I was looking forward to being drilled in simple poetic forms. First we'd master limericks, then we'd take on the sonnet! Instead, we were given a small set of tricks, er, tools and then hustled into taking part in a truly bizarre activity: concocting prose poems and arranging them in ways that made them look like poetry. (I'm told that this is what the standard-issue intro-to-poetry-writing course has become in this country.) I had the strong impression that I was far from alone in being horrified by the unhelpful nonsense we were being sold.

I and my fellow malcontents would probably have been happier attending the West Chester Poetry Writing conference, which was organized ten years ago by the poet (and current NEA head) Dana Gioa and a fine-press printer named Michael Piech. The program is devoted to poetry in its form-and-narrative aspects, and this year's edition just wrapped. Here's the conference's website. Here's Mike Snider's preliminary report from the Conference. Some time back, I did an interview with Mike, who's a terrific poet and blogger; part one can be read here, and part two is here. Here's a good Christian Science Monitor blog posting about how horribly poets often treat each other.

* The brilliant Donald Westlake has posted five sci-fi stories that he wrote in the 1980s for Playboy here.

* It's been the dream of many: to install book-printing-and-binding machines right inside bookstores. The idea is that such machines would extend the bookstore's offerings to infinity, by printing from electronic files accessed online or taken off a customer's personal CD-ROM. A few efforts have been made in this direction, and the print-on-demand business has become semi-established in the last six or seven years. When will printing-and-binding machines actually start appearing in everyday bookstores, though? In the NYTimes, Eric Taub writes about a new in-store printing effort here.

* In my recent posting about how books may be changing, I mentioned Richard Lanham, whose "The Electronic Word" I've found stimulating and helpful. I just turned up a few online Lanham resources that the curious may enjoy. Here's his own website; if you follow pointers to his lectures and articles, you'll run into two especially good ones, "The Economics of Attention" and "Digital Literacy." Here's a good q&a with Lanham.



posted by Michael at June 16, 2004


For the best - and for me the only - guide to writing real poetry (ie metrical writing)look at 'The Poets Handbook' by Judson Jerome. It still sits on a shelf by my desk and I don't even write poetry anymore. It is good for understanding what is going on too when you read poetry - anything from Shakespeare to Ginsberg

Posted by: Ian on June 17, 2004 04:28 PM

Thanks for the kind words, Michael. That's pretty good company you put me in.

Ian, Jerome's fun, but he gets a lot of technical things wrong. Tim Steele's All the Fun's in How You Say a Thing is far and away the the best book on metrical practice in English. The focus is on the pentameter, but the other meters get a good look, too.

Posted by: Michael Snider on June 17, 2004 06:29 PM

Everybody hates criticism, but I really must suggest that you stop using the word "here" to link everything. It's better when everything flows.

Posted by: me oh my on June 17, 2004 10:42 PM

Thanks - I will follow that up. I was referred to Jerome by a practicing poet but had (and have) no real way of checking his technical skill.

Posted by: Ian on June 18, 2004 12:50 PM

I respectfully disagree, me oh my. The task of having everything flow quickly becomes a nightmare when one makes as many links as the Blowhards do. Consider what happens when someone writing dialog decides to use the word said only once per chapter for variety. I'd say KISS is the rule for links.

Posted by: j.c. on June 18, 2004 03:31 PM

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