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« Quote of the Day | Main | Buy it, Henry! »

September 22, 2008

Good Reading / Good Writing

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Gil Roth has been working his way through a lot of Montaigne, the 16th century Frenchman who's often said to be the inventor of the personal essay. (Learn more here.) Here's Gil's latest encounter with the genius. I'm a big Montaigne fan myself, though Gil has got me feeling embarrassed about how little of the master's work I've actually read. Long ago I wrote an intro to the mindblowing philosopher Stephen Toulmin. Montaigne is one of Toulmin's heroes too.

* Gil points out a fab Kassia Krozser blogposting about the book publishing business. One of Kassia's points is that the people most likely to bemoan the end of books are literary people. Great quote: "Don’t insult the readers, man. It’s just bad form, and you really, really need people to buy your books." Say it, sister. More:

Publishing, like the rest of its entertainment brethren (and I understand that even thinking they’re part of entertainment world pains some in the industry. Get. Over. Yourselves. Thanks.), caters to a diverse audience. Those who see the sky falling are those who see their niches not performing. In part because those niches never were as big and profitable as legend suggested.

Why are so many literary people such a pinched and depressive bunch? Back here I compared books people (often introverted, solitary, and high-minded) with movie people (usually extraverted, sociable, and opportunistic).

* Don't let this get around, but: Good writing -- even of a belles-lettres sort -- has never always come wrapped in a pretty highbrow-magazine or prestigious-book-publisher cover. These days especially I'm stumbling into high-quality writing in all kinds of crazy places. One example: If you have a taste for smart and shrewd artsyak, why not treat yourself to a browse of the Amazon reader and viewer reviews written by Ivy Lin. Ivy is an opera, a ballet, and a classic-film buff, but her discussions of these works and performances are anything but stuffy -- they're alive, informed, perceptive, appreciative and funny. I'm not sure I'd dub her a "critic," exactly -- but who cares about that? Ivy makes you want to join her at a performance and then blab with her about it afterwards. Coming from an enthusiastic artsyakker like me, that's intended as totally high praise. Back here I wrote a few words about that perpetually good topic, critics vs. bloggers.

* Scientists are starting to pay attention to the very real miracle that is narrative storytelling. Back here I riffed through the work of some fab thinkers who are 'way ahead of the scientists on this one. Neuroscience and evolutionary biology finally show some re-spect for the basics of audience involvement and narrative suspense, baby -- and it's about effin' time.



posted by Michael at September 22, 2008


It's a bit much to ask that people involved in a draining, isolating activity be fun folks. It's more the rule than the exception that writers become periodically cranky/worn out. What sustains them? The just as periodic realization that nothing gets as close to IT as a sustained piece of writing at its best. The novel still is Kazin's bright book of life. Razzmatazz technology hasn't rendered it obsolete. The word was and the word is. Still.

Gad, what a pure blowhard I am.

Posted by: ricpic on September 22, 2008 7:45 PM

That *is* a good piece of blowharding!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 23, 2008 3:52 AM

Montaigne may be a Top Chap, but I find that when I read in French (i) the necessary concentration on grammar and vocabulary may dilute the message, and (ii) I suspect that I overlook some subtlety and allusion. But if I read in translation, can I be confident that subtlety has translated well? And presumably I still miss the allusions because my knowledge of the rest of French literature hasn't magically improved. In anything of that age, in French or English, I suspect that I will miss lots of allusions to the Classics and the Bible, my knowledge of which is decidely skimpy. It's a bugger and no mistake.

Posted by: dearieme on September 23, 2008 9:00 AM

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