What David Foster Wallace Read

Filed under: The Writing Life — joy at 10:16 am on Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The archive of David Foster Wallace is now open at the Harry Ransom Center at University of Texas at Austin. From the press release:

The collection is made up of 34 boxes and is divided into three main sections: works, personal and career-related materials and copies of works by Don DeLillo. The works section covers the period between 1984 and 2006 and includes material related to Wallace’s novels, short stories, essays and magazine articles.

Among the things you can view online, there’s a handwritten page of a draft of Infinite Jest, a sampling of Wallace’s teaching material, and most interesting to me, an inventory of the books from Wallace’s personal library. You can scroll through and get an idea of what he liked to read. There is a lot of Don DeLillo, for example, and a lot of psychology books.

Jacqueline Muñoz, the librarian at the Ransom Center who cataloged the 300-some books says, “Of the more than 300 titles in his collection, there are maybe 10 or 15 that are not annotated—not simply with underlined passages but ample and personally revealing margin notes.”

Looking through the list of books, I wrote down 12 titles I would like to read. Not because I want to be like Wallace, or something, but because they look like rad books. You should check it out. (Via HTMLGiant)

Sylvia Plath Speaking On Why She Lived In England

Filed under: The Writing Life — joy at 9:45 am on Tuesday, May 4, 2010

sylvia plath on why she lives in england spoken word listen mp3

Sylvia Plath would hate how people see her today. Like other iconic figures–Marilyn Monroe comes to mind–people don’t see the person she was but the things she symbolizes for them. Monroe is the poster for a sexually desirable woman, Plath is the poster for the tortured suicidal artist girl. But Plath wasn’t like that at all. Mental health issues aside, Plath was brilliant, hardworking, and very funny. The tragedy of Sylvia Plath is that she cut off her life right when she was starting to reap the fruit of all the labor she had put in during her teens and 20s by writing poem after short story after poem. She did not have a flash of genius, write her last poems, and then, with nothing else to say, kill herself. Instead, at age 30 Plath was finally coming into her own as an artist, and she didn’t stick around long enough for anyone to see what would come of it. We get a taste of her artistic maturity in poems like “Daddy,” but it’s just a taste–imagine what would have come later if she had lived. In the writing sense of things, Plath’s suicide is like cutting down a rose bush that is loaded with buds just about to open.

And that is sad. But I would like us to move away from seeing Sylvia Plath as some sort of emo goth-girl abandoned-wife victim, and instead try to understand what a brilliant, interesting woman she was. And that brings me to my latest toy: Sylvia Plath (Spoken Word), which has just been released by the British Library. It’s not available in the U.S. until July 15th, but no matter, you can order it from Amazon U.K. just fine. They don’t even charge you exorbitant shipping rates.

Recordings of Plath reading her poems have been around for awhile now–here’s Plath reading “Daddy,” for example–but Sylvia Plath (Spoken Word) is way more awesome than that. It includes an interview of Plath and Ted Hughes on their marriage, readings of lots of poems I hadn’t heard before, a review of a poetry anthology by Plath, and best of all, a short gem of a track where Plath talks about England.

She was part of a program called “What Made You Stay?,” where seven Americans were asked why they chose to live in England. Plath’s answer is delightful and sharp. In 7 minutes, she touches on her literary geekdom, how perplexing she found the British beaches, why she wants to raise her children in England, and how much she loves English butcher shops before launching into a funny story about an eccentric British woman. It shows more about her character and personality than most of the literary information about her that you can find.

And how could I set that up and not give you a sampling? So go ahead and listen to Sylvia Plath talk about why she lived in England here. Click to listen or right click on the link to download.

Word of Encouragement: Reading is on the rise

Filed under: The Writing Life — marcia at 8:01 pm on Monday, January 12, 2009

In addition to dramatic stories bemoaning the economic downturn, recession, depression or whatever its currently called, the number of stories about the “death” of the publishing industry in general and literary publishing in particular rose exponentially. Well, it’s just not as bad as all that.

A study by the National Endowment for the Arts shows that the percentage of adults engaging in “literary” reading has gone up since 2002. Even better, the age group that increased most dramatically (18-24 year olds) is the group that previously showed the biggest decline. Youth is the future, and all that.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows: The number is lower than it was in 1992, and it’s only about half the nation’s adult population. (Really? Half of U.S. adults haven’t read one single book, short story or poem in the last 12 months???) But in a time when the media and publishing industry alike seemed allergic to anything even remotely resembling optimism, it’s good to hear something besides gloom and doom.

By 2012, let’s get that percentage up even higher than it was in 1992!!


Deconstructing the tragedy-helps-me-with-neuroses novel

Filed under: The Writing Life — marcia at 1:10 am on Friday, December 12, 2008

Anya Ulinich wrote a short story that one New York magazine critic says is ““entire work of fiction [written] with the sole purpose of a barely disguised personal attack on Jonathan Safran Foer.” Ulinich disagress.

Here is a passage from the story that elicited the theory:

Your characters are monsters who fashion heaps of bones into tiny missing pieces of themselves.

You can read the story here.

What do you think?

via Maud Newton

To listen to later: What makes a good lit blog

Filed under: The Writing Life — marcia at 10:49 am on Monday, June 2, 2008

Frank Wilson has been reviewing books professionally since October, 1964. For most of the past decade he was Books Editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer… He retired recently. About five years ago he started blogging at Books Inq

You can hear an interview with Wilson here.

I don’t know how I feel about this

Filed under: The Writing Life — marcia at 10:40 am on Saturday, April 26, 2008

Vladimir Nabokov’s son says he will publish his father’s unfinished work “The Original of Laura” rather than destroying it. Since Nabokov’s death in 1977, his son Dmitri has been torn about whether he should follow his father’s last wishes and destroy the novel or share the work of a great 20th-century novelist with the world. Now in his 70s, Dmitri says his father would want him to stop suffering and go ahead and publish it.
As a writer, it makes me itchy to think that work that I didn’t think was ready for publication would be published before I was done with it. On the other hand, I am alive and not a world-famous author of significant literature.

My scholarly interest and personal itchiness are at odds in this case. Even with the context, will this unfinished novel diminish the other works he toiled to perfect? Do historical figures lose their right to control their legacies?

Current temperature: I’m not going to read it … until eventually curiosity takes over and I do.


via Guardian Unlimited

We Like Literary Rejections on Display

Filed under: The Writing Life — marcia at 9:00 am on Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rejection is a part of writing. (Well, it is unless you don’t try to get your writing published.) However, it’s a part of writing that a lot of us don’t talk about with each other. It can be humiliating, demoralizing and sad. Or it can be funny.

On Literary Rejections on Display, one writer shared some (surely modified) excerpts from rejections he received for his novels. Some of my favorites:

we think there are too many “fucks” in this book
we are tired of publishing books about the Holocaust
we are looking for books that teach people how to improve their lives
we think your book would make the readers suffer
we think your book needs a happy ending
we think nobody gives a shit about the lives of farmers in Southern France


Journaling for people who hate journaling

Filed under: The Writing Life — marcia at 11:46 pm on Tuesday, August 14, 2007

There is something intimidating and off-putting about writing in a journal for me. I am a type to get obsessed with how nice the book of paper looks and whether or not I am using a good pen or crossing things out and making the page look ugly. Also, I begin to focus on what the point of it is if it’s stuff in my brain I don’t know what to do with or don’t care to do anything with — which is often the case for journaling. I am not the type to want a record of my own thoughts for its own sake.

Gretchen Rubin posted about her one-sentence journal — just a series of single sentences, not too scary. She added to that with another idea suggested by a reader: a while-people-are-boarding-the-plane journal.
There are many moments in our lives where we could jot down some ideas or thoughts, but don’t. For people like me who have a hard time with the concept of a traditional journal, a running notebook with ideas and stray sentences could work better … as long as it wasn’t some bossy thing I always had to write in. I do what I want.
For instance a “journal” filled with random thoughts from when I was:

  • Waiting at the DMV, dentist/doctor office or mechanic
  • Watching something on TV because I was bored
  • Waiting for someone else to get out of the shower
  • Doing laundry at the Laundromat
  • Having trouble sleeping because of a cold or flu
  • Doing anything else that doesn’t require my attention