Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday night miscellany

Closing tabs:

Pankaj Mishra is unforthcoming at the FT on Susan Sontag (site registration required), to an extent that caused me to look up his earlier review and find it also somewhat withholding.  I must confess that I am vaguely negative on Sontag; her abuse of her personal charisma (or at any rate the way that it distorted her ongoing intellectual development) is unattractive to me, and the only book of hers I can say really had a deep influence on me was Illness as Metaphor, which I read when I was quite young (14, 15?) and which along with Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory, which I read around the same time, opened up to me a vision of the sort of book I might want to write.

Maud Newton interviews Alison Bechdel about Are You My Mother?, which I must acquire as soon as possible.  Here's the bit that most interested me (more details in Judith Thurman's New Yorker piece, unfortunately not available online - and I left my copy in the seat pocket on the plane, so I can't retype the relevant bit):
I do write first, but my writing is very drawing-based. I actually write in a drawing application, in Adobe Illustrator. So I'm not just writing in a word processing program, I'm creating these panels on the page and I create little text boxes for the narration or dialogue and I'm able to move that stuff all around. I'm thinking about the page as a two-dimensional field as I write, which feels to me like a kind of drawing even though I'm not drawing with a pencil or not drawing much. I will do occasional sketches. So that takes a really, really long time and that's how I get the whole story mapped out. If you saw the pages at that point, it would be just blank boxes with the text and the dialogue, with the narration and the dialogue and maybe a few images dragged in here and there.
Super-librarian Dave Lull already left this link in the comments, but the opening chapter of Edward St. Aubyn's latest is a must-read.

Miscellaneous light reading around the extremely frayed edges:

Sherwood Smith's Banner of the Damned, which I found appealing but also frustrating (Smith is one of the most hugely talented fantasy novelists of her or indeed any other generation, and yet she writes books so idiosyncratically that it hugely limits enjoyment and readership - in many respects this is much better than George R. R. Martin, only I thoroughly see why his books have reached a much wider audience and hers have internal constraints that will prevent them from doing so).  Cannot imagine that I or, really, anyone else will ever teach such a class, but it would make a very interesting student assignment in a novel-writing class oriented towards epic storytelling and fantasy: it is such an unusual mix of the remarkable and the perverse in terms of storytelling virtues and vices.

Anthony Neil Smith's depressing and mesmerizing All the Young Warriors, which I highly recommend (it will thoroughly depend on your own reading preferences whether you will read either Smith or perhaps neither).

And now I am going to go and consume brain candy in the form of the second half of Robert Crais's Taken....


  1. The St. Aubyn book isn't as good as the first three in the series, but that's a high bar--it's still very good, and if you've read the first four books, it's incredibly moving to see Patrick Melrose finally winning through to some moderate peace. I'm so glad that this book has finally been published over here and that it's brought the whole series such major attention (and impressive sales).

  2. I read the Bechdel a few weeks and thought it was great, although it was a little too convoluted. Not as good as Fun Home, but still good.

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