New fiction from Dan Friedman. A fixture in postwar Paris, M. Blanc left only these letters behind. The Complete Letters of M. Blanc is an epistolary novella with echoes of Borges and a Nabokovian flair. $2.99. To buy the e-book (and learn more about its publisher, Dutch Kills Press), click here.
Amy Park is a visual artist who draws inspiration from architecture. Her e-book, A Short History of Modernist Architecture and Interiors, is a fascinating collection of 36 pen and ink drawings. To buy the book (and learn more about its publisher, Dutch Kills Press), click here.
Video: “How do peasants die?” On the life and death of Tolstoy, famous vegetarian.
I love me some novels and short stories. But I am particularly attracted to novellas. (Here’s mine! Buy them!) I was reminded of this after re-reading one that blew me away (see #20). So I thought I’d revisit my own list.
Again, this is not intended to be a definitive list and it’s in no particular order, save for # 1, which you should read (or-read) immediately. Okay, novellas. Here goes:
1. Death of Ivan Illyich, Leo Tolstoy
The best novella ever, if not the high point of world literature.
2. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
When reading “The Trial” to his buddy Max Brod, Kafka laughed his ass off. Read “The Metamorphosis” again and think of Kafka laughing.
3. What Kind of Day Did You Have, Saul Bellow Immensely rewarding and bristling with life. A portrait of an aging “intellectual captain” and his clumsy, appealing mistress.
4. Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville Weird, brilliant, prescient and also surprisingly funny.
5. Death in Venice, Thomas Mann
6. Animal Farm, George Orwell Many people will disagree about this one because they associate it with high school. Read it again.
7. The Gambler, Fyodor Dostoyevsky Ah, Fedya. If only you always wrote this short.
8. Notes from the Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky See #7.
9. Daisy Miller, Henry James Ah, Henry. If only you always wrote this short.
10. War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells Wonderfully imaginative and a fast read.
11. The Dead, James Joyce I read this so long ago that I can’t remember a thing about it, but it’s James Joyce, so it has to be here.
12. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez If you haven’t read this, shame on you.
13. No One Writes to the Colonel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Simultaneously fascinating and frightening.
14. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich This one made a strong impression on me in high school.
15. Billy Budd, Herman Melville
Fills the reader with a kind of epic futility.
16. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway Ludicrous dialogue: “I fear both the Tigers of Detroit and the Indians of Cleveland.” But a great story nevertheless.
17. The Aspern Papers, Henry James Astonishing to say this about anything by him, but: it’s fun.
18. Goodbye Columbus, Philip Roth Dissecting the foibles and petty snobbery of suburban Jews. It pissed off almost everyone in my parents’ generation, so I was almost obliged to love it.
19. Him With His Foot in His Mouth, Saul Bellow Actually the collection of that name is my favorite book.
20. A Love Child, Doris Lessing I find this story absolutely brilliant and truly frightening. In fact, I’m going to read it again as soon as I am done with this post.
Bonus: Three Famous Ones That I Have Mixed Feelings About
1. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad The first time I read this (in my lonely apartment in Warsaw) I thought it was genius. The second time I picked it up, I couldn’t get past page 8.
2. The Turn of the Screw,Henry James I have tried and failed to read this story more times than I can remember.
3. Seize the Day,Saul Bellow Marvelous writing, but not nearly as affecting as it thinks it is.
We should introduce this guy to Eraserhead. Photo by Drew Coffman, via Flickr.
(N.B. I originally posted this last year; reposting and sticking it at the top of my blog to remember that there is a way to navigate the ridiculousness of writing with dignity and integrity.)
1. I will use social media wisely. If I have work to share, I will share it. But I will never blog/tweet/Facebook about how hard writing is or how many words I wrote today. Nobody cares! And every time I get caught humblebragging (“I am overwhelmed by all the talent here at Yaddo!”) I will donate $10 to PEN.
2. I will not be a dick. Given the following conditions, I will always help other writers: (a) the other writer is deserving of help, that is, not a dick and talented; (b) the request is reasonable; and (c) the request does not greatly infringe upon my own time.
3. I will not surrender my autonomy to gatekeepers. I will not wait around for some magic agent or editor to magically make my career magical, especially when I can be writing, submitting and networking for myself. Nor will I ever (and this is really important) assume that anyone in the publishing business will put my needs above his or her own.
4. I will learn how to say no. I will politely decline unpleasant social obligations whenever possible, especially if they interfere with my writing schedule.
5. I will learn how to say yes. Like most writers, I have a day job. So I don’t have much time. However, I will still allow time for rewarding relationships (friends, family, etc.). I will just be clear about my boundaries.
6. I will stay off the Internet when I’m writing. No more, “I’ll just look this up quickly for research.” If necessary, I will download Internet blocking software or take pen and paper to the park.
7. I will value my work. I will not write for “exposure.” I will write for money. If there are exceptions, they will be exceptions that I can live with, for example if it’s a short story that I’m happy to get off my desk, or I have something to promote.
8. I will keep to a schedule. I will write regularly, even when I don’t have a lot of time, for two reasons: (a) so I can actually get some work done; and (b) so that I don’t always feel like I should be writing. If all I have is my lunch hour, that’s fine, because a few weeks of lunch hours will add up to a draft of a short story or a couple of poems. And then when I’m not writing I can be fully present for my kids or friends or significant other.
9. I will strive for graciousness. “Envy is the central fact of American life,” wrote Gore Vidal. But I will not make it the central fact of my life. The best way to avoid the corrosive effects of envy is, counter-intuitively, to accept it: “I am feeling really envious right now, and that’s fine.” I will try to be outwardly gracious and share the truly venomous feelings only with my journal or my best friend or my spouse. I will also remember that it is possible to feel happy for people.
10. I will value myself. I am not worthless because [check whichever applies:] I haven’t yet published. Because I haven’t been paid for a story. Because I don’t have a book. Because my book didn’t go into paperback or it’s not a bestseller or I didn’t sell the movie rights and so on. I will acknowledge and accept my disappointment. But I will try not let it reinforce a sense of worthlessness. I will instead earn my self-worth through self-discipline and sustaining healthy relationships.
Think of the poor suffering children with no access to the Internet.
Keep a caged hungry ferret next to your laptop, and whenever you’re tempted to read a listicle, stick your hand in the cage.
If you’re a conservative, tell yourself that every time you read a listicle, Al Gore gets a dollar.
If you’re a liberal, tell yourself that every time you read a listicle, a Koch brother gets a dollar.
Remember that whenever you waste time reading listicles, God sheds a tear, as you could be using that time to reach your full potential or more importantly to help others.
Remember that there is no God, and whenever you waste time reading listicles, you waste precious seconds of the only life you will ever have (see #1).
Remind yourself that “listicle” sounds a little like “fistula.”
Think of a time when you did something that you truly regret, like hurting an innocent or lying for no good reason, and then remember that Judaism teaches that true forgiveness is only possible when the victim grants it, and then consider calling the person whom you’ve wronged and apologizing, and then remember that the time you’ve spent thinking about sin and redemption is time not spent on listicles.
Successful people will usually be working instead of mountain climbing. Photo: _T604
Many people have asked me how I got so successful.
“Gordon,” they say. “How did you get so much of the success?”
The first thing I tell them is that behind every good man there is a good woman with a better job.
The second thing I tell them is that success is less about what you do than what you don‘t do. So here’s a list of things that I never do, especially not on Monday mornings when I have deadlines and I shouldn’t be dicking around on my blog.
On Monday morning, I never look up more successful people on the Internet and send them tiny psychic daggers of hate.
On Monday morning, you will not find me eating last night’s leftover vanilla pudding.
On Monday morning, I never have to take an hour to wade through the ridiculous number of tasks that I have been putting off while looking at guitars online, excuse me I mean not looking at guitars online.
On Monday morning, you will not find me perusing inspirational Twitter hashtags and shaking my head in contempt at those urging me to “stretch my limits” and “chase my dreams,” because I am disturbed by how Americans believe that everything can be solved by working harder, as opposed to accepting that everyone, successful or not, would be much more at ease if they simply allowed themselves to be who they are in the moment, whether it be happy or miserable or excited or sad.
– 10. On Monday morning, I do not allow myself to do half-assed work and I finish everything that I started.
Because they were trying to anticipate what the reviewers would say and have me rewrite the book accordingly, which, I can tell you as a fiction writer and a book reviewer, is a waste of time.
Because they wanted me to make changes to satisfy the marketing people.
Because I was repeatedly asked, “Why do so many people die in this book?”
Because I’d then have to repeatedly reply, “It’s about the apocalypse.”
Because the editor didn’t understand that his role was to help me write my book, not the book that he would have written if he had come up with my premise.
Because the editor’s comments about the book became increasingly confusing, even about changes that I had made directly due to his comments on a previous draft.
Because they told me that the book was sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic, believing, I suppose, that a bigoted character means advocating for bigotry.
Because I made a specific verbal agreement with the head of the company that he rescinded without hesitation or regret.
Because when I called him out on it he suggested that I was naïve about business, and in a way he was right, as I hadn’t realized that he was the sort of person from whom you need everything in writing.
Because although it is understandable when business folks try to protect their investment, success in literary fiction is ultimately a matter of taste and guesswork and not a matter of trying to anticipate the desires of the marketplace.
Because they threatened to drop the book unless I made it into the book that the editor thought it should be even after the head of the company and I had agreed that it should be the book that I thought it should be (see #8).
Because they had threatened to drop the book before, and they were doing it now, which meant that they would do it again, and I’d had enough.
Noting the hypocritical silence of those who only care about Palestinians when they are harmed by Israelis, which, while being a trenchant observation, makes you look petty if it’s your only reaction to epic suffering