Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Up to my ears in nonfiction. Literally, if I could stack this all in one tower, not to mention the other books I already returned to the library, I think it would go up to my ears.
Putting together my nonfiction workshop, I've been reading nothing but. I'm really into it.

• I like Dorothy Allison's essays better than her short stories.

• I love James Baldwin's fiction, and I have discovered I like his essays just as much and maybe more. Here's what he says about writers, in "Alas, Poor Richard": is extremely difficult to deal with writers as people. Writers are said to be extremely egotistical and demanding and they are indeed, but that does not distinguish them from anyone else. What distinguishes them is what James once described as a kind of "holy stupidity." The writer's greed is appalling. He wants, or seems to want, everything and practically everybody; in another sense, and at the same time, he needs no one at all; and families, friends, and lovers find this extremely hard to take.
• The New Kings of Nonfiction, edited by Ira Glass, is a disappointment. For one thing they weren't kidding when they said "Kings"--all but two of the contributors are dudes. (And the one Susan Orlean piece is a meticulous character study of a ten-year-old boy.) Maybe I'm just an impatient reader when I'm panning for teachable gold--but I'll more likely assign segments from the radio show.

• I've long held a candle for Jo Ann Beard's stunning essay "Undertaker, Please Drive Slow," which originally appeared in Tin House and is now anthologized in their nonfiction reader Cooking and Stealing; now I have also read "Werner," which appears in Best American Essays 2007 (ed. DFW) and that too has blown my mind. I was literally balled up on the edge of my seat with bated breath as I read it; and then, well, you just have to right now read "The Fourth State of Matter," available in full here on the NY-er, which is about a lot of things, but crucially, about the unwittingly life-changing decision to leave work early one day. Unbelievable, I want to rave, incredible, but those words are the opposite of her stories' flesh-and-blood truth.

What she's doing with this fusion of other people's stories and her own imagination is pretty astounding. It's the kind of thing where I can't wait to get to that point in the syllabus so my students can experience it.

• I am hard-pressed to name a single literary anthology that does not contain Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl." On hand I have no fewer than six.

This is what it looks like if I lay my head on the table. Which just maybe I sometimes have to do.

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