The Blog

Rule of 50 for dropping a bad book

Russell Valentino

There's a way in Russian of saying that you've read something without specifying that you've completed it. Think about how nice a distinction that would be to have at one's fingertips! Did you read that book? Yes, I did. (Da, chital, which, I suppose, if you want to get technical, would mean something like, "Yes, I engaged in the activity of reading," without particular reference to one stage of it or another, especially its completion.) Would being able to say that to others and to oneself make it any easier to stop reading something before the end, I wonder? I've often been surprised at the--sometimes quite elaborate--rules people come up with for how much of a book or essay or story they are allowed to read before moving on to something else. Allowed by whom?

News from Saint James

Russell Valentino

A happy new year to all! We've got mail from Saint James Harris Wood, our McGinnis Award winner from 2010 (just announced in the December issue), which I know some of you will be especially pleased to hear. Why I know this is that he tells us in his handwritten note -- his typewriter's on the fritz -- that he's been getting your letters, which he says is "unusual" and: "Something as good as this probably means bad luck for a while, but that's fine." He also notes that the latter half of 2010 was especially good to him, with our prize and an unnamed small press that has agreed to publish his collection of "rabble letters" (of which we published just five little gems): I wonder whether they'll include us, his humble pen pals. If you haven't taken a look, the five are in our August issue -- hope you can find a copy.

Tim Johnston's IRISH GIRL

Sara Jaffe

Like music, stories have dynamics. There are the louder and the softer moments, the crescendos and the rests, and the author achieves these expressive elements through a careful mix of tone, language, and plot elements. It’s difficult, in literature, to pull off an abrupt dynamic shift—unlike, say, in rock music, where it can be enough for the Pixies to launch from a whispered verse to a chorus’s gut-rupturing yell. Much literature thrives, rather, on dynamic tension, on elevating “quiet,” mundane events, to an unexpected forte, and on the containing of the louder moments of human existence—murder, betrayal, loss, violence—within focused, poetically precise language.

Ann Pancake’s STRANGE AS THIS WEATHER HAS BEEN

Jeremy B. Jones

In college—my first extended time away from home—I found myself suddenly caught up in the phrase, “in the mountains.” When I’d try to tell people where I was from, I’d finally offer an explanation: back in the mountains. It was the preposition that struck me. I wasn’t from on a mountain. I didn’t exist upon them or around them, behind or in front. I lived in—inside—those mountains.

Moving the Furniture in his Brain: An Interview with Thomas Pletzinger and Ross Benjamin

Diana Thow

Thomas Pletzinger’s debut novel Funeral for a Dog (Norton, 2011), translated from the German by Ross Benjamin, is an expansive, lyrical double portrait of two writers: the journalist Daniel Mandelkern and the elusive children’s book author Dirk Svensson, whom Mandelkern travels to  interview at Svensson’s home on Lago di Lugano. To answer the novel’s initial questions—Who exactly is Daniel Mandelkern? Who exactly  is Dirk Svensson?— we cross three continents and navigate five languages; we spend time on a basketball court in New York City’s West Village, in a motorboat hovering over the deepest, quietest part of Lago di Lugano, and at a cockfight in Sao Paolo, where the winning bird is named William Wordsworth.

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