The Pop issue has landed! With new stories from Jess Taylor, Rea McNamara and Stephen Thomas, essays from Sara Black McCulloch and Spencer Gordon, art from Alicia Nauta, photos from Elissa Pearl Matthews and a photo essay by Christine Kwan, captioned by Nyla…
Did I even tell you about issue three? Where is my goddamn head at?
labellepetitesotte: I'm so drawn to what you do. How do you get started writing book reviews for various publications?
That’s very nice, thanks!
It is a weird story. In 2011 I had a blog where I wrote about one book a week. I modelled it on a style blog, with pictures of myself and like a book of the week instead of an outfit of the day. I set a goal to read 50 books that year, and for whatever reason people were interested in what I was thinking about what I was reading. After the project ended, editors from a lot of different places—from the National Post to the Toronto Standard—wrote to ask me to contribute. Like, pretty much as soon as the year was done.
That same year I happened to meet Rachel Rosenfelt, the editor of a beloved web mag, The New Inquiry. She asked me to pitch her, and I did, and even tho the piece I pitched didn’t work out she asked me to join TNI as the books editor, helping to decide which books to cover and that sort of thing.
After a few months of working with TNI, I approached The Millions, another of my fave literary websites, to pitch myself as an editor for the Tumblr they hadn’t quite decided to launch yet. Nick Moran, now the Millions social media editor, and I copiloted the Millions tumblr for the first year it existed.
By midway through 2012, I was working in editorial for The Millions, TNI, and Joyland, the weird and wonderful online fiction magazine founded by Brian Joseph Davis and Emily Schultz. At the same time, I shared a books column with Chris Randle at the Toronto Standard, and started pitching other places and eventually ended up doing whatever it is I do now. Working with so many great places in editorial really helped editors and readers see what I was about, and gave me a perhaps unearned sense of legitimacy when I pitched my ideas. And then, in the same year, I founded a print literary magazine, Little Brother!
Man, written out like that it all seems so incredibly unlikely. I’m one lucky fucker.
"There’s a real art and nuance to writing negative things to people who have been nice to you. I mean, almost all Rolling Stone interviews and Klosterman profiles involve the subject spending days with the writer — driving them around, introducing them to girlfriends, sharing family photos, even letting them in to their tightly knit social circle. There was a Klosterman piece where Val Kilmer ripped out a page of poetry and gave it as a special gift to Klosterman. And Klosterman just basically says, I wonder why this crazy guy chose to give me this specific passage. Crazy guy! It’s a near subhuman thing to do — to not return kindness, and to hold everyone — always — against a bottomline critical light. It must be exhausting. No wonder most critics and reviewers are pricks."
— This is from an email someone I love sent me in 2010 (before I’d published any criticism or journalism).
"When the authorities are listening to your every word, a frenzied, even contradictory story carves out space for privacy."
— I reviewed Ghalib Islam’s Fire in the Unnamable Countryfor the Walrus. I was incredibly lucky to have a wonderful editor, who kept pushing me to get at what I really wanted to say, which in the context of what I wanted to say about this particular book, was a fun and ticklish irony.
Some thinks that didn’t make it in: This is Islam’s first book, and it is a challenging, initially unpalatable read. Islam is asking a lot from his reader, but in return he gives this delicately hilarious story that is terrifying all the same. In many respects, that this is this season’s lead title from Penguin Canada (from a first timer, too!) is something to be celebrated: by standing behind this book, we can see that even in the big leagues great art is still worth the risk.
Canada in particular has a very risk adverse readership (I ranted a bit about that here), and while smaller presses, (Coach House and Biblioasis are the ones I best like to champion) are in the practice of publishing great, risk taking literature in this country, I’m glad to see Penguin Random House (under their Hamish Hamilton imprint) step it up and decide to that we as a public can still be shown another, less commercially codified way.
The ongoing conversation about whether protagonists ought to be likeable reveals how shallow the quality is in the first place.
"If you know someone who is easy to like, perhaps you don’t know them terribly well. The base-level human mess, the mewling, clawed creature inside each of us, is not usually aired with a handshake or mutual Twitter follow. “
"Of course, one does not always know, nor does one’s body always know, when to venture forth, and when to turn away. When to abide, when to refuse; when to accept, when to intervene. For better or worse, some trial and error is required, as is the case for most worthwhile forms of self-knowledge."
One thing that’s cool about velour, especially velour leggings or pants, is that if you let your leg stubble grow a tiny bit it pokes through the cloth and if you rub your hands over your legs and feel tiny, tickling pricks on your palm at the same time as you feel the soothing plush fibres smoothing the sensation of the tiny, tickling pricks away. That so much dissonance could happen in a single moment, literally in the palm of your hand, is a wonder not to be overlooked.
"When we are disappointed by a pleasure which we have been expecting and which comes, the disappointment is because we were expecting the future, and as soon as it is there is is present. We want the future to be there without ceasing to be the future. This is an absurdity of which eternity alone is the cure."
You know, I really do want to blog more. I like the intimacy of blogging, I like how it’s okay if a blog post doesn’t look anything like some other blog post, like each post confirms its own apartment-rather-than-house style. Right now there is a draft on my dashboard of my new year’s resolutions for 2013. One of them was to blog more. LOL.
At a friend’s birthday last month, two men were talking about Kanye West. One of these men is the editor of an online magazine, the other is a music critic. They have been friends for about two decades. The first man, the editor, was wondering if it’s alright to give up on newness, to stop following trends and developing opinions on phenomena like Ye’s “Black Skinhead.” The track didn’t grab him, he felt like he didn’t get it, and he longed instead to listen to music he already knew he liked. Both men had recently attended a reunion concert for a band that was socially meaningful when they were younger. The second man, the critic, said that it was okay. I pictured the critic in his apartment, streaming new music so he could keep up with his column. Then I pictured the editor at home in his apartment, listening to music he loved.
The men were talking about these concerns from the perspective of middle age, but I recognized myself in both of their experiences of the culture. I’ve seldom been a person who lives for the brand new, in part because I’m so easily mystified by the fact that so many great things have been made however many years ago and are just sitting around being excellent.
The key to these particular men, I think, is in their relationship. Balance in all things. They are part of each other’s lives. The critic is out there investigating the kinds of thinking and feeling that are occasioned by the miraculous fact that we keep making stuff, and the editor is hanging back to get a sense of the fullness of the world if one is allowed to move slowly through it.
What a nice thing to see, this conversation between two people who love each other. One rushing ahead, needing to keep abreast, the other lingering behind, yet by dint of how culture moves and how relationships develop, they end up side by side.