…if I’m going to spend my time writing fiction rather than, say, lying down in the path of a proposed tar-sands pipeline, and if I’m going to use my share, or more than my share, of the world’s resources to lead this pleasant writer’s life, I’m going to want to think there’s some value in it—if not in what I myself write, at least in writing in general.
Perhaps I should be more suspicious of my belief that there is inherent value in literature. It could be pure, self-serving, soft-brained romanticism, the belief that probing the most delicate and subtle areas of the mind by, say, listening to music or reading, will develop what is human in you. There are abundant examples of reactionary, loony, virulently prejudiced artists and art lovers, so one can hardly insist that art is definitively good for the brain. But I believe that a lack of art is really bad for the brain. Art, itself, is inherently subversive. It’s destabilizing. It undermines, rather than reinforces, what you already know and what you already think. It is the opposite of propaganda. It ventures into distant ambiguities, it dismantles the received in your brain and expands and refines what you can experience.
— Deborah Eisneberg, in her Paris Review interview from last year. I picked up her collected stories the other week and have been reading them in order, one a day, so revisited this, and was pleased to see her take on a thing that’s been troubling me, again, for the past few months. The thing is nothing new, in fact is as old as politics; how can I tell that I have made the right choice in dedicating my life to something other than, as Eisenberg has it, “lying down in the path of a proposed tar-sands pipeline”?
The fact is I can’t, but the good news is that I’ll have the rest of my life to keep making that choice, every single day.
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. “
— Ghalib Islam, FIRE IN THE UNNAMEABLE COUNTRY
— Geoff Dyer, in OUT OF SHEER RAGE, seducing this reader completely with his confused, contradictory bombast that begrudgingly gives way to gratitude, even glee.
LB is publishing a flash zine of Rob Ford fanfic. Because obviously.
“The second time someone told me I was dying I was 30 years old. The first time I was 23, but I was living in Montréal then and chalked up the nurse’s proclamation of my impending demise to a breakdown in language. I didn’t really believe it. The second time, I believed it, even though the surgeon hardly seemed credible in his sandals and cargo shorts and a voice most people reserve for children and dogs. I cried, but mostly I thought about getting outside so I could crack jokes with my friend about the indignity of being told I was dying by a man with Birkenstocks and bad breath.”
From Alicia Louise Merchant’s must read essay on how humor evolves in the face of cancer and mortality.
This is an excerpt from Alicia’s longer piece on cancer and comedy (including reflections on Tig Notaro, illness as a narrative device, and the hilarious but painful indignities of the human body) in Little Brother Magazine. It is one of the finest works I’ve ever had the honour of editing.
— Edouard Levé, AUTOPORTRAIT (trans. Lorin Stein).
This is Corey Mintz's candy jar. I photographed it for this week's Shelf Esteem, but it didn’t make it in.
Neither did this good little thing he said about cooking for a dinner party, which he does every week for his Fed column in the Toronto Star:
For a dinner party I’ll usually have three courses. My formula is—and this is for me, not what I’d advise other people—but I’m doing one thing that is tested, I’ve done this dish ten times, it’s a hit; one other thing that maybe I did before and it didn’t work, or maybe I did it before and now I have another way to do it, or I have an ingredient that I want to slide into it, and hopefully that dish, I’m just going to try to make it better; and a third thing that’s new. Either something I came up with, or something I’m getting directly from a book, or a recipe that a chef gave me. And that would probably be the one I write about because it’s new, it’s a challenge. And if I fail, all the better—it’s a better story. You learn more from screwing up than getting it right.
The middle act is my favourite part of any story. That’s when it’s okay for the characters to screw up, ‘cause otherwise the story would be over. So I feel like it’s okay to put yourself in a little danger in the middle part of your story.
This is an outtake from my Shelf Esteem column this week, featuring Chuck Klosterman and his many many books.
— From Teju Cole’s Open City.
— Clarice Lispector, Água Viva
— Elaine Blair on Infinite Jest.
"There’s an element of solipsism to everything, darling. We are inside ourselves looking out, desperately trying to gather the evidence, trying to crack the code of this strange world that we’re thrown into. We have to be solipsistic, because we are inside ourselves. It doesn’t preclude loving people, or sympathizing with people, or hating people. Or interacting with them, to use that awful term. But we are constantly inside ourselves. Don’t get depressed about that, that’s not depressing."