On today's menu:
1. You probably had some pretty nifty gifts under the Christmas tree, didn't you? But did you get the ultimate cool literary apparel from Novel-Ts? I'm wearing one right now--the Joseph Heller shirt--and I can assure you I feel infinitely smarter having a big "22" on my back. Novel-Ts blend the sports jersey look with bookish smarts--the Edgar Allan Poe shirt, for instance, has a tell-tale heart on the front and a huge "13" on the back. Other authors on the team include Louisa May Alcott, Kurt Vonnegut, Herman Melville, Douglas Adams, Jane Austen, Dorothy Parker, and many more. Check out the full line-up here.
2. At the Tin House blog, Roxane Gay has an appreciation of writers living outside the insular epicenter of the book world (aka New York City). Gay, who lives "in a rural town...in the middle of somewhere that is probably nowhere you know" (aka eastern Illinois), says there's plenty of literary value to be found in the flyover states:
At times I envy writers who live in the city, always going to book parties and benefits and other fancy events and knowing, seemingly, everything about everyone in publishing. Not being in the middle of that, however, and only joining in when I choose, is a luxury. I live in the middle of nowhere but there’s no pressure to perform the role of writer. No one around me gives a fraction of a damn about the latest publishing deal or whatever we’re all gossiping about on Twitter. I have time, enormous stretches of time with very little to do but read and write. I’m not sure this is entirely healthy but I get to actually be a writer with very little distraction. I try, though I don’t always succeed, to not take such luxury for granted.Roxane's novel, An Untamed State, will be published by Grove/Atlantic in early 2014. Consider this your early advance notice to clear a little space on your to-be-read shelf.
3. Meanwhile, Dwight Garner takes us on an entertaining jaunt through the epicenter: "A Critic's Tour of Literary Manhattan" in the New York Times:
Is Manhattan’s literary night life, along with its literary infrastructure (certain bars, hotels, restaurants and bookstores) fading away? Not long ago I installed myself at the Algonquin, the Midtown hotel where Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott and others once traded juniper-infused barbs, and used it as a launching pad to crisscross the island for a few days, looking to see what’s left. I made several more nighttime crawls after that. At the very least, I thought, I could inhale the essence of some cranky and word-drunk old ghosts.
4. At The Story Prize blog, Chad Simpson (Tell Everyone I Said Hi) has a Eureka Moment. It involves Michael Chabon and dead daffodils on church lawns.
5. Also at The Story Prize blog (is my love for this blog showing yet?), Ron Hansen admits his love of writing started during a long-ago Christmas pageant:
[W]hen I was in kindergarten I was the narrator for a Christmas pageant and recited from memory the nativity story from the gospel of Luke. I stood there in front of a hundred people, mostly parents, and watched them pay strict and serious attention to what I was saying, even though words and phrases like "manger" and "swaddling clothes" and "the time of her confinement" were like gobbledygook, an absolute mystery to me. The power of language took root in me, and over the years I realized that storytelling, at least on paper, was something I enjoyed doing enough that I did it voluntarily.
6. Buzzfeed rounds up some "brilliant book ads"--which, even though they've been around awhile, are still pretty cool. Check out these panel truck ads designed by the Johnson County Library in Kansas City:
7. Retronaut also has some book ads on display--this time, from 19th-century France, starring Victor Hugo and Emile Zola (this blog's namesake):
8. Christmas Eve brought a bounty of advance reading copies from publishers to my front porch. As I ripped open the envelopes, I was overjoyed to find a novel I'd been looking forward to reading: Love Is a Canoe by Ben Schrank. At the FSG blog, Schrank writes about the book's long, meandering road to publication:
Writing a novel should be fun. At the beginning, meander. Don’t be afraid to play around. Get lost. Fall down. Get dirty. The stakes aren’t high because whatever is written will be tossed, ideally without fret or regret. When I began to write Love Is a Canoe I thought I wanted to write about a girl who gets advice from her grandfather while paddling around in a canoe. I meandered for over a year before that girl turned into a boy. I wrote additional narratives that wandered far afield of the novel I would eventually complete, built complex lives at a country inn and indulged in pages of imagery and then, when I found characters I believed in (a senior publishing executive who had disappeared into her persona, an unhappy young married couple, a writer who wrote a popular book of advice on marriage) I wound their stories together. But on the way there, Peter Herman, the character who wrote the book within my book, Marriage is a Canoe, officiated at marriages and then got horribly drunk at them. He was attacked in his house by an unhappy married couple. He started work on a novel. I had a wild time at that wedding, was shocked at the violence an unhappy couple can inflict, and I plotted and wrote a lot of Peter Herman’s dirty, indulgent novel. Then I tossed it all.
9. I'll leave you today with this wise, beautiful essay by Silas House called "The Art of Being Still"--advice I myself need to heed:
Many of the aspiring writers I know talk about writing more than they actually write. Instead of setting free the novel or short story or essay that is sizzling at the ends of their fingers, desperate to set fire to the world, they fret about writer’s block or about never having the time to write.
Yet as they complain, they spend a whole lot of that precious time posting cartoons about writing on Facebook or putting up statuses about how if they only had more free time they just know they could get their novels written. They read books about writing and attend conferences, workshops and classes where they talk ad nauseam about writing. However, they spend very little time alone, thinking, much less hunkering down somewhere and actually putting words on the page.
The problem is, too many writers today are afraid to be still.