Saturday, September 20, 2014

Soup and Salad: Lin Enger's Closet, Hangovers & Fake-Reads, Experimental Novels, The Reel Catch-22, 50 Favorite Covers of 2013, Secret Bookcase Doors, Do Women Write Better Than Men?, The Care-and-Feeding Guide for Your Dictionary, Breathtaking Book Sculptures, Previously Unknown Chapters of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Subway Readers and Their Imagined Lives, Big Hair & Baseball, Bonnie ZoBell Finds Her Teacher's Pantyhose

On today's menu:

1.  At Amazon's Omnivoracious blog, Lin Enger describes the writing process for his latest novel, The High Divide (which is high in my TBR pile):
Not exactly by choice, I wrote most of this novel in a four-by-five closet, standing up. Sitting for any length of time wrecks my lower back, and so I resorted to using for my desk the top of a four-drawer file cabinet I kept in the closet of my study. Why didn’t I move the cabinet into the study itself? Because the isolation of standing in a small, windowless room helped me disappear into the northern plains of 1886. I also wrote in other places: coffee shops, libraries, hotel rooms, anywhere. Writing a novel is such an immersion experience--you have to take it with you; it refuses to be left at home. Since finishing the book, my wife and I have downsized into a smaller house, and I recently acquired a standing desk (salvaged from a library) that I’ve placed along the empty east wall of our bedroom. That’s where I’m writing the next book.
And boy, oh boy, can I relate to these words of Enger's: "I have this terrible inclination, as soon as the writing starts going well, to push away from the desk, notebook, or laptop, and go do something absolutely unnecessary--make something to eat or mow the lawn.  It’s like some part of my self doesn’t want the writer part to see the project through.  So I have to be constantly on guard against this urge."

2.  I'm a long-time reader of Shelf Awareness and the Book Brahmin feature in particular, in which writers list what's on their nightstand, what they'd most like to read again for the first time, favorite lines from book, etc.  Brian Hart's recent post might be the first time, however, that I've seen alcohol blamed on "fake-reading a book."

3.  Flavorwire has a good list of novels they label "experimental."  I'll cop to not having read any of them--though several are long-time residents of To-Be-Read-land....and once, as a teenager, I stood in the adult section of the Teton County Library in Jackson, Wyoming, and tried to read William Gaddis' JR.  I was on the library payroll at the time and I was supposed to be dusting the shelves, but, like Flavorwire says of JR, "This novel is brilliant and will suck you in and keep you forever."  And it did.  At least until the head librarian got suspicious and started looking for me.

4.  Reason #75 to Open My Email: my friend Lisa Peet sent me the link to a recently-published post at the National Archives blog about Joseph Heller's World War Two training as a bombardier.  In "The Reel Catch-22," Burton Blume, a brand consultant/creative strategist based in Tokyo, describes how he and archivists stumbled upon footage for a film called "Training in Combat" shot by his father, a cameraman with the Army Air Forces 9th Combat Camera Unit:
Earlier this year, the team at (National Archives and Records Administration) struck gold. They found nine reels of unedited footage from Training During Combat that was shot by my father. The combined running time of this footage is nearly 73 minutes. Of this, over eight minutes contain scenes showing Joseph Heller in uniform....The story follows the activities of a replacement crew that have just arrived at the forward base at Alesani and follows their progress as they go through the indoctrination and technical training needed to perform their missions. There are two protagonists in this film: a pilot named “Bob” and a bombardier named “Pete.” Photogenic young Joe Heller plays Pete."
As I wrote back to Lisa, "This is just the COOLEST!"  To see a skinny young Heller living the life of Catch-22's characters is extremely interesting.  I found myself staring at that forehead beneath the tipped-back cap, trying to see the words lining up in satiric formation.  Watch for yourself:

5.  The Design Observer Group has announced its 50 favorite covers of 2013.  I like many of them, but This might be my favorite:

6.  Calling Scooby-Doo!

7.  Grammar-checker website Grammarly conducted a study with more than 3,000 participants at its site to settle a question that has been plaguing mankind for centuries: “Which gender has the better writers?”  Here's the infographic they came up with:

If that's a little hard for you to read, you can also find the results at The Daily Beast.  By the way, I take no sides in this question.  I'm a bisexual reader.

8.  Check out this care-and-feeding guide for your unabridged Merriam-Webster dictionary, as found at The Strand bookstore's Tumblr.

9.  I still cringe a little inside when I see people taking chainsaws to perfectly good books.  However, there's no denying these book-sculptures, as highlighted at Book Riot, are true works of art.

10.  The reliably-funny Tom Gauld reveals "Previously Unknown Chapters of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

11.  Novelist Ben Dolnick (At the Bottom of Everything) spent a week of watching people on the NYC subway, casting surreptitious glances and pretending to tie his shoes just so he could document what commuters were reading.  He shares his results at The Awl, along with some fabricated "Assumptions" on the backstory to the subway books:
     Wednesday, 4:15PM, Church Avenue-bound G train, Hoyt-Schermerhorn:
     Facts: Thirty-something white man, talking to himself while holding a battered (and, for the moment, closed) Oxford World’s Classics edition of Middlemarch. A black backpack rests between his feet; he wears khaki shorts and a blue polo shirt, made of some athletic wicking material. He appears (hand-chopping motions, etc.) to be rehearsing a difficult conversation. When he resumes reading, his face assumes the grim expression of someone in the last seconds of a wall-sit.
     Assumptions: He, Keith, is from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where his girlfriend broke up with him six months ago after finding porn in his browser history. (It was “not normal stuff, but like real sick stuff, totally degrading. Who even thinks about whether girls have pigtails or not?”) Soon afterward, she moved to New York to take a nannying job. One night, in grief and bewilderment, he Googled “how to understand women better” and he came upon Middlemarch, which he has been reading now for five months. He plans to to show up at the door of his girlfriend’s apartment, lay the battered thing down before her and tell her just how much he’s changed, then burst into tears. He has a week’s worth of clothes in his backpack, just in case this works.

12.  Do you have a fondness for big hair, polyester, and 70's-era baseball?  Then you would do well to read Bill Morris' recent contribution to The Millions:
      You meet the strangest people on a book tour. One of the strangest – in the good sense – that I’ve met so far on my current tour was standing in a crowded Detroit bar sporting a 1970s Detroit Tigers jersey, a pair of bushy muttonchops and a cumulus cloud of curly hair that made him look like the drummer in a heavy metal band. I recognized the guy instantly. Our pictures were side-by-side in the front window of Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, where we had just given readings from our new books on successive nights.
      “Excuse me,” I said. “Are you Dan Epstein?”
      “That’s me,” he said, smiling as he shook my hand. “And you’re Bill!”
      I admitted I was, and a writerly friendship was born.

13.  I loved this essay by Bonnie ZoBell at Bloom on the importance of writers' Day Jobs.  Here's how it begins:
      Explaining to a writing student who’s just said she’s going to be on the bestseller list next year that it’s a little tougher than that isn’t one of my favorite jobs. Do I tell her that, no matter how well-known she becomes, she will inevitably have many more jobs in her life, and that this isn’t a bad thing? That the internet quotes anywhere from 300 to 2,500 people who actually make a living at writing in the U.S.? Probably one of the most important points I could make is that the jobs writers have along the way are actually a goldmine of writing material.
      Even babysitting has its perks. Let us not forget Robert Coover’s exquisitely creepy “The Babysitter,” one of his most memorable stories. I was quite the voyeur as a babysitter. Even then, I wanted to know what made people tick. I looked through closets, under beds, trying to discover folks’ secrets, who they really were. Were other families more normal than mine? I was absolutely stunned the summer I lived with my middle school math teacher and took care of her children. My parents were splitting up, and my mom had already sold our house, but our new one wasn’t ready yet, so she planned to camp with us kids all summer. I wasn’t handling it well. Imagine my surprise when, looking through my teacher’s dresser, I found some sheer pink panties with a hole in them right there and colorful embroidered letters alongside: “19th Hole!” My math teacher had sex? She enjoyed it?
You know you want to keep reading the rest.

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