It’s been a while since I have posted any writing links. I could go on about why this is, but no doubt I would lose what 2-3 faithful readers I have with that boring tirade. So I’ll just get down to business. Since it’s the weekend, or almost, anyway, and theoretically that means you (reader?) will have a bit more free time on your hands, I thought I’d pass along some excellent long-ish reads I’ve come across lately:
First up: This highly enjoyable, somewhat meandering (but worth the ride) essay in the Guardian from Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, about how life changed after she published a bestselling book:
At some point we headed back into the rain. Although I had quit smoking six months ago, I paused to bum an American Spirit from a conveniently situated critic. “I thought you quit,” my agent said. We began to walk to the Middle Eastern restaurant where Farrar, Straus was holding a dinner for its three finalists: me, Jonathan Franzen and Damion Searles. (Searles translated Comedy in a Minor Key by the 101-year-old Dutch novelist Hans Keilson, who was not in attendance.) In front of the restaurant, A held the broken umbrella while we took turns finishing the damp, slow-burning cigarette.
“I wish we had some weed,” he remarked, initiating a discussion of who at the dinner would be likely to have weed. Our money was on Franzen.
Second: “Why We Travel,” an essay by Paul Theroux in the New York Times. I often become irritated, nay, pissed off even, when reading Paul Theroux. But unlike Phillip Roth, who also pisses me off, I keep reading him. Why? His writing. Sigh. The writing is so good that I forgive him the pretentious things he sometimes writes. What a vocabulary! (I suppose I could say the same thing about Roth, but his content pisses me off so much I can’t stomach his work at all. Also, I suppose that his writing does not move me in the same way that Theroux’s does. Just a personal preference.) Also, Theroux’s travel philosophies mirror my own, though it’s been a long time since I’ve really been able to travel the way Theroux describes in this piece. For that, having a two-year-old along for the ride is not recommended. Anyway, with that dubious introduction, I offer this essay. If you haven’t read much Theroux, I recommend The Old Patagonian Express. I found it more accessible than The Great Railway Bazaar, which is probably more well-known.
Third: This charming bit of memoir on being an only child, from Geoff Dyer in the Threepenny Review. I will admit to some bias here. After all, I am an only child, and I related to some of Dyer’s descriptions of his childhood. Still, it’s a nice bit of writing.
It wasn’t until 1987 that I really understood how liberating the task of writing fiction could be. I was twenty-nine and writing a book based very closely on the life my friends and I were leading in Brixton, South London. At that time I was going through a phase of wishing very badly that I had a sister. I’d had these longings before, but never as intensely. It came to me in a flash—and it should be obvious by now that this is not the first time that I have belatedly realized something that everyone else has either known for ages or taken for granted—that if I wanted a sister I could just invent one!
I have never wanted to invent a sister, but it surprises me that more only children are not writers. The solitude is comforting, not alarming, as it is to some who grew up used to bustling households and constant companionship.