Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Wolff, Orlean, Thoreau, Almond (joys)

"There's a famous paragraph in one of Chekov's letters to his brother Nikolai in which he talks about writing description. In it he says, 'When describing a starry night, don't just talk about the beauty of the heavens, and the beautiful pinpricks of stars all over the inky sky.' He says, 'describe a piece of broken glass and the moonlight shining in that, and all of a sudden a wolf runs past you like a black ball in the night.'

"It's that kind of odd angle of vision that really captures those unexpected things that you would find in a good story, that broken glass. That's something very distinctive with Chekov. I translate that into the description of character as well. You can illuminate character by a similar kind of sidelong glance that you can use to illuminate that moonlit night.

"There's a kind of stock repertoire that comes out of drama, mainly of gestures and actions that people perform in stories. You know: the mixing-of-drinks, the-crossing-of-rooms, the-lighting-of-cigarettes. What's wrong with them is they're essentially anonymous. They don't tell us that much. What you want is a gesture that tells you something particular."

--Tobias Wolff (Continuum)

Finished Wolff's second story collection Back in the World last night. Woke up thinking about how especially fine "Leviathan" turned out to be.

Started Susan Orlean's The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup yesterday. She has an interesting website.

"What we call wildness is a civilization other than our own. The hen-hawk shuns the farmer, but it seeks the friendly shelter and support of the pine. It will not consent to walk in the barn-yard, but it loves to soar above the clouds. It has its own way and is beautiful, when we would fain subject it to our will. So any surpassing work of art is strange and wild to the mass of men, as genius itself. No hawk that soars and steals our poultry is wilder than genius, and none is more persecuted or above persecution. It can never be poet laureate, to say 'Pretty Poll' and 'Polly want a cracker.' "

Added The Blog of Henry David Thoreau to the sidebar.

"Because what really bummed me out about the Amazon haters wasn't that they disagreed with my politics, but that they immediately summoned such genuine outrage at me for deigning to express a political opinion at all.

"They regarded Candyfreak as entertainment, which meant, basically, that I was supposed to serve as a candy monkey for them: swinging from my zany licorice ropes and making funny gibbering noises.

"By including my political views, I was in direct violation of The First Law of Social Apathy, which holds a popular culture should exist divorced from any of the moral facts of its current political condition.

"What folks want from the pop — hell, what we deserve as tax–paying Americans — is a nice soothing mind bath. A few chuckles. A nice melodrama in which to park our emotions for a couple of hours. In a word: opium."

Last year, anytime anyone mentioned Steve Almond's Candyfreak I stuck my fingers in my ears and chanted "la la la," since the last thing I needed was to read about someone else's issues with the sweet stuff, but now he's writing about one of my pet peeves: those who let their politics direct how they respond to those in the entertainment and creative fields. (Moby Lives)

Let me put it as succintly as I can: I don't like George W. Bush, but that doesn't mean I'm going to throw Chernow's Alexander Hamilton against the wall once I discover Bush is touting the book, or bash it on Amazon, or even stop reading it, and I'm certainly not going to take part, were it to be held, in some strange bulldoze-the-cds radio station-sanctioned ritual because Lyle Lovett played at an inauguration ball (although I like to imagine he did so ironically). As Thoreau said (on this date, in 1859), the hen-hawk ain't gonna walk in no barnyard, folks. Some people ought not to take "only connect" quite so much to heart, but instead erect a few compartments in their brains. They'll enjoy life a whole lot more.

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