This Is How You Blog

I’m a ter­ri­ble blog­ger and a good friend recently harangued me for this, so I promised him I’d ded­i­cate a few min­utes a week­day to writ­ing a post.

The last five books I’ve read:

Gilead by Mar­i­lynne Robinson

Bat­tle­born by Claire Vaye Watkins

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jen­nifer Egan

The Big Miss by Hank Haney

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Books I’m eyeing:

Breasts: A Nat­ural and Unnat­ural His­tory by Flo­rence Williams (she hap­pens to be a for­mer high school classmate)

Drown by Junot Diaz

Canada by Richard Ford

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

The Art of Field­ing by Chad Harbach

The Patrick Mel­rose Nov­els by Edward St. Aubyn

But first up, Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. He’s appear­ing at UT Octo­ber 29th and I’m mak­ing the drive east to hear him. If you haven’t read his story col­lec­tion Empo­rium, get a life. Can’t wait to read his North Korean epic.

No losers in the five I’ve com­pleted, fyi. I’ve talked to friends who bailed on Gilead because they found it sta­tic whereas I found it brac­ing, its intel­li­gence sear­ing. I pull this pas­sage at ran­dom: “The thump in my chest goes on and on like some old cow chew­ing her cud, that same dull end­less­ness and con­tent­ment, so it seems to me. I wake up at night, and I hear it. Again, it says. Again, again, again.” Claire Vaye Watkin’s Bat­tle­born—its ten sto­ries are howls out of Nevada—announces a real tal­ent. I did a Q & A with her for and her answers were fas­ci­nat­ing. I had the plea­sure of serv­ing on a panel with Jen­nifer Egan at this year’s Fes­ti­val Amer­ica and her Pulitizer-winning novel pulls its dis­parate sto­ries together ele­gantly and mov­ingly (I espe­cially dug the power point chap­ter). Could not put down Haney’s tell-all on coach­ing Tiger. Came away from it shak­ing my head regard­ing the sac­ri­fices and defor­mi­ties that go with the pur­suit of great­ness. Diaz’s col­lec­tion is flat-out fun and three sto­ries in there—“Otravida, Otravez,” “The Pura Prin­ci­ple,” and “Invierno”—are knock­out. Read­ing Diaz, I’m reminded of a recent quote by Mar­tin Amis:

But most nov­el­ists I think are much more aware than they used to be of the need for for­ward motion, for propul­sion in a novel. Nov­el­ists are peo­ple too, and they’re respond­ing to this just as the reader is. It sounds schmaltzy to say but fic­tion is more to do with love than peo­ple admit or acknowl­edge. The nov­el­ist has to not only love his characters–which you do, with­out even think­ing about it, just as you love your chil­dren. But also to love the reader and that is what I mean by the plea­sure prin­ci­ple. The dif­fer­ence between a Nabokov, who in almost all of his nov­els, nine­teen nov­els, give you his best chair and best wine and his best conversation…compare that to Joyce, who, when you arrive at his house, is nowhere to be found, and then you stum­ble upon him, mak­ing some dis­gust­ing drink of peat and dan­de­lion in the kitchen. He doesn’t really care about you. Henry James ended up that way. They fall out of love with the reader. And the writ­ing becomes a lit­tle distant.”

At the Fes­ti­val Amer­ica I got panel and/or hang with Chad Har­bach, Louise Erdrich, Jonathan Dee, Dinaw Mingetsu, Wells Tower, Karen Rus­sell, Jen­nifer Egan, Teju Cole, and Gary Shyten­gart to name just a few. It was a ball and has me stoked for this weekend’s South­ern Fes­ti­val of Books, whose lineup is also remark­able and includes Junot Diaz and Ben Foun­tain (con­grats on their NBA final­ist nods). Plus I get to have din­ner with Gillian Flynn at an undis­closed location.

Also had the plea­sure of catch­ing Michael Chabon’s Nashville appear­ance at our Salon@615 read­ing series. My favorite moment apart from his read­ing? Some­one asked: What have you learned in 25 years of writ­ing? Noth­ing really, he answered. It doesn’t get any eas­ier and, if any­thing, you lack the stu­pid con­fi­dence you had at 25. Tele­graph Avenue took him five years to write.

I found David Daley’s inter­view with Jef­frey Eugenides instructive.


The very deadly Mr. Peanut Turk­ish cover.

To end: Although my story “In the Base­ment” did not win the BBC Inter­na­tional Story Award (*sniff*), I was cer­tainly flat­tered to be on the short­list. It’s cool to hear your work per­formed by an actor, pro­duced, in the par­lance of radio. And a year in to draft­ing my new novel, I am happy to report that I haven’t com­mit­ted sui­cide or applied to nurs­ing school. Yet.