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An Innocent Abroad: Joan Didion’s Midlife Crisis

Novelist, short story writer, critic and retired English professor Scott Bradfield grew up in California but had difficulty “[l]earning how to write fictions set in California”:

California is filled with so many vivid pleasures, smells, textures, and absurdities of human character that it feels difficult, or even impossible, to encapsulate it.

One of the California writers he admired is Joan Didion. Here he analyzes her  work contained in the “Library of America volume gathering Didion’s mid-career fictions and nonfictions, most of which are set largely outside California.” His verdict: “This period charts Didion’s failure to imagine a way into lives that aren’t hers, into places that aren’t California.”

‘The Contender’ Lit Me on Fire. Now It’s a Cringe Factory.

“A movie about a female senator navigating a sex scandal felt revolutionary when a writer saw it in 2000. But its stab at feminism feels clumsy now.”

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine and author of the novel Fleishman Is in Trouble (2019), writes “I sat watching ‘The Contender’ in 2000, at the age of 24, thinking that if a direct response to the sexism of the moment could land in theaters, that we had reached peak progress as far as feminism was concerned.”

But now she finds the film full of examples of microaggressions that seem to undercut the feminist message. “I arrived here, in 2021, now finding “The Contender” adorably, offensively retro.”

Susanna Clarke: ‘Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman taught me to be courageous in writing’

Susanna Clarke, author most recently of the widely acclaimed novel Piranesi, answers questions about books and literature. I especially liked her answer to the question about the book she’s most ashamed not to have read:

I’m not fond of the idea that there is a list somewhere of books that you “ought” to read. There are too many “oughts” already. Read the books that help you flourish, that enlarge your world. Your books are bound to be different from other people’s. For myself I would like to be enlarged by reading more poetry and finding a way into Dostoevsky.

And her earliest reading memory is pretty amusing. All true readers will empathize.

Why William Gibson Is a Literary Genius

“Forty years after his breakout story, “Johnny Mnemonic,” the father of cyberpunk remains one of the best writers around”

Jason Guriel looks at the work of William Gibson, with emphasis on his 1981 story “Johnny Mnemonic” from Omni magazine and his 1984 novel Neuromancer:

“Johnny Mnemonic” was the first broadcast of Gibson’s brilliance. Four decades on, telegraphing the style and concerns of the books to come, “Johnny Mnemonic” remains a bracing reminder that Gibson, more than a pop prophet, is one of our best writers.

And Neuromancer

was a proxy for the decadent 1980s. In other words, Gibson was a serious writer prodding at the excesses of his present—and in brilliant prose to boot, prose that dared to reckon with the very grain of the environments it imagined. Gibson had spliced the DNA of realism into science fiction.

Fruits of the loom: why Greek myths are relevant for all time

As a child, Charlotte Higgins was entranced by the Greek myths that she found in the illustrated book Children of the Gods by Kenneth McLeish:

There was magic, there was shapeshifting, there were monsters, there were descents to the land of the dead. Humans and immortals inhabited the same world, which was sometimes perilous, sometimes exciting. The stories were obviously fantastical. All the same, brothers really do war with each other. People tell the truth but aren’t believed. Wars destroy the innocent. Lovers are parted. Parents endure the grief of losing children. Women suffer violence at the hands of men. The cleverest of people can be blind to what is really going on. The law of the land can contradict what you know to be just. Mysterious diseases devastate cities. Floods and fire tear lives apart.

Here she explains why and how she wrote her own recent book, Greek Myths: A New Retelling, published by Jonathan Cape in the U.K.

Sally Rooney on the hell of fame: ‘It doesn’t seem to work in any real way for anyone’

Emma Brockes writes about Irish author Sally Rooney, whose first two novels, Conversations with Friends and Normal People, have produced “the sort of acclaim that put Rooney in a category of exposure more consistent with actors than novelists.” The recent publication of her third novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, will only increase the 30-year-old’s fame:

The “hell” of fame, Rooney says now, is that of a person “enduring variably serious invasions of their privacy from the media, from obsessive fans, and from people motivated by obsessive hatred”.

Autofiction: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Autofiction, which is short for autobiographical fiction, is one of those labels that ultimately doesn’t matter to the industry. Coined in 1977 by the author Serge Doubrovsky in an attempt to explain the autobiographical nature of his novel Fils, it was intended then, as now, to qualify a form of fiction. The problem today is that the term is showing up more and more as a way to qualify what’s “true.”

Publisher, writing coach, and writer Brooke Warner on autofiction, a word that has come to be bandied about liberally, and the relationship between truth and fiction.

She emphasizes “autofiction is not and has never been a genre.” 

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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