Search Results for: writing

How Travel Writing May Look After the Pandemic

AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

Speaking on a podcast about Coronavirus, Best American Travel Writing series editor Jason Wilson “declared that this was ’the extinction event’ for a certain type of travel publishing.“ In an essay for Guernica, Wilson expounds further, considering the ways travel restrictions and fears about infection will shape the way people write about travel, while acknowledging that all we can do is speculate and wait. And until then, we can read travel books like Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana as Wilson did. We can reminisce about past journeys, and we can see how the stories in future editions of Best American Travel Writing look compared to ones before COVID-19.

In the months that have passed since my pessimistic podcast appearance, I’ve had a change of heart about the future of travel writing. Of course it will survive, as it has before, even if the publishing models radically change. Travel writers, once again, will embrace new forms, experiment, borrow from other genres and find novel approaches. Many people have suggested that, once we’re free from lockdown, more modest domestic or local travel, rather than exotic foreign adventures, will take center stage. They say narratives about home might become significant and popular.

When I think of local travel, I think of Hopkins Pond, a small body of water in the wooded park near my home in Haddonfield, New Jersey. The park is not very well maintained by the county, but on sunny days it’s still beautiful. I often take long walks there around the edge of pond, where I’ll encounter a handful of people fishing, joggers, or families riding bikes. In most ways it’s a completely typical suburban recreational area.

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On Travel Writing

Longreads Pick

Shelter in place has given The Best American Travel Writing series editor a lot of time to think about travel writing’s future, and whether pandemic will move travel writers’ focus closer to home.

Published: May 26, 2020
Length: 8 minutes (2,017 words)

Japan: A Longform Reading List of Longform Writing

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Before I traveled to Japan for the first time in 2014, I read as much about the country as time allowed. Japanese culture and ecology had interested me since I discovered anime in the fifth grade; I read books by Pico Iyer and Donald Richie, novels by Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto, and collected countless online stories about everything from Japanese architecture to history to customs. I wanted to understand more about this island chain that has been inhabited since at least 30,000 BCE. I wanted to know more about this aggressively innovative culture simultaneously committed to tradition, a country that is famously easy to navigate by train but difficult to integrate into as an outsider. I wanted to understand Tokyo, the world’s largest city, whose allure comes partly from its incomprehensibility.

My library was filled with anthologies on my other passions California, the American South, jazz. But while I had stellar fiction anthologies on Japan, like The Book of Tokyo: A City in Short Fiction and Tokyo Stories: A Literary Stroll, the nonfiction book I wanted didn’t exist.  I couldn’t find a single, English-language anthology collecting longform nonfiction about Japan. So I made it.

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Tressie McMillan Cottom on Writing in One’s Own Voice

Longreads Pick

“And yet, for academics this is a constant tension. They have this idea that the writing should be secondary, or distinct, from the thinking. And I’ve always found that very bizarre. How are you thinking, if you are not writing?”

Source: Public Books
Published: Apr 23, 2020
Length: 15 minutes (3,977 words)

Why I’m Giving Myself Permission to Keep Writing at This Time

My great grandmother, Freida, two years before her death from Influenza, with my grandmother, Clarisse, as a baby.

The timing of the coronavirus pandemic has been convenient for exactly no one. For some writers’ careers, it’s been devastating. They’ve had their book releases eclipsed, their tours canceled, their sales thrown off by readers’ new economic precarity — several years’ worth of hard work and anticipation thrown, largely, down the drain, although some have been holding virtual book tours, and social media posts imploring people to support authors by ordering their books could help. (Please do this if you are able!)

If the pandemic continues in varying degrees through fall 2021, as some scientists are predicting, lots of other writers will be similarly affected, along with book stores and the entire publishing industry.

It’s been ill-timed for me, personally, too. It comes just as my agent has begun negotiating the contract for the memoir-in-essays I have been working on for years — my first solo book, after publishing anthologies. I have been playing what feels like the world’s longest game, being dogged but patient in my pursuit of a deal. I’m hoping the small indie publisher we’ve chosen to go with will be able to ride this out, and I’ll get to go forward as planned. But who knows?

It’s been challenging, though, to feel as if my publishing plans and my writing in general matter at all right now. In the midst of a global health crisis that is disrupting lives and killing people, it feels frivolous to even think about my book, continue with my newsletter, or write anything at all that is not virus-related. This, after decades of struggling to overcome a feeling common to many women: that my story doesn’t matter, and I don’t have permission to tell it.
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Teaching Writing and Breaking Rules

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

“As much as we might admire what is fresh and innovative, we all learn by imitating patterns,” writes Irina Dumitrescu in The Times Literary Supplement. “To be called ‘formulaic’ is no compliment, but whenever people express themselves or take action in the world, they rely on familiar formulas.” It’s true. For her review-essay, Dumitrescu reads five books about writing and explores how writing advice is caught in a paradox: to get people to communicate clearly, logically, and find their own voices, instruction must first teach them rules and provide enough room to learn by copying. This is why most of us writers begin by imitating established writers. We find someone whose style or subject reflects our own – someone in whom we hear our ideal selves, someone who sounds like we want to sound one day – and we mimic them. This could start with a parent, move to a cool friend, then end with a famous novelist or memoirst, before we emerge from the pupae of literary infancy. In other words, to facilitate originality, we must teach formula, encourage imitation, and push for eventual independence. She explores the value of craft, structure, exploration, and formula, and the way sticking to rules erodes a writer’s style, their character, even the essence of the art. She contrasts John Warner’s book Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities with the book Writing to Persuade, by The New York Times‘ previous op-ed editor, Trish Hall.

It is easy for a lover of good writing to share Warner’s anger at the shallow and mechanistic culture of public education in the United States, easy to smile knowingly when he notes that standardized tests prize students’ ability to produce “pseudo-academic BS,” meaningless convoluted sentences cobbled together out of sophisticated-sounding words. Warner’s argument against teaching grammar is harder to swallow. Seeing in grammar yet another case of rules and correctness being put ahead of thoughtful engagement, Warner claims, “the sentence is not the basic skill or fundamental unit of writing. The idea is.” Instead of assignments, he gives his students “writing experiences,” interlocked prompts designed to hone their ability to observe, analyse and communicate. His position on grammatical teaching is a step too far: it can be a tool as much as a shackle. Still, writers may recognize the truth of Warner’s reflection that “what looks like a problem with basic sentence construction may instead be a struggle to find an idea for the page.”

Then she looks at a book like Jane Alison’s Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative, which provides further contrasts and insight:

Shapes appear in Alison’s mind as clusters of images, so what begins as literary analysis condenses into a small poem. For “meander,” Alison asks us to “picture a river curving and kinking, a snake in motion, a snail’s silver trail, or the path left by a goat”. She speaks of the use of colour in narrative “as a unifying wash, a secret code, or a stealthy constellation.” The point is not ornamentation, though Alison can write a sentence lush enough to drown in, but tempting fiction writers to render life more closely. Against the grand tragedy of the narrative arc, she proposes small undulations: “Dispersed patterning, a sense of ripple or oscillation, little ups and downs, might be more true to human experience than a single crashing wave.” These are the shifting moods of a single day, the temporary loss of the house keys, the sky a sunnier hue than expected.

The Roman educator Quintilian once insisted that an orator must be a good man. It was a commonplace of his time. The rigorous study of eloquence, he thought, required a mind undistracted by vice. The books discussed here inherit this ancient conviction that the attempt to write well is a bettering one. Composing a crisp sentence demands attention to fine detail and a craftsmanlike dedication to perfection. Deciding what to set to paper requires the ability to imagine where a reader might struggle or yawn. In a world tormented by spectres too reckless to name, care and empathy are welcome strangers.

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Karen Russell: A Brutally Honest Accounting of Writing, Money, and Motherhood

Longreads Pick
Source: Wealthsimple
Published: Mar 9, 2020
Length: 17 minutes (4,445 words)

How Judith Jones Radically Transformed American Food Writing

Longreads Pick
Source: LitHub
Published: Mar 10, 2020
Length: 8 minutes (2,245 words)

Margery Kempe: Patron Saint of Writing Moms

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Sara Fredman observes that becoming a mother helped her perspective as a writer, much like Margery Kempe, a medieval mom with 14 kids who managed to write The Book of Margery Kempe — a treatise on her own spiritual reinvention that may very well have been the first memoir. Despite the sore boobs and the sleep deprivation, Fredman says being a mom sharpened her focus and motivated her to write within the small windows that having three small children allows. Read her essay at Electric Literature.

New motherhood blindsided me like a semi truck. There was the fact that breastfeeding physically tethered me to my child like one of those yo-yo balls from the ‘90s, able to extend only so far before I had to rocket right back.

There are some who would use motherhood as a cudgel or a cautionary tale in an attempt to convince us that becoming a mother—or too much of a mother—means locking ourselves out of the writing life. But the truth is that, like Margery, I found that motherhood unlocked something in me. Maybe it was surviving four days of labor or fourth months of no sleep, but when I emerged from the fog, I had more to say and an increasingly fiery need to say it,

Having children has simultaneously fried my brain and made it sharper and more focused. I don’t know how this is possible, but it is my truth. I see things differently now because growing and birthing a baby changes you. It can change your palate and your shoe size and it most certainly changes your brain. For Margery, this meant a series of divine visions that altered the course of her life. For most of us, the changes are far less spiritual, but they can be similarly revelatory.

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“What Do I Know To Be True?”: Emma Copley Eisenberg on Truth in Nonfiction, Writing Trauma, and The Dead Girl Newsroom

Sylvie Rosokoff / Hachette Books

Jacqueline Alnes | Longreads | February 2020 | 21 minutes (5,966 words)

 
Am I a journalist?” I found myself asking Emma Copley Eisenberg. On a sunny day in mid-October, Eisenberg sat adjacent to me at the dining room table in her West Philadelphia home, a spread of sliced tomatoes, chicken, and perfectly steamed asparagus she prepared on a plate between us. I am certainly not a journalist in any meaningful sense of the word — outside of an MFA in creative nonfiction, during which I learned to conduct research, I have no formal schooling or training — but Emma and I are both infatuated with the boundaries between subject and writer, research and lived experience, and how we classify it all. How does who we are and our own lived experiences affect the types of research we reach for? Is there such a thing as objectivity, or do we land closer to the truth if we expose our own flaws and biases and complicated histories on the page? And what is truth, after all? 

Eisenberg, in her debut book, The Third Rainbow Girl, wrestles meaningfully with these questions and many others. Though her book is marketed as true crime, and though a major thread within the narrative is the murder of Vicki Durian and Nancy Santomero, two women on their way to a festival known as the Rainbow Gathering, Eisenberg undermines many features of the subgenre by centering place as a major subject. Her descriptions of Pocahontas County, both in memoir sections, in which Eisenberg relays her time living in Appalachia, and reported sections, in which Eisenberg offers insight into the ways in which the murders of Durian and Santomero brought to the surface harmful stereotypes perpetuated against the region, complicate perceptions rather than flatten them into any packageable or easy narrative. In prose that brims with empathy, and through research that illuminates narratives that have long been hidden by problematic representation, Eisenberg exposes the kinds of fictions we tell ourselves often enough that we believe them to be true.  

During the course of our sprawling conversation, one punctuated only by friendly interruptions from a gray house cat named Gabriel, Eisenberg and I talked about what it means to seek truth in nonfiction, and how writing the personal can allow for more complicated realities to emerge; how undermining conventions of genre can impact the way a book is both marketed and read; and what it means to find clarity — or at least community — while writing into murky, and often traumatizing subject matter.  Read more…