Tag Archives: LitHub

Porochista Khakpour on Starving as a Young Novelist

Lit Hub has a compelling essay by The Last Illusion author Porochista Khakpour — an excerpt from Scratch: Writers, Money and the Art of Making a Living, an anthology edited by Manjula Martin — about her struggle to survive early in her career as a novelist. At one point in 2007, while on book tour, she finds her bank account is overdrawn and she barely has enough money to eat. (Full disclosure: I have an essay in the collection as well.)

I call people, but I don’t want to ask for help. I want them to think of it as a humorous anecdote but not that it’s real, that my life is that difficult. After all, certain friends who are not involved in publishing think I am rich and famous. Why burst that bubble?

In the end, I borrow money from a friend of my boyfriend and take that walk of shame to a yellow cab, when I know there are buses and shuttles and subways and all sorts of only semi-impossible ways to get back to Brooklyn.

Later, when my publicist finds out, she is shocked. Why didn’t you call us?!

I give her some gloss-over answer, but I want to say, I don’t know whom to call, when to call, why to call. I am learning everything over again. I have become what the publishing world and media suspect of a debut novelist—suddenly, I am new to the universe, not just to being a novelist. I suddenly don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

Weeks later, I discover during another bad moment—as the value of the dollar plummets and oil is sky-high—that gold is at its peak. I sell what is left of family heirlooms to an old Iranian man in the Diamond District, who listens to a fraction of my story, gives me a decent deal, and tells me, “My boy in medical university; my girl, married and with baby. Your fault for being a starver of an artist, daughter.”

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Publishing’s New Four-Letter Word

Writing in LitHub, Alana Massey responds to Emily Gould’s essay on publishing’s “niceness” requirement for women to ask: what’s wrong with nice? Shouldn’t we ask men to be more nice, rather than giving women permission to be less so?

The idea that writers are good at writing and little else perpetuates a mythology that we are special creatures whose agility with language renders us more deeply attuned to the human condition than others and therefore exempt from doing the bare minimum: answering questions in full sentences at industry events and talking about our work when we are, indeed, at work. It is the decency of returned emails and speaking to your tablemates at a party thrown to honor you. Such decency is demanded in every other profession on Earth besides being a Real Housewife or playing in the NHL, and I don’t think that just because the men in our industry eschew this in favor of offensive levels of self-regard makes it courageous or authentic in women. This decency need not be the over-indulgence of cookies or new friendships on demand, but a manifestation of that thing we are allegedly so good at: seeing the human condition and responding to it with just enough tenderness to connect but not attach.

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A Resolute 2017: A Reading List

In 2016, I published my New Year’s resolutions on Longreads. As 2017 dawns, I thought I’d check in with my old self, dust off 2016’s goals and set some new intentions.

1. Alas, I never did make it to Iceland, but I did a lot of domestic travel in 2016. In Washington State, I touched the Pacific Ocean for the first time and slept on a sailboat. In Asheville, I got a new tattoo and swooned inside Firestorm Books & Cafe. I saw friends and family marry in Richmond and Chautauqua. I saw Deaf West perform Spring Awakening and the one-weekend revival of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater in NYC. I even visited Foamhenge! (That’s me in the photo above.) I’m returning to Asheville in 2017; beyond that, I have no concrete travel plans. Feel free to sponsor me on a trip to the ends of the Earth and back! I’ll write about it! For now, I’m seeing the world via the following essays from 2016:

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Why We Resist: Seven Stories About Protest

I’ve found it hard to think of little else other than our country’s future, by which I mean the futures of my friends of color, my queer friends, my disabled friends—the list goes on. I am grateful for Twitter, where writers and activists I admire remind me that what is happening is not normal, that we must resist as long as it takes. There are stories here about the Native-led protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, folks standing up to Donald Trump and his white supremacist cronies, and prisoners striking against their miserable living conditions in a racist system. As journalist Masha Gessen writes, “The citizens have posted guard.”

1. “Why We Must Protest.” (Masha Gessen, LitHub, November 2016)

Masha Gessen is one of the writers I’m thankful for. Yesterday I read her essay in the New York Review of Books, “Trump: The Choice We Face.” Gessen writes about her great-grandfather, a member of a Nazi-appointed Jewish council in his home ghetto, relating his position to the complicity we Americans may come to understand sooner than we think. I cried as I read. The NYRB essay led me to the one I’ve highlighted here, where Gessen examines and defends protest for the sake of protest. Read more…

The Way We Walk: A Reading List

Autumn is my favorite time to walk around my city. The swirling skies, the cool weather, the breeze, the crunchy leaves—it’s dynamic, and, best of all, I don’t sweat as much.

In Wanderlust: A History of WalkingRebecca Solnit writes, “Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.”

I love this quote. Despite the fear I feel sometimes as a woman walking alone, walking places gives me a sense of control. I’m not at the mercy of someone else’s schedule. I can take a new, weird route or linger by the Canadian geese in a recently renovated lake. In the following essays, Antonia Malachik discusses the cultural implications of our aversion to walking; Garnette Cadogan relates how his walks are coded by his skin color, depending on where in the world he is; Adee Braun praises the New York eat-and-walk—and that’s not all. You can read these on the move. Just don’t trip, okay?

1. “The End of Walking.” (Antonia Malachik, Aeon, August 2015)

We’ve featured Antonia Malachik’s article on Longreads before, but it fits this week’s theme too perfectly to ignore:

“In many parts of the US, pedestrianism is seen as a dubiously counter-culture activity. Gated communities are only the most recent incarnation of the narrow-eyed suspicion with which we view unleashed strangers venturing outside on foot, much less anywhere near our homes. A friend of mine told me recently that a few years ago, when she lived in Mississippi, she was stopped by police constantly simply because she preferred to walk to work. Twice they insisted on driving her home, ‘so I could prove I wasn’t homeless or a prostitute. Because who else would be out walking?’”

2. “A Walking Tour of the Places Where I Hit Rock Bottom.” (Michelle Tea, BuzzFeed News Reader, October 2016)

Author and activist Michelle Tea takes us to four of her old haunts: a clown-themed strip club, a bar, her old apartment, and an on-ramp.

3. “Walking While Black.” (Garnette Cadogan, LitHub, July 2016)

In an essay that remains sadly, horrifically relevant, Garnette Cadogan describes his risk-tainted wanders through Kingston, Jamaica; New York City; and New Orleans:

“Walking while black restricts the experience of walking, renders inaccessible the classic Romantic experience of walking alone. It forces me to be in constant relationship with others, unable to join the New York flaneurs I had read about and hoped to join…Walking as a black man has made me feel simultaneously more removed from the city, in my awareness that I am perceived as suspect, and more closely connected to it, in the full attentiveness demanded by my vigilance.”

4. “Mastering the Art of the New York Eat-and-Walk.” (Adee Braun, Narratively, September 2014)

My friends and I paused on a classic Manhattan street corner so we could purchase hot dogs on our ill-fated attempt to catch our bus back to Maryland. Certain denizens of the Mid-Atlantic are familiar with the Day Trip to New York City: You wake up earlier than is reasonable in order to board a stale, at-capacity charter bus full of crabby Marylanders (or wherever), and a few restless hours later, you’re deposited somewhere outside Times Square or Chinatown or the Javits Center. Then, you see a show (anecdotally, the most common reason for these jaunts), or go to the Strand bookstore (guilty), or something else. After we saw our show of choice (cliche, I know, but it was a one-weekend remount), we partook in that hallowed New York tradition: the eat-and-walk.

At Narratively, Adee Braun has written a love letter to the eat-and-walk, a lesser-known American export and beloved regional pastime.

5. “Ghosts and Empties.” (Lauren Groff, The New Yorker, July 2015)

Lauren Groff’s command of language will entrance you in this short story about an on-edge mom who takes evening walks in her North Florida neighborhood.

Proust as Antidote for Smartphone-Induced Attention Deficit

Marcel Proust

Confession: I have never read Proust. Not one word, let alone the 4,300 pages of them in the English translation of his seven-volume masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past).

On the occasion of the French author’s 145th birthday, LitHub invited six authors to sing his praises, and explain why his work remains essential reading. Siri Hustvedt, Edmund White, André Aciman, Francine Prose, Aleksandar Hemon, and Daniel Mendelsohn all weighed in. Mendelsohn had a particularly modern take on the value of reading Proust’s densely written, heavily detailed, slowly unfolding opus:

Recently I was traveling on a train next to a young man—a recent college graduate, I guessed—who was reading a hugely fat Victorian novel. Since I teach literature, this made me happy. But as I watched him I noticed that roughly every 90 seconds he’d fish out his iPhone to check his text messages. After a while this reflexive tic made me so nervous that I moved to another seat. As a writer as well as a teacher, I found it nerve-wracking to think that this is how some people are reading novels these days—which is to say, not really reading them, because you can’t read anything serious in two-minute spurts, or with your mind half on something else, like the messages you may be getting. Multitasking is the great myth of the present era: you cannot, in fact, do two things at the same time.

Especially if one of them requires considerable resources of attentiveness and intellectual commitment. To my mind, a very important reason to have a go at Proust right now—which is to say, to read him with a mind as receptive as his was large—is to exercise one’s powers of commitment.

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A Reading List for the Start of Summer

It’s unofficial: Summer is here. Here are the clues: The temperature exceeded 90 degrees in my Maryland hometown. Locals have fled for Memorial Day weekend. My partner installed our window air conditioning units. The cat willingly places himself near the two fans in our living room and avoids his favorite sun patches. My new Star Wars t-shirt was drenched equally in flume ride water and human sweat during my trip to Hershey Park last week. Finally, people enter the bookstore where I work anxious for my summer reading recommendations. I am all too happy to hand them my recent favorites. Time for flip-flops, sunscreen, and, of course, summer reading.

1. “5 Great Beach Reads, Wherever You Are.”(Bethanne Patrick, LitHub, May 2016))

This isn’t longform, but it is going to be a recurring column. You may know Bethanne Patrick from her delightful essay “I Am Jessa Crispin’s Problem With Publishing,” and her latest endeavor is summer reading recommendations that are actually fun. Her introduction is feminist literary criticism that’ll make you fist-pump. Read more…