Tag Archives: Writing

You Are What You Eat, Or, Haruki Murakami on Food As a Reflection of the Self

Photo by Katrin Gilger (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At The Awl, Elaheh Nozari explores food in the work of Haruki Murakami: how food not only offers comfort and nutrition, but about how what we eat speaks to our emotional state and who we are as people.

For Murakami, how we eat is a reflection of ourselves. In 1Q84, The Dowager is a wealthy septuagenarian widow who eats natural ingredients and French-influenced lunches like “boiled white asparagus, salad Niçoise, and a crabmeat omelet.” She eats small portions and drinks her tea, “like a fairy deep in the forest sipping a life-giving morning dew.” You get the sense from her diet and table manners not only that she’s well-bred and refined, but almost enlightened. Compare her to Ushikawa, a sleazy lawyer-turned-private-investigator whose family left him and who has no life outside of stalking people under the guise of work. He’s a self-loathing scumbag and he eats like one, too. Where the Dowager eats fresh vegetables, Ushikawa eats processed food like canned peaches and sweet jam buns, and goes days without having a hot meal. The Dowager treats her body like a temple, Ushikawa treats his like a garbage disposal. She is at peace with herself, he is not.

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Porochista Khakpour on Starving as a Young Novelist

Photo by Luigi Novi, via Wikimedia Commons

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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The Cultural Revolution of Anthony Bourdain

Image by Peabody Awards (CC BY 2.0)

Anthony Bourdain’s on-screen persona strikes a careful balance between discipline and recklessness. In her Eater essay on Bourdain’s writing career, Maria Bustillos reveals a similar dynamic at play in his early works of fiction, and all the way back to his suburban upbringing in New Jersey:

Bourdain came of age in the mid-1970s, a time of no brakes at all, a moment of pure hedonism in America. “Decadence” meant the dark beauty and excitement of debauchery, rather than anything gnarly. (The gnarly part was coming up fast, but it was a ways off yet.) A keen reader even as a teen growing up in Leonia, New Jersey, he wolfed down Hunter S. Thompson, Orwell, Burroughs, Lester Bangs, and I bet Baudelaire and DeQuincey; listened to the Stooges, the Dolls, Roxy Music, the Velvets, and The Ramones. (He dedicated his 2006 essay collection, The Nasty Bits, “To Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee.”)

The only culture worth knowing then was the counterculture. The Vietnam War began in 1956, the year of his birth, and ended the year he turned nineteen — surely now, in 1975, the reign of the liars and the squares had ended for good. Cocaine was routinely touted as a natural, plant-based high — health food, practically. (“It’s made from leaves!”) There was, as yet, no AIDS. Peak Free Love had arrived. That the young Bourdain literally “wanted to be a junkie” only meant that he was a little more committed than most to the prevailing atmosphere of pleasure and abandon. “I always wanted to be a criminal,” he confesses blithely in the essay, “A Life of Crime.” He once told an interviewer that he was expelled from Vassar as the result of a “depraved incident” involving angry lesbians and firearms.

This rebel son was raised in an ultra-civilized suburban family atmosphere. His mother, Gladys, was a New York Times editor, and her byline, G.S. Bourdain, appears over Times stories about Robbe-Grillet, opera stars, Cinecitta and the opening of Fauchon in Manhattan; her subjects and her writing both are suggestive of high standards, formality, propriety. Sam Sifton once described her as “a legendary editor… with a legendary temper.” She was a good cook, too. Bourdain describes favorite childhood dishes now and then — his mother’s meatloaf, her crème renversée — though his memories of the crisply pressed shorts and matching socks he and his younger brother were made to wear as kids, boarding the Queen Mary for a vacation in France, are not so fond.

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Publishing’s New Four-Letter Word

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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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Empathy and Escapism — Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books

Photo by Michael Pittman CC-BY SA 2.0

Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped — in his life, convictions and outlook on the world — by reading and writing as Barack Obama.

“At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted,” he said, reading gave him the ability to occasionally “slow down and get perspective” and “the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes.” These two things, he added, “have been invaluable to me. Whether they’ve made me a better president I can’t say. But what I can say is that they have allowed me to sort of maintain my balance during the course of eight years, because this is a place that comes at you hard and fast and doesn’t let up.”

Writing was key to his thinking process, too: a tool for sorting through “a lot of crosscurrents in my own life — race, class, family. And I genuinely believe that it was part of the way in which I was able to integrate all these pieces of myself into something relatively whole.”

At The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani reports on how reading and writing helped President Obama to “slow down and get perspective” from novelists, memoirists, and historical figures during the eight years of his presidency.

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Borges and $: The Parable of the Literary Master and the Coin

Image by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens/Kjell Reigstad

Elizabeth Hyde Stevens | Longreads | June 2016 | 31 minutes (7,830 words)

 

Nothing is less material than money. . . . Money is abstract, I repeated, money is future time. It can be an evening in the suburbs, it can be the music of Brahms, it can be maps, it can be chess, it can be coffee, it can be the words of Epictetus teaching us to despise gold. Money is a Proteus more versatile than the one on the island of Pharos.

—Jorge Luis Borges, “The Zahir”

I fell in love with Jorge Luis Borges when I was a freshman in college. That year, full of hope and confusion, I left my hometown for the manicured quads of Brown University, desperately seeking culture—art, beauty, and meaning beyond the empty narrative of wealth building that consumes our world. It is easy to look back and see why Borges spoke to me. The Argentine fabulist’s short stories were like beautiful mind-altering crystals, each one an Escheresque maze that toyed with our realities—time, space, honor, death—as mere constructs, nothing more. With the beautiful prose of a poet-translator-scholar, he could even make money seem like mere fantasy. It was precisely the narrative someone like me might want.

Yet, money is real. We live and die by the coin. Money tells us how many children we can raise and what kind of future they can afford, how many of our 78.7 years must be sold off in servitude, and what politics we will have the luxury of voicing. As a college freshman, I still knew none of this, and I had the luxury of not thinking about money. These days, it seems all but inescapable.

I am still full of hope and confusion, but at 35, practically nothing concerns me more than the coin, a metonymic symbol representing my helplessness. The coin represents this desperate need to support myself and my writing when, in the very near future, I start a family. My mind has changed; all my journal entries turn into to-do lists and career strategizing. Money, planning, and money. I think of little else. Read more…

The ‘Airplane!’ Guide to Joke Delivery

Neilsen

We found that it was easier to keep an audience laughing than to start them up all over again.

—David Zucker, in New York magazine, on how he and his co-directors, Jim Abrahams and brother Jerry Zucker, approached comedy and rapid-fire joke delivery with the classic 1980 movie Airplane!. Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker broke down the origins of their classic joke “…don’t call me Shirley.”

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In Praise of Public Pitching

From Hunter S. Thompson's correspondence.

I’ve always been fascinated by how narrative journalism gets commissioned, reported, and published–but the most perplexing part of the entire system is the continued power imbalance between writers and publishers.

This imbalance persists in spite of the internet “democratizing” publishing. More digital publishers are embracing feature writing, but the process behind the scenes feels stuck in the past–a time-consuming marathon of unanswered emails and rejection. Read more…

Stories Make Us Human

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

They say language makes us human. That notion is being challenged as we discover that apes have language. Whales have language. I welcome them into our fold. I’m not threatened by them, quite frankly, because I think that stories make us human. Only by telling them do we stay so.

Stories are our prayers. Write and edit them with due reverence, even when the stories themselves are irreverent.
Stories are parables. Write and edit and tell yours with meaning, so each tale stands in for a larger message, each story a guidepost on our collective journey.
Stories are history. Write and edit and tell yours with accuracy and understanding and context and with unwavering devotion to the truth.
Stories are music. Write and edit and tell yours with pace and rhythm and flow. Throw in the dips and twirls that make them exciting, but stay true to the core beat. Readers hear stories with their inner ear.
Stories are our soul. Write and edit and tell yours with your whole selves. Tell them as if they are all that matters. It matters that you do it as if that’s all there is.

—Journalist Jacqui Banaszynski, in Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. The book’s essays are derived from presentations given at Harvard’s Nieman Conference on Narrative JournalismRead more…

Jia Tolentino Remembers the Books She Started and the Books She Shelved

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At final count, the manuscript was three hundred and six pages and almost seventy-eight thousand words long. There were fifteen chapters, all of which I’d edited several dozen times. In retrospect, that seems sensible—what you’d want to do, when a book was concerned—and also insane, as I don’t remember any of it. Editing is a fugue state; the time self-erases. I’d have forgotten about it altogether except for the fact that the weight of the effort has lifted only gradually, and also, the fact that the evidence is two clicks away: the evolution of an idea from nothing to something to nothing again sits peacefully in a folder named “Novel!” that I dragged off my desktop early in the fall.

At The Awl, Jia Tolentino looks back at the two novels she started but never finished, and what she learned about writing.

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