I’m reading some fiction alongside the poets Kyle McCord and Keith Montesano as a leg of their national tour. Both Kyle and Keith’s first books just came out with Dream Horse Press.
The Titans of Library
Nashville Public Library (Special Collections Center)
Saturday, July 24 – 3 pm
Here’s a clip from the excellent White Stripes tour doc, Under the Great White Northern Lights (interview starts around 35 seconds in):
The new 30th anniversary super-issue of Mid-American Review is out. It features one of my favorite stories of mine, “Every Mostly Great Man in the State.” Here’s a paragraph, plucked nearly at random:
“Well I’ve had a tough day too,” the boss said. “My nephew keeps popping his head in the door to ask, ‘Are all the hats this heavy?’ ‘What does it mean when a marble is smooth?’ ‘Do I have to wear a shirt to work?’ I mean he was a bracketeering major in college—though he was also a business major, advertising major and art history major, and played multi-instrumentals in a genre-bending music ensemble that enjoyed some success, and he graduated in two and half years. And yet Royston was never dumb like this.”
Ryan Call and Roxane Gay have great stories in there too. And the new design is a huge improvement. Lots more to read.
Other good news: I’ve got new stories, “My Turn to Wait” and “The Inaugural Jump,” coming out in Quarterly West and The Lifted Brow. First non-Fun Camp acceptances in awhile.
Reading lots, but hopping around between books (I wish more novels were as fun to read as Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) and Keyhole subs. We accepted some killer stories last week from Sarah Norek and Leni Zumas.
The new Collagist issue that came out today features an alive and thoughtful essay by Jonathan Callahan, a writer whose work I’ve gotten to spend a little time with lately, doing some close readings that get at the ways technical skill serves emotional truth in fiction, reaffirming some things you really can’t hear too many times.
Here’s the second to last paragraph:
What I suppose I discovered in my recent reading of works in translation then is a kind of liberation: These books, in the form in which I read them, struck me as works of Art. They lacked so much of what I’d confined myself to think good writing had to display, that it was a kind of mild revelation to realize something that maybe shouldn’t have been so hard to grasp all along. As a kid I played a lot of guitar, and I naturally entertained notions of putting together a band and ultimately becoming the greatest guitarist of my generation. What started as a pretty fun, not to say cathartic, way to spend the daily several hours away from other people I needed in order not to think hard about swallowing some terminal quantity of pills wound up becoming its own kind of torture, as I stopped listening to music so much as evaluating musicians’ technical proficiency with the guitar. I would decide that I didn’t like a band if I could play (or imagined I could play) most of the lead guitarist’s licks. Eventually, as I acquired a little music theory, I began to disdain recognizable chord patterns, observing to myself with a sneer that I could have written the song in question if I’d wanted to. Things eventually devolved to the extent that I was frequently angry while listening to songs I actually liked, because they were so stupid and simple that I could have written them as many as several weeks prior, or whenever I’d acquired whatever insight I now understood rendered the song entirely without merit. This was a stupid way to listen to music, and I was recently beginning to read books in a similarly stupid way—for similarly stupid reasons, as somewhere along the line the book I hoped to write one day had been transformed in my imagination from a work of real compassion to the greatest novel of my generation. It was only while reading Kafka and Bernhard, and realizing that much of what I’d conditioned myself to respond to in prose was entirely absent here, yet my response was undeniable, that I began to think hard for the first time in a long time about what exactly I’m trying to do when I sit down with a notebook and pen and begin to write. Simply put, I remembered that the mastery I’m working hard to obtain and bring to bear on the fiction I continue to struggle to craft can only ever be a means to the end, if I ultimately really do want to make Art.
For further reading, there’s also a chapter in Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics that gets at a really similar point from the vantage of a different art form.
There’s a potentially embarrassing obviousness to the whole thing (which Callahan addresses), but once you fight through it, reading stuff like this feels productive and meditative and not unlike church: The author isn’t telling me things because he thinks I’ve never heard them before, he’s saying them because he believes they’re true.