May 12th, 2011 / 2:00 pm

Six Items of Interest

Jennifer Egan commented on the reaction to her comments during a WSJ interview where she implied that certain books were “derivative, banal stuff”. I thought her response was fantastic:

It was, she said, exactly the kind of thoughtlessly casual remark that, with her journalistic background, she should have known better than to say in conversation with a reporter—but which may now linger on the Internet and continue to be seen as her position on the subject. “I have nothing to defend in what I said,” she said. “I really wish I hadn’t said that, and was incredibly and immediately sorry that anyone was hurt by it. I don’t blame anyone for being mad about it.” Though she does believe there’s an interesting conversation to be had about genre and gender and literary culture, she doesn’t see her comments in that interview as any kind of effective contribution to that discussion. “I’m all for criticizing; I’m not saying that no one should ever criticize anyone else,” she continued. “But if you’re going to criticize, you should do it intentionally and thoughtfully and carefully and know whom you’re criticizing and for what. And I didn’t meet any of those criteria.” (Thanks for the link, Cathy Day.)

You should also check out the Galactic Empire Times.

Gulf Coast offers some Quick and Dirty Submission Tips.

Jason Sanford explores why genre magazines dominate the Million Writers Award.

Mark McGurl answers four questions about MFA programs. The one question the interviewer forgot to ask is, “How much longer are we going to talk about MFA programs?”

Finally, a recommendation. Sometimes I want to read something that has nothing to do with anything I’m really interested in. Over the weekend I had a chance to read Amy Stewart’s Wicked Bugs because a copy magically showed up in my mailbox with a stuffed animal bookworm. I don’t know why this book showed up but my name was on the envelope so I decided the book was indeed intended for me. I hate bugs. Everyone hates bugs but I’m that girl who squeals and behaves absurdly in the face of bugs and then asks someone else to remove the bug from my presence by any means necessary. I love the movie Starship Troopers (RICO’S ROUGHNECKS!) but it was a pretty traumatizing experience sitting through the movie in the theater. Wicked Bugs is all about terrible bugs and insects and all the terrible things they can do to nature, your house, your body, whatever. If you’re looking for some new fears, you want to get yourself a copy of this book. I started reading it because it was pretty–gorgeous hardcover, slick red, beautiful interior design. The pages have a nice texture to them and are off white, natural looking. The book is filled with these great drawings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs so you can freak yourself out both by reading about the worst bugs in the world but you can also visualize them in precise detail. Win-win! For you city dwellers, bed bugs are indeed covered and this book will tell you in excruciating detail how they feed: “Once it has a good grip, it begins rocking back and forth, working needlelike feeding organs called stylets into the skin. The stylets probe around under the skin in search of a good-sized blood vessel to tap into.” Stewart devotes a brief chapter to categorizing various bug-related phobias. There’s a troubling cockroach chapter–when I saw the words “ear infestation” I literally slammed the book shut and had to walk away for a minute. Did you know only 5% of cockroach species live among humans? I have no idea why but I found this book endlessly fascinating and I’m randomly going t.o use it in my technical communication class in the fall because of how the writing blends scientific information with readable prose. The writing is really engaging, witty, and I now feel prepared for either an apocalyptic infestation of bugs in 2012 or fulfilling my dream of competing on Jeopardy. This isn’t the type of book we normally talk about here but you just might like this book.

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  1. L.

      Jason Sanford’s ideas about this are so weird. The answer is purely a matter of audience as well as genre fandoms typical aggressiveness in supporting itself (notice who quickly any sci-fi/fantasy film shoots up the IMDB top 250 movies list… even before the film has been released!)

      Sanford is a sci-fi writer and the Million Writers Award is not one that most people in the literary writing world think about. No one I know ever talks about it. I really truly do not mean that as any kind of insult. I just think it is weird to try and draw conclusions about difference between genre and literary magazines based on the stats of a genre-heavy prize headed by a genre writer.
      Similarly, we wouldn’t question the quality of genre magazines based on a more literary minded prize.

  2. L.

      And even if the MWA was a balanced (as if such thing could exist) take on genre and literary writing, his frame for analyzing this is really weird. He says that about 25 of the long-listed stories are genre and a little more than that, maybe a third, make the shorter list. That seems like the thing to analyze, but instead he focuses on ”
      Percent of stories from the top 10 publications belonging to self-identified “Genre” sites *”

      It would seem obvious that the reason for the percentage of short listed genre magazines to be grouped in a handful of magazines is that there are… fewer good genre magazines, while the literary world is spread thinner with far more magazines.

      Ideas about genre writers embracing online magazines quicker seem to miss the point.

  3. mimi

       “Everyone hates bugs” . . .I don’t hate bugs.

  4. deadgod

      Ha ha – me, neither.

      how the writing blends scientific information with readable prose

      That is a great theme, a great excuse for a reading list and conversation.  A Brief History of Time (clever title), The Blind Watchmaker, McPhee, Gould, The Beak of the Finch, classics like Eric Temple Bell and good new books like The Most Human Human – I think this is a kind of writing most aspiring poets and fictionists should learn a bit about from its inside.

  5. Roxane

      I agree. I’ve been really enjoying books in this genre. I will check out those recommendations.  

  6. Roxane

      I agree. I’ve been really enjoying books in this genre. I will check out those recommendations.  

  7. mimi

      now we’re talkin’

      The First Three Minutes – good times!

  8. Anonymous

  9. mimi

      one of my all-time favorites of this ‘genre’ is ‘Atchafalaya’ in McPhee’s “The Control of Nature” 

      man i was mesmerized while reading it

      and goddamn the atchafalaya basin is in the news this morning – and being flooded as i type

  10. deadgod

      I think ‘science/math popularization’ deserves to be a non-fiction, eh, subgenre; it’s different than simply ‘journalism’, because the attempt is made to make dramatic ephemera into narrative more persistently interesting.

      Along with the basic challenges and pleasures of narrative and particularly non-fictional narrative – what really happened? why is it important? is this telling a pleasure to read (and why)? – , there’s a basic ethical question in science popularization:  how simple/complicated does the writer make the science of the story?  Too much and the text refuses to be broadly available; too little and the reader is invited to enjoy a dishonestly false sense of command.

      I haven’t read that collection, but McPhee is dependably excellent.  He recently had a long New Yorker piece – two parts (?) – about long-distance trucking:  how to deliver dangerous contents safely, along with (of course) discussion of the guy who was teaching him about this profession.  It was the kind of thing that makes me, anyway, realize that almost every person I meet today knows a ton of things I don’t.