April 15th, 2011 / 8:44 pm

Things I Have Wanted to Post About

Sometimes I have too many things I want to post about and not enough time and then I spend more time thinking about all the posts I’m not writing so in order to focus on a few upcoming posts, I need to clear my mental decks of these tidbits I do not have the time to turn into longer posts.

According to The New York TImes, literary magazines are thriving. I wonder if that’s true. I don’t disagree but I would love for us to have a broader conversation about this topic. The magazines noted in the article are all Bay Area (SF) magazines with significant readerships that are fairly well-established, although The Rumpus and Canteen can certainly be considered newcomers that are thriving. What does it mean for a magazine to “thrive”–financially and editorially? Do other editors feel their magazines are thriving? Publishing is supposedly not thriving (though I disagree). What can book publishers and magazine publishers learn from one another about thriving?

A friend sent me this great link to a Lifehacker article about why it is futile to compare ourselves to others. At The Rumpus, Sugar offers some really timely and pointed advice about begrudging the success of other writers through peer jealousy. These things are connected and also remind me of several conversations I’ve seen around the “blogosphere” in recent months about writing, success, feeling the pressure of social networking as a writer, and how we measure ourselves against other writers and so on.

As an aside, I want to direct your attention to the April issue of PANK as well as the latest issue of The Collagist, both worth reading. I mention PANK issues like once a year so, this is me doing that. Also as an aside, no, I wasn’t being “edgy” or “sarcastic” or whatever with my previous snippet post about James Frey. I was sharing a piece of information, thus the snippet post. I do, however, genuinely love Bright Shiny Morning. I don’t care that you want to look down your nose at that. I don’t know about his other writing but Bright Shiny Morning is an awesome book. I’m surprised that this is surprising o or weird. There should be room for all kinds of literary tastes.

The last two installments of Where I Write, first by Chloe Caldwell and then by Lidia Yuknavitch, have given me a lot to think about in terms of where I write and how I’ve evolved as a writer. I don’t have a writing room. I have an office at home, with a desk I assembled myself and there is a computer on that desk. There are no mementos or pictures or torn pieces of paper or much of anything on the desk but a pen cup and the computer which I only use when I need to scan something. It also functions as a music server. It’s really old. I write while sitting on my couch or in Starbucks or in hotel rooms or I write in my head. I don’t have a special, dedicated writing place in my home, never really have. That seems so different from most writers. I cannot imagine sitting at a desk every day to write. I’d go crazy.

Amazon is going to sell a Kindle for $114 that shares “special offers” with readers. Advertisements in books are not a new phenomenon. I don’t have a real opinion on advertising in books. I generally ignore ads because I’m used to being a graduate student and not having any money. In a few years, when I am used to being done with school that could chnge. I do think $25 is not the price point that would compel me to buy the advertising-laden version of the Kindle, if I was on the fence about owning the device. This would be more interesting if the Kindle was being offered at, say, $69 or thereabouts. I still hope a free Kindle appears soon.

Alexander Chee wrote this great essay for The Paris Review blog about James Salter and how he writes sex. I loved the essay and it made me buy A Sport and a Pastime, which should arrive on my doorstep early next week. Emma Straub wrote a great response about the lack of sex in her own fiction. I also, recently, finally finished reading Granta 110: The Sex Issue (there’s a companion website, too). When I saw a preview of the cover with a suggestively open coin purse, a modern Georgia O’Keefe if she were a minimalist photographer, I was mildly amused. I enjoy coin purses that are vaginally suggestive and overall mild is the best way I can describe my reaction to this issue. I had this issue with me on nearly every trip I took over the past year trying to finish reading it, when normally I start and finish a magazine or book in short order. I found it really hard to get through for some reason.

Theme issues in literary magazines can be difficult because readers dive into a given theme issue thinking about the theme, the theme, the theme and if the issue doesn’t meet their expectations or understanding of the them, disappointment is inevitable. When I heard Granta would be publishing a sex issue, I knew I would read it because sex is such an excellent literary subject. I hoped they might include fiction by a versatile, immensely talented writer like Rachel Kramer Bussel or an essay by the always wonderful Cheryl Strayed or someone beyond the literary mainstream. I was looking for writing that revealed interesting insights into sex and how people deal with sex and think about sex and love or hate sex or even have no relationship at all to sex.

I don’t know that it would be possible for there to be bad writing in an issue of Granta. They are one of the most deservedly renowned literary magazines and almost every writer and artist in the sex issue is quite reputable. There’s work from Herta Muller and Dave Eggers and Victor LaValle and Mark Doty and Jeanette Winterson and Jennifer Egan and Roberto Bolano. Despite the overwhelming talent and reputations of the contributors to this issue, though, I must say I was left rather… cold. Each piece was nearly flawless, probably too flawless. Sex is a lot of things and so I did not expect that there would be fucking on every page but I also did not expect to feel such detachment while I read through the issue. So much of the writing felt almost clinical and cold. The approach to sex, at least in my reading of the issue was more meditative and I wanted it to be something messier and immediate. I was baffled by the photo feature of empty porn sets and the Eggers drawings, Four Animals Contemplating Sex. There were certainly a few pieces I very much enjoyed and have read over and over—Roseland by Rebecca Lenkiewicz was a wonderful example of short short fiction about the intimacies between strangers on a long haul in a Greyhound bus. Tokyo Island by Nastuo Kirino is a fine story about a couple, stranded on a deserted island and the new civilization they create along with 23 Japanese sailors who also end up stranded on the island. The story speaks to how no matter where we are, we want to belong to someone else and will do almost anything to make that happen. There was a real urgency in the writing that made it easy to see what life would be like on that Tokyo Island. I love when writing takes me there. I also loved the essay Silence by Michael Symmons Roberts, who spends time as a guest at a monastery. The writing is beautiful and quietly intense. There’s something good to be said about everything in this issue, really, but I don’t know that the issue, as a whole, says something that interesting or revelatory about sex. Did you red Granta 116? What did you think?

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  1. Dawn.

      Where I Write is killing it lately. Chloe and Lidia’s essays were both fucking fabulous in very different ways.

      That’s funny: Alexander Chee’s essay made me reserve A Sport and a Pastime at my local library.

  2. Anonymous
  3. I Have Become Accustomed To Rejection / Like I Am the Center of the World

      […] wrote this post about all the topics I’ve been meaning to post about so that I can focus on new posts I am […]

  4. NotaBayCitizen

      Looks like the literary magazine article was written by a publication called ‘The Bay Citizen,’ which bills itself as “A nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization providing local coverage of the San Francisco Bay Area for The New York Times. To join the conversation about this article, go to baycitizen.org.” Non-union local coverage, basically… kind of a ripoff of AOL Patch

  5. karl taro

      really? AOL Patch created local coverage?

  6. NotaBayCitizen

      Yes! In 1768, AOL pamphleteers were dispatched to far-flung California. Learn your fucking history.

  7. Kathleen


      I read the Granta Sex issue last Spring and liked the cover but don’t remember much about the fiction in it, which may say more about my lack of recall than it does about the memorable-ness factor of the fiction in the issue. I think Jeannette Winterson’s story stood out in for the language sentence to sentence, beautiful if I remember it right, the famous French guy’s story felt like Calvino but without the verve, and I liked Zeitoun way better than Egger’s faux-fey animal drawings.