September 7th, 2011 / 5:11 pm

Six Late Afternoon Items



















2. Huffington Post is getting into the e-book business.

3. Chris Newgent asks poets to rise up.

4. You should read Vanessa Veselka’s Zazen. It’s a fierce book. I didn’t realize this when I bought it but you can read the entire book online, for free. You should also buy it though.

5. The Awl has a really interesting essay on cookbooks as literature.

6. Kenyon Review is offering fellowships that pay $32,500 to writers with an MFA or PhD looking for some time to write and grow as a teacher.

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  1. tao

      ‘Kenyon Review is offering fellowships that pay $32,500 to writers with an MFA or PhD looking for some time to write and grow as a teacher.’

      thought ‘damn/lol’

  2. BoomersMustDie

      Why is ‘grow as a teacher’ important? 

  3. MJ

      Recently, I’ve been thanking god that I can also rap my ass off, because all this “mfa/teacher” business in the literary industry is driving me nuts. I like how in the rap game all I need to have is skill/talent/drive and the door is open.

  4. bobby

      Re HuffPo

      I hope there are as many typos in their ebooks as there are in their regular articles (posts?).

  5. Anonymous

      The concept and ideas in “Zazen” seem quite interesting, but the book itself is weakened by the level of writing.  She can write better than that.  It comes off to me like a smart person and a talented writer consciously dumbing herself down, like she’s worried of actually using her talent.

  6. Dawn.

      1. Chris Newgent’s post was awesome.

      2. I’m so seeing Young Adult when it comes out.

  7. deadgod

      –because “grow” is a metaphor for ‘improve’, and teachers getting better is better for students.  Becoming more patient, more effective at explaining, more inspiring–all signs of maturation and/or increased expertise, and all referable to a teacher by the metaphor of growth.

      The link explains the idea pretty well.

      I think anyone would “grow as a teacher” more if they taught more than one class in a year.  Not sure why they don’t spend the money on a faculty member teaching, say, four classes in that year.  You want to write, write.

      If you mean, ‘why make a writer (like O’Connor) teach at all? why not just pay her or him to write?’, . . . –good question.

  8. christopher.

      Thanks for the mention, Roxane. So wait, is Young Adult a book starring Theron, or a movie? 

  9. Paul Jessup

      That’s how I felt too. I think that’s a downside to Red Lemonade- all of the people discussing and critiquing a work and workshopping it so much that strips the power of voice and the uniqueness of duende that writers should have.

  10. deadgod

      I thought it was a joke – like a MAD Magazine gag.  ?

  11. Anonymous

      Duende is a good way to put it.  She obviously can let it rip.  One more book cut down by neutered voice.

  12. Roxane

      It’s a movie poster for a movie called Young Adult that will be out in December, I think.

  13. BoomersMustDie

      Yeah, I don’t get lumping writers and teachers in with one another. Likely a Frankenstein’s monster from their alumni giving department. 

  14. deadgod

      Here’s the info: .

      It’s not often that a movie poster makes the writer’s name so prominent.  –Is that what got the image placed here? or is there something else topical about it or the movie?

  15. Anonymous

      Two perfectly legitimate criticisms to make, Cvan and Paul, but Vanessa’s book was not in fact workshopped through Red Lemonade. So they’re not connected, casually.

      The question of what is going on the Red Lemonade site. To really evaluate the truth of your claim, you’d need to spend a good couple hundred hours reviewing the manuscripts and commentary on the site to see what is in fact happening.

      As regards Vanessa’s voice, having witnessed much debate around the book, these criticisms—that Vanessa dumbed her voice down—are new to me. I’d be interested to hear you guys debate this with Roxane. Knowing Vanessa as I do, I don’t think she’s easily neutered. Sometimes writers don’t write the book you want them to write.

  16. Kate Z

      I really really dug Zazen, and thought the vitality of voice was
      actually what stood out about it. The opposite of being neutered. I
      don’t really get where that criticism’s coming from. 

  17. Cole

      I love Elizabeth David, who is mentioned in The Awl essay. Her “Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen” is remarkable. It’s the recipes themselves–from the 15th and 16th centuries– that are literature in that book. 

      Not mentioned in The Awl, but very worthwhile for its detailed consideration of cooking “illegally” on a gas ring and without any refrigeration other than that provided by the damp, chill English weather: Katherine Whitehorn’s Cooking in a Bedsitter. Includes discussion of how long to store kidneys in a box under your bed, “the coldest part of the room.” Kathryn Davis’s novel Hell does fascinating things with Antoine Careme and a fictional “household management” specialist. 

  18. Paul Jessup

      Sorry, maybe I’m getting it wrong- but from my first experience of the site it seemed to be editing by committee- or open source critiquing, or crowd sourced editing  however you want to say it. 

      Maybe she didn’t neuter her voice, but the voice sounded neutered. Maybe that was the point. I can’t argue that. But I will say expected something less…less…well, ordinary, what with the description of the book and how many people loved it. The voice was just…plain.

      Yes, not everyone wants to write the books I want to read. What a boring world that would be- but I can criticize a book for being less then I feel it should be. That’s fair, don’t you think? Criticism is important, it’s one of the most important things out there for a reader. I’m not saying writers have to listen to it (I know I don’t) but I’m saying other readers should have proper critical thinking. You know? Reading a book shouldn’t be the equivalent of watching a mind numbing blockbuster.

      The reader needs to bring his tools to the table, to be able to take things apart. Just because she didn’t aim to write a book directly for me doesn’t mean I can’t bring up the point that I think the prose could crackle more, could sparkle more, could snap and slash and burn more. I mean, what’s the point of having an underground if we don’t push and pull and yank and scream? What’s the point of being indie if you’re just going to pull down to the public opinion? 

  19. Paul Jessup

      I don’t know, maybe my standards are too high?  The voice just seemed like all other voice. If you lined up the first paragraph from that book with the first paragraph of several Urban Fantasy best sellers I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. 

  20. Anonymous

      No, it’s perfectly natural to have a minimum standard of expecting writers to not come across like too many of their peers.

  21. Anonymous

      Richard, both (or at least my) initial comments were stressing the potential of this book.  I truly thought, finally there’s a young writer besides Joshua Cohen (and a few others) that have vision and talent and are not afraid to let it show.  If Vanessa continues to write as she did, our points will all be moot, because she won’t be around.  She has clear vision and talent, but, I’m sorry, to this reader, she just copped out.

  22. Roxane

      I absolutely disagree. I don’t think there’s anything neutered or stripped about Veselka’s voice. I thought it to be rather sharp, at times cynical, at times, painfully hopeful but always strong and not at all dumbed down. In what ways do you see copping out or this neutered voice? I am curious.

  23. Anonymous

      Roxane, though this is an aesthetic difference, that’s what this site is partially about anyway, so…  The summary and title “Zazen” really struck me enough to continue on (which is two steps beyond the usual, i.e. unimaginative title almost always equals unimaginative book), and then my reading became skimming and skimming became stopping. 

      Here’s why.  For me, the diction (and it had its moments, noted in skimming ahead to other pages) needed to be kicked up a notch and the pop-culture references racheted down.  The pop-culture identifier trope makes me feel like I’m in the middle of Times Square, and my response is to retreat from all of that. 

      I don’t intend this whatsoever as a backhanded compliment when I say that she could end up being one whale of a writer, however, she might do well to realize that there are many of us out here dying for more writers of substance who use language well and don’t feel like they need to exist in a sea of irony (I know I’m not categorizing it well as that, but I can’t help but feel that the diction/pop culture combination is heavily ironic, even if not as intent).  It really all depends on who she sees her audience as, doesn’t it?

  24. Roxane

      This is an aesthetic difference indeed but I think you’re diminishing the stylistic choices here a bit unfairly. I don’t think you can accurately assess those choices if you don’t read the whole book. This is why. There’s a reason why this book is saturated with pop culture references and it has nothing to do with reaching the masses, nor is it quite done with irony. What exactly is substance, as far as you’re concerned? Within the context of the entire novel, those references are deliberate and necessary. This is one of those books where, as much as I hate the phrase, I feel the writer has a project. Clearly, Veselka’s style speaks to us differently but Zazen holds a great deal of substance and I particularly admired this book at the language level because there is so much play and texture.

  25. Cvan

      I’m not trying to be facile but the reality is that I gave this book (mainly because Veselka was generous enough to allow all of it online) as much or more time than would the average bookshop or online browser.  Busy readers are just not going to take the time (unless perhaps the summary aludes to this) to read the book of someone they don’t know if not compelled by a few paragraph/page browse.  It’s unfair, but my reaction was interesting title, great summary, diction could be upped, product-placement level pop cultural refs, time to stop.   That said, I’ll probably give her next one attention because of hoping. 

  26. MFBomb

      How do people stay sane using these workshop sites? So you post your drafts online and have random people commenting left and right on your stuff? I’ve never understood why anyone would want all of those voices in their head while writing. At least in a regular workshop, you only to have show up for a few hours and can burn everyone’s comments afterward. 

  27. Anonymous

      (unless perhaps the summary aludes to the reason for the pop-culture references)

  28. Anonymous

      I agree with you.  I’ve found that various readers almost always balance or cancel, each other out, e.g. if one person hates a use of alliteration, someone else will invariably love it; or one person will think a certain character is the pits, but for someone else, that character makes the story.  I am a little surprised that a writer of Veselka’s caliber is putting her work out there in this manner.  Heaven forbid this be the wave of the future.  Are no writers auteurs anymore?

  29. Roxane

      As Nash explained below, the writer didn’t put her work up the way the general public put their work up. Her book was published by Red Lemonade and in their publishing model, they release their books across multiple platforms, including for free, online.

  30. Kate Z

      “pop-culture identifier trope” – who talks about writing that way? 

  31. MFBomb

      Okay, my bad, but many of the comments are rather, shall we say, simple and could harm her vision: it seems bizarre to have them right alongside the text, always sitting there, essentially in the margins.  So, whenever she logs in, she can’t read her own text without reading a bunch of one-liner surface reactions in the margins, which seems different than comments posted on a blog or Facebook page about a linked story, because there’s more of a divider between text/commentary.

      I agree w/ Cvan on wanting more writers with vision–more lonely writers.  More desperate writers who are in fact not always connected to an immediate, instant audience. The ironic intent is almost nullified here by the actual medium, one that co-opts our consumerist desire for instant, on-the-minute reactions and commentary. 

      I’m also weary of this sort of ironic voice that everyone is using these days. I don’t think the writing is bad and I can see the talent but I really don’t need yet another writer to tell me how disaffected we are in a commodified society. Give me a writer who returns me to Dickensian, old soul wondrousness and sensuality through a voice only he or she could write in, not in the default-ironic-gen-x/y-voice. 

  32. MFBomb

      Actually, there is quite a bit of criticism of writers who rely on pop-culture references at the expense of imagination.  Often, it’s easier to just throw a brand into a story because the brand becomes “code” that readers are already programmed to understand. It’s a device that was discussed in the Missouri Review a few months ago. 

  33. Anonymous

      Kate, my term may not have been artful, but surely you can understand some readers not wanting to feel like they are walking through Times Square, considering the barrage we get during just about every waking hour.  I was not familiar with the Missouri Review piece, but as mentioned by MFBomb, here we are.  Roxane stressed that the pop-culture references do have an eventual point (see below), but as a reader, I’m sorry but it’s not for me.  Between the pages is where I take a welcome break from pop culture.  This is one stylistic tic (see below again) that I do wish MFA profs would push their students to cease using.

      “One aspect of their writing, however, that is strikingly uniform is the heavy use of pop culture in their fiction. It’s probably the most prominent common denominator of beginning creative writing classes. This isn’t a surprise. Pop culture has permeated the 21st century…The worry is that popular culture has become so ubiquitous that rather than engaging your reading audience, its usage actually prevents and stops thought…There are, of course, plenty of good examples where specific use of brand names has an intended and important effect. The novels of Bret Easton Ellis are one clear example. There is nothing inherently wrong with using brands … if there is a point. For my beginning writers, however, it is rarely a decision made so thoughtfully. Instead, it seems as if they are falling into a convenient and lazy trap of giving their imaginative powers to the wizards of Hollywood and Times Square. Why say something unique and remarkable when the shortcut is already provided?”

  34. MFBomb

      Hey Tao,

      Did you read that? 

  35. Anonymous

      Roxane, I understand how Red Lemonade works now (I think) but it’s still the case (even if the commenting comes after publication) that there is a fair amount of feedback of the love it/wish you hadn’t done this/etc. sort that Veselka is responding to, in part.  I appreciate that Nash is trying new things, but this part of R.L. rubs me as problematic.  It just does. 

  36. Paul Jessup

      I’m sorry- I didn’t see the texture or the play of language at all. The voice felt like the standard smart alecky sarcastic delf-degradation voice of a lot of popular best sellers, esp in the first person. The whole book felt too breezy, the writing too limp, not enough zoom.

      You can’t read Egan, or Eggers, or Vandermeer, or M. Rickert, or a slew of other writers both big and small and then read this and tell me the voice has texture and wordplay.

  37. Roxane

      Yes, I actually can. I see the book differently. It’s all good.

  38. Paul Jessup

      Hmm. I guess I just can’t see it.

  39. Paul Jessup

      I thought the whole point of Red Lemonade was for the public to put up books, people crit books, then Red Lemonade finds ones they like and publishes them?

      At least, that’s pretty much what they’re about page says.

  40. Roxane

      That’s part of what they do. They also publish books without the peer review process.