Category: "writers"

on Russia

02/20/18 09:22

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s piece on Russia in the Times’ magazine on Sunday was an interesting read – he’s an interesting writer and Russia is an interesting country (to say the least) – but it was more journalistic feature article than literary travel story. Which was both surprising (he’s a novelist) and predictable (he wrote it for a newspaper magazine). His itinerary was too well-planned (you could almost see him checking things – historic town, ancient woman – off a list), and even his chance encounters ended up as interviews (his word) and not the more fruitful conversations. I suspect he was hindered by his photographer and interpreter; you don’t get the spontaneity or one-on-one intimacy with a team that you do when you travel alone. Knausgaard tried to distinguish the piece through personal information (I don’t know if he’s addicted to nicotine, but he’s addicted to writing about his need for cigarettes) and sometimes overreaching profundities. Anyone interested in Russia – even contemporary Russia – would be better served by reading Colin Thubron’s Where the Nights Are Longest, published in 1987. You’ll learn very little about the author but his hyper-observant eye, his analytical mind, and his nuanced prose will illuminate the country.

By Thomas Swick • Category: writers

I’ve been attending the Miami Book Fair for over 20 years, and every year I see something new. Saturday I had two novel experiences, both involving the same author (not a novelist).

I arrived to her session early and bought her book. Seeing her standing nearby, I held it up, and her face broke into an expression of delight. Approaching, I told her that we had met in the authors’ lounge a few years earlier. “Tell me your name again?” she said, warmly shaking my hand. Then she asked if she could borrow the book to read from during her panel, as she had forgotten to bring a copy.

After the session she returned the book and invited me to come outside to her table, where she would sign it. I waited till her fans had gone and then stepped up to the table. “Please make it out to Joyce,” I said, giving my sister-in-law’s name.

She opened to the title page and started to write.

“Oh, you’re also a lefty who writes in the over-the-top style,” I said.

But she didn’t hear. She was engaged in conversation with her co-panelist. The subject was New Yorker rejections. It irked me that she was ignoring me to talk to her colleague, and it annoyed me even more that the discussion was one in which I could have more than held my own. I have been receiving rejections from The New Yorker since 1979. I doubted that either of them has, hanging on the wall of her office, a framed letter from William Shawn, dated February 24, 1987, informing her that he is no longer the editor of the magazine, that the new editor is Robert Gottlieb, and that she “may wish to get in touch with Mr. Gottlieb.”

But I couldn’t enter into the discussion because I had become invisible: They were on the celebrated (if rejected) writer side of the table and I wasn’t. She handed the book back – the one I had lent her one hour earlier – without even looking at me.

By Thomas Swick • Category: writers

fatalism 101

11/15/17 09:18

Went to see the Polish movie at the film festival on Friday because, judging from the synopsis, it was a contemporary film about family life, not another depressing movie about the war.

Within the first few minutes, the mother suffered a stroke and fell into a coma. As if that weren't enough, the father, toward the end, got diagnosed with a brain tumor. Though, to the director's credit, he handled the news with humor. It reminded me of the Polish philosopher who said that Poles can only be happy in those situations when they have no reason to be.

By Thomas Swick • Category: poland, writers

This year’s Nobel Prize for Literature has gone to a writer who is relatively well-known (at least his work that has been made into movies is) and writes in English. So the English-speaking world, which views itself as the center of the universe, should be pleased. Though I suspect that there are many worthy writers working in less popular languages who missed out on a chance to gain wider audiences.  

By Thomas Swick • Category: writers

In Sunday's New York Times Book Review a friend described the writer Penelope Lively as "shrewd and wise, which is so rare in the age of clever."

By Thomas Swick • Category: writers

strange praise

04/14/17 09:11

Today, writers are frequently praised for their 'compassion,' 'generosity,' 'honesty' - all qualities we have traditionally valued in our friends.

By Thomas Swick • Category: writers