Sunday, June 16, 2024

A Reviewer's Life

A few extracts from an interesting article by Christine Smallwood, on "A Reviewer's Life: The Material Constraints of Writing Criticism Today":

Newspaper book reviews have been contracting for decades, and while magazines like The Nation and The Atlantic cover books, the hourly rate on a piece, once you do the calculation, is dismal. “Little” magazines and online reviews are wonderful for the culture, but no one could pay the rent writ­ing for those outlets alone. If you have a secure academic job and write reviews on the side, it’s nice work. For the freelancer—I am one—it’s a foolish undertaking. As Russell Jacoby noted nearly forty years ago, one reason there are not more full-time freelance writers is that most take staff writer positions or university jobs or quit writing altogether.

Writing a review is the best, maybe the only, way I can discover what I think. I don’t come to reviewing with my ideas already formed; I have to build them, sentence by sentence. For me, writing a review is a way of getting closer to an object, taking it apart to understand how it works.

Criticism is a conversation—with oneself but also with one’s editors, with readers, and with other reviewers. There is something hopeful about writing a review. It’s like putting a message in a bottle or sending up a flare. . . . Who knows where the person who will read the piece is sitting?

Read the full article in the Summer 2024 issue of The Yale Review, accessible here.

Friday, May 31, 2024

The Adaptation Tango

 George R.R. Martin has written:

Everywhere you look, there are more screenwriters and producers eager to take great stories and “make them their own.”   It does not seem to matter whether the source material was written by Stan Lee, Charles Dickens, Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl, Ursula K. Le Guin, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, Raymond Chandler, Jane Austen, or… well, anyone.   No matter how major a writer it is, no matter how great the book, there always seems to be someone on hand who thinks he can do better, eager to take the story and “improve” on it.   “The book is the book, the film is the film,” they will tell you, as if they were saying something profound.   Then they make the story their own.

They never make it better, though.   Nine hundred ninety-nine times out of a thousand, they make it worse.

Amen to that.  The full blog post is here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Literary Blogs from the Golden Age to the (Diminished) Present

"If literary blogging helped lead us to the much-expanded online network that now serves as the locus of establishment literary activity, this process has unfortunately left no place for blogging. Even with the current unsettled circumstances in both internet publishing and social media (publishers keep going out of business, social media keeps fragmenting), I do not expect that litblogging as we knew it at the beginning will make any kind of significant comeback. Which is not to say that blogging will not survive, just that it won't again have the same king of salience to the direction literary culture takes as it briefly did in the nascent days of the blogosphere. Bloggers will have to be satisfied with a medium that offers limited reach but allows them maximum freedom and infinite space to say what they have to say at whatever length, and perhaps find an audience who wants to hear it. This may be the most invaluable promise the blog made to writers in the first place."

 Read the full essay "What Hath the Blog Wrought?" by Daniel Green here. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Cancel Culture Dominates Children's Literature

Jonah Winter's article, "Cancel Culture Dominates Children's Literature," published on 5 February 2024 in The Wall Street Journal, is a sad story of the state of publishing today.

"Children's publishers now live in fear of these activists, terrified of showing up on their radar with a book or author that could be deemed “problematic”—meaning out of alignment with the activists' puritanical code. According to that code, an author's identity must match a book's subject matter. Further, certain books can harm children, the activists believe, and books they deem harmful must be removed. If that sounds similar to the right-wing activists' mission, it's because it is. The only difference is that while right-wing activists merely want certain books removed from particular schools, left-wing activists want the books they target annihilated."

The full article is here, but probably behind a paywall. Jonah Winter has also done a picture book for children (with artist Gary Kelley) on a related topic. It's called Banned Book. Worth a look, and worth supporting.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Lord Dunsany's The Curse of the Wise Woman

The Dublin Review of Books has an interesting article by Robin Wilkinson on Lord Dunsany, particularly covering The Curse of the Wise Woman (1933). It is titled "Dunsany's Careless Abundance" and is available here

A snippet:

In his autobiographical Patches of Sunlight (1938), Dunsany recalls the day he discovered the tales of Edgar Allan Poe in the school library, and straightway read them all, enthralled by ‘the haunted desolation and weird gloom of the misty mid-region of Weir’. He salutes his American cousin once again in The Curse of the Wise Woman, which includes Poe’s description of ‘soulless dissipation’ at Eton, the English boarding school that Poe himself did not attend, although as it happens both Charles [a character in The Curse of the Wise Woman] and Dunsany did. The passage he quotes is taken from William Wilson, Poe’s doppelgänger tale of a young man of noble ancestry haunted by his unrelated twin, a second self who follows him everywhere, much as Charles follows in the footsteps of his creator.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

How Authorship Has Changed

There is a new article up at The New Yorker, on "How Has Big Publishing Changed American Fiction" by Kevin Lozano. It's a kind of slanted take on a new book, Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature, by Dan Sinykin.  I haven't seen Sinykin's book yet (though I've read excerpts and reviews), but I look forward to reading it, as it gives a pretty good analysis of how authorship has been changed by the totality of corporate bean-counters, much to its detriment. This aspect is little understood by readers in general, and by anyone outside the industry.

The article notes the following:

Before conglomeration, Sinykin asserts, writing a book “was a completely different experience.” Once, a would-be novelist’s chances of being published depended on “how easily you could get your book in the right editor’s hands.” As the number of those involved in publication expanded, authors had to meet new criteria. “Could marketers see a market? What would the chain bookbuyers think? Could publicists picture your face on TV, your voice on the radio? Could agents sniff subsidiary rights? Would foreign rights sell at the Frankfurt Book Fair? Might your story be remediated? Would it work in audio? On the big screen?”

Sinykin calls authors who successfully navigated the maze of agents, marketers, and booksellers “industrial writers.” This group includes chart-topping genre writers, such as Danielle Steel, Michael Crichton, and Stephen King, and also literary novelists who managed to work within the new system. 

The full article is here (though it might be blocked by a paywall). 

Friday, September 1, 2023

A.I. and the Writer

 A long and very interesting essay by Adam L.G. Nevill about the future for writers and the threats of A.I. 

Let's say that future AI software becomes sophisticated enough to write a new novel by Tolkien. Then, surely, there will be attempts to upload and sell the myriad results of new stories "in-the-style-of" [add any popular author's name], produced by the technology and its so called "authors" and "publishers". And immediately. 

 Read the full version here.