Posts by: Jake Slovis

Stability in the Spinning Chaos

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Why is Catch-22 so widely read? According to the Guardian’s Sam Jordison, Joseph Heller’s novel is powerful because its protagonist Yossarian is “an old-fashioned hero”:

Readers immediately cared about Yossarian, and his survival. Yossarian is the point of connection and understanding; a strong central fulcrum around which the chaos of the novel spins.

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Ragtime and the Mysterious Teenage Highlighter

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At The Millions, Jacob Lambert shares a letter written to an unknown teenager who annotated and “ruined” his secondhand copy of Ragtime. Lambert expresses bewilderment over the passages that the teenager highlighted, and provides his own insights in response:

Chapter three ends with the sentence “And up through the slum alleys, through the gray clothes hanging listlessly on lines strung across air shafts, rose the smell of fried fish.” A highly evocative passage, seemingly straightforward enough.

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Imagining A Dystopian Olympic Games

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At the Huffington Post, Maddie Crum and Maxwell Strachan ask 7 science fiction authors to hypothesize about what a dystopian Olympics might look like. While most of the authors acknowledge the influence that climate change and technology will have on the Olympics, Crum and Strachan note that the authors’ responses are surprisingly optimistic.

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A Brief Relationship with Writing

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At The Millions, Bryan VanDyke reflects on his experience writing several unpublished novels, and how these manuscripts helped motivate him to write the draft of his first published work in less than a week:

My grad school mentor, the brooding and kind-hearted author David Plante, would sometimes refer to unsuccessful books as “one more for the river.” As a student in his twenties with a chartless ocean of writing challenges ahead, this metaphor made me uneasy because I so desperately wanted to arrive somewhere with my work.

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How to Write Wilderness

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At The Millions, Mary Catherine Martin responds to the flaws she found in Dave Eggers’s representation of the Alaskan wilderness in his most recent novel, Heroes of the Frontier. She explains why writers who “write wilderness” have a responsibility to understand the great outdoors before putting pen to paper:

If there’s anything wilderness can teach you, it’s the dizzying breadth of what you do not know, and if what you write is to resonate as true there is no lesson more important.

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Extremely Sentimental and Incredibly Useful

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At Electric Literature, Manuel Betancourt argues that there is value to the “cheap sentimentality” in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and its film adaptation:

What cheap sentimentality can do is to short-circuit our connection to the depths of our emotions, precisely by making us feel that they are closer to the surface than we’re perhaps comfortable with.

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The Desire for Distraction

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For The Millions, Mike Broida revisits David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, arguing that the work’s claims about addiction and the media presaged the influence of “television culture” on the digital age:

The final “joke” of Infinite Jest is that the book is intended to be almost as endless and mirthful as the addictions it depicts.

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Literary Cage Match

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At The Millions, Jonathan Gottschall compares his experience learning to cage fight with the struggles of being a writer, as “the writing game, like the fighting game, mostly ends in breakage”:

Literary history is a history of victors. So stories about the struggles of well-known writers almost always follow the comforting arc of suffering redeemed.

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Stop Demonizing Fearless Women

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At Electric Literature, Bronwyn Averett interviews Julia Franks about her debut novel, Over the Plain Houses. The novel is set in a small town Appalachian Village, and explores “the government’s role in the lives of individuals, the responsibility of humans toward the environment, and the place of women within their communities.” On the latter topic, Franks says:

When women don’t behave the way we want, we demonize them.

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Writing to Legitimize the Self

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To research her book Without You, There Is No Us, Suki Kim worked undercover as an ESL teacher in North Korea. Kim was reluctant to call the work a memoir, believing that to do so “trivialized” her investigative reporting. The result was a backlash from critics, who called her undercover methods “dishonest.” At The New Republic, Kim responds to her critics:

Here I am telling my story to you, the reader, essentially to beg for acknowledgment: I am an investigative journalist, please take me seriously. 

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Reading for a Paycheck

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At Electric Literature, Nick Politan reports on a new study that suggests that reading in childhood has a link to financial success in adulthood. Politan, however, is critical of the study, which he argues reduces books to their “capitalist value”:

Can “books” not be something(s) — at least for a reader — positively stripped of their economic jackets?

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Welcome, Words in Light

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A new independent publishing project, Words in Light, launched last week. Founded by former Rumpus Interviews Editor and ongoing contributor Ben Pfeiffer, the site will focus on publishing diverse voices and paying contributors. Check out Words in Light’s first two published works, an essay about a Russian landlord by Kara Bollinger and a piece of fiction by Patrick Nathan titled “Parenthesis.”

Words in Light will publish longform fiction and nonfiction alongside video, audio, photography, illustration, and infographics, and every feature is a unique collaboration between writers, editors, and visual artists.

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Book Club Misogyny

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For Electric Literature, Tabitha Blankenbiller offers a critique of the recent New York Times article about “Man Book Clubs,” and analyzes how gendered book covers influence readers’ choices and experience:

We can debate the levels of hubris and/or drunkenness in the NYT editorial room all we want, but what we have is an article claiming real estate and resources in The New York Times’ Books section.

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Where Books Meet Their Ends

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For the Guardian, Sam Jordison draws parallels between Don DeLillo’s previous novels (White Noise and Omega) and his most recent novel, Zero K:

In Point Omega, we’re told: “The true life is not reducible to words spoken or written, not by anyone, ever.” In White Noise, meanwhile, Jack Gladney already feels like he is the false character following his name around.

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A Zone of Psychological Relief

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Over at Lit Hub, Michele Filgate reports on the growing influence of Street Lit, which provides writing workshops and books to the homeless community in Austin, Texas. Filgate also talks with Street Lit founder Barry Maxwell, as he opens up about the “relief” reading offered him while he was homeless:

Reading was such a zone of psychological relief, and also somehow of connection, that I honestly don’t know how I would have stayed as sane as I did without it.

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