Paper Monument

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My, oh my, how the months fly by. Last I posted it was winter and now it’s fall again. Three seasons later, I have three things to share.

I’m very pleased to have published two new story-reviews this year. These are my experimental book reviews, or critifictions, as I call them sometimes. (A friend of mine said he thinks I might have invented this form/genre? Hard to say. Who knows?)

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Another Life

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My latest experimental book review is now online at Full Stop. (It originally appeared last year in the Full Stop Quarterly.) It’s part four in an ongoing series of experimental reviews I’m writing about literature in translation. I’ve been publishing them pretty slowly, about once a year. They’re a bit hard to place, being so different from traditional reviews, but I enjoy writing them. Many thanks to Helen Stuhr-Rommereim for believing in this piece and making it happen.

Another Life
On Recitation by Bae Suah, translated by Deborah Smith.

The critic read Suah’s novel, Recitation, on the train to and from a writers conference. At a panel about the art of criticism featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson the discussion turned to writing, the personal process of coming to terms with bias against different sorts of texts, the ways critics develop an approach for each piece. In the audience the critic listened as Jefferson described the nature of critical writing as “giving real coherence to ambiguity,” saying that not unlike a fiction writer a critic must also, “play different parts, very much adjusting your voice,” when interpreting a book’s potential meanings.

Continue reading at Full Stop

 

Death, dreams & Dad

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Interfictions, the online journal of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, recently published its sixth issue and it includes a new piece I wrote.

It’s an experimental book review, the third one I’ve done. Part criticism, fiction, and memoir, it’s about all the things a good book shakes loose inside me, which tend to spill out in raw form and later become a short story masquerading as a book review, or vice versa.

The review focuses on Mercè Rodoreda’s new novel, War, So Much War, published in English for the first time by Open Letter Books, translated masterfully from the Catalan by Martha Tennent and Maruxa Relaño, who’ve collaborated on many books together.

Interfictions is a fantastic venue to work for. For one thing, they pay their writers. Which is nice but most of all I’m grateful I got to work with Sofia Samatar, whose editorial guidance made all the difference as this review took shape.

Thanks in advance if you get a chance to read my piece and some of the others at Interfictions–the short stories were chosen by guest editors Carmen Maria Machado and Sam J. Miller. And be sure to check out Rodoreda’s novel! It’s one of my top three books for 2015.

An interview with David Winters

What motivations shape a critic’s decisions to write about the books they defend and those they dismiss? And what are the ethical or moral dimensions of those decisions? Beyond mere conflicts of interest, what lines do they draw for themselves in their work? Are there personal forces or experiences that affect their preferences about what to read and review?

In this ongoing series of interviews with critics, one of the central questions will be, “What is a critic’s role?”  It’s a broad question, open-ended, but one which can be used, if the critic chooses, to address the personal side to their lives as critics, and perhaps how they see their work affecting society and culture.

For the second post in this series, I’m very pleased to present an interview with David Winters. Our conversation took place over email in recent months.

David Winters is a literary critic living in Cambridge, England. His reviews, essays and interviews have appeared in a wide variety of print and online publications, including the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Literary Review, The White Review, The Quarterly Conversation, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. A collection of his literary criticism, titled Infinite Fictions, is forthcoming from Zero Books in January 2015; it can be pre-ordered here. He is currently co-editor in chief of 3:AM Magazine, where he commissions criticism and nonfiction. He can be found online at davidwinters.uk.

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An interview with Rohan Maitzen

What is a critic’s role? What motivations shape their decisions to write about the books they defend and those they dismiss? And what are the ethical or moral dimensions of those decisions? Beyond mere conflicts of interest, what lines do they draw for themselves in their work? What personal forces or experiences affect their preferences about what to read and review?

In this ongoing series of interviews with critics, one of the central questions will be, “What is a critic’s role?”  It’s a broad question, open-ended, but one which can be used, if the critic chooses, to address the personal side to their lives as critics, and perhaps how they see their work affecting society and culture.

For the first post in this series, I’m very pleased to present an interview with Rohan Maitzen. Our conversation took place over email in recent months.

Maitzen was born in Berkeley, California, and raised in Vancouver, B.C. After doing her Ph.D. at Cornell she moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she has taught in the English Department at Dalhousie University since 1995. She specializes in Victorian literature; her academic publications include Gender, Genre, and Victorian Historical Writing and The Victorian Art of Fiction: 19th-Century Essays on the Novel. She is an editor and regular contributor at Open Letters Monthly and blogs at Novel Readings.

Maitzen Profile

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A few thoughts on #MyWritingProcess

Last week Kateywrites kindly invited me to take part in the ongoing discussions people are having about #mywritingprocess, answering four questions about themselves and their work. I’m still new to blogging and I’ve never written about this sort of thing before, but wanted to give it a shot. So here are my answers. Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out Katey’s writing at the link above!

1. What am I working on?

I’m at work on a novel called “The Designer,” based on this short story published last year by Corium Magazine. It’s about three friends who, at age 40, decide to leave San Francisco and move to Berlin using money they inherited after the death of their parents. It’s about love, expats, mirror-writing, art, grief, translation, and mysterious party guests.

In nonfiction, I’m working on an experimental review for the Irish literary magazine, gorse. Experimental how? It continues the narrative begun here at 3:AM Magazine last year. I’m also working on a review about Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My fiction tends to include fantastic or improbable elements in order to create an original story and try to put characters in situations that show human behavior in a new light. A perfect novel to me would be a blend of Tove Jansson, Virginia Woolf, and Amelie Nothomb.

In nonfiction, I’m devoted to the #readwomen2014 movement (which I discuss a little bit in this article for The Guardian). So I’m only reading and reviewing books by women in 2014. As a literary critic, I’ve been focused on translated literature for a while now, and I tend to like shorter, more experimental books or novellas. By choosing these kinds of books it definitely affects the tone and tenor of my criticism, as an attempt to look at sexism both in publishing and society.

3. Why do I write what I do?

This novel is definitely based in part on my interest in travel and art and displacement, which crosses over into personal territory as well: grief, anxiety, friendships, hope through creativity, and more. My reviews are part of an effort to celebrate translated literature, of which little is published in the U.S., and add something to the broader discussion about literary culture. This effort tends to keep me focused on small presses and independent presses. And focusing on books by women, deliberately ignoring the mass media coverage that tends to tout books by men, I hope to write about authors I might not otherwise discover.

4. How does my writing process work?

I like writing in the morning, but will use any free moment I can get. I do most first drafts and note-taking by hand. There’s something about putting ink on paper by hand that is still very magical for me. Then I type things up to read and edit on-screen, but will still print things out and scribble them up by hand as stories develop. I find taking a red pen to a printed document lets me distance myself from the work, reading things out loud, hearing how certain passage resonate within the whole idea of where a story or review is heading.

Since I have a toddler, work full-time, and edit a section of the translation journal, Asymptote, I rely on small bits of time to keep my short stories, reviews, and the novel moving ahead. I try (and usually succeed) not to get too anxious or upset when it feels like I don’t have large blocks of time to write like I used to. If I get a little window to work I’ll tinker with an outline or revise a couple pages of something, or re-read an important chapter in a book I’m reviewing. Those small things add up and overlap: research for a novel will illuminate things for me in my criticism, and revising part of a short story can give me a better appreciation of what I see other writers trying to accomplish. So I guess I like having multiple projects going on at once, though it does feel overwhelming at times. Taking a day off from writing is very nice, too. Just reading or getting away from words altogether. Being a father, husband, and taking care of an old rowhouse in West Philly provide plenty of chances to get away from all that!

Many thanks again to Katey for telling me about this and inviting me to participate! Here’s a link to her post about #mywritingprocess.