Tuesday, May 14th, 2013
4

How To Write About Tragedy And/Or Lindsay Lohan: Advice From Stephen Rodrick

Stephen Rodrick, a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, of late best known for the single best story on Lindsay Lohan ever, has a new book out today called The Magical Stranger: A Son’s Journey Into His Father’s Life. His father, Commander Peter Rodrick, died in 1979 when his Prowler crashed into the ocean. The book traces the aftermath of his father’s death for his young family, and its ripple effects in Rodrick’s adult life—but is also a book documenting military life today. It's also really good, particularly in the way it calibrates the telling of such an openly emotional story. It’s not easy [...]

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5

What Happens After You Meet The Devil? The Life Of Mary MacLane

Mary MacLane lived the dream, as we say nowadays. At least, in the beginning, she did. In Butte, Montana, where she grew up, she was just a bright girl in high school. She wanted to go to Stanford, but her stepfather spent the money that had been set aside for her education. She made the fields her world and wrote copiously in a notebook. What emerged was a long, piercing self-examination, about her frustrations with her family, as embodied by six toothbrushes ("Never does the pitiable, barren, contemptible, damnable, narrow Nothingness of my life in this house come upon me with so intense a force as when my eyes happen [...]

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6

Quit Your Job (But For The Right Reason)! A Chat With Writer Jami Attenberg

Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins, which hits bookstores today, tells the story of a Midwestern family whose matriarch is binge-eating herself to death. There's a lot of talk about the obesity crisis in the country, but it tends to happen along one of two set tracks: either accompanying stock footage of headless fat people, or else coming from sinewy trainers barking at the imagined laziness of their frightened charges. It's fair to say that people are ready for another kind of story, and The Middlesteins has the potential to fill that gap. It isn't a polemic about the sagacity of good nutrition, or about personal foolishness. It's about how and [...]

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11

A Conversation With D.T. Max About His New David Foster Wallace Biography

In 2009, D.T. Max published a long piece about David Foster Wallace, and his suicide, in The New Yorker. The project grew into the biography Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace. In the final months of the book's completion, through a stroke of incredible luck, I had the opportunity to help Max as a research assistant. Biography, it turns out, is complicated, wrenching work, particularly when your subject inspires the kind of devotion Wallace can, and where the end of a life comes in the form his did. With the book's release today, I wanted to talk to Max about the process [...]

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26

Critics Who Explain Things

There was, you know, a time when arguing about arguing actually felt vital. Really! To wit: In 1975, Susan Sontag wrote an essay on Leni Riefenstahl for The New York Review of Books. It was not her first comment on the director of the Triumph of the Will. She had, earlier, written of Riefenstahl's work in more admiring terms in Against Interpretation: "The Nazi propaganda is there. But something else is there, too, which we reject at our loss." But this time she'd been asked to review a book of Riefenstahl's photography of the Nuba tribes in Sudan, and the bland indifference of the jacket copy provoked her.

It [...]

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17

Becoming Stephen King

“Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place then come down and shoot the survivors,” Ernest Hemingway once wrote, with typical pugnacity. But are the critics sometimes right? In this occasional series we'll examine the early careers of now-beloved authors to see what the critics first made of them.

Carrie, the high-school revenge fantasy that launched a thousand tampons, started out in Stephen King’s mind as a short story. He intended to place it, according to his memoir On Writing, with the magazine Cavalier. (Cavalier was a Playboy/GQ precursor that is still published today in a slightly less exalted form.) He’d been writing a lot [...]

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36

Québec! What Is Going On Up There?

1. Happy mobs are all alike; every unhappy mob is unhappy in its own way. This has been lost on a lot of journalists in the last few weeks as many Québécois1 have poured into the streets, banging casserole dishes and getting beaten up and arrested for the perceived threat they pose. Every American commentary I find on it is eager to relate this to Occupy Wall Street, conveniently excusing itself from learning about the culture of the place. Well, agitprop’s always been a lot quicker to write than history, I suppose, and maybe that is most of all true about a place like Québec, where people sing [...]

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9

Becoming Joan Didion

“Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place then come down and shoot the survivors,” Ernest Hemingway once wrote, with typical pugnacity. But are the critics sometimes right? In this occasional series we'll examine the early careers of now-beloved authors to see what the critics first made of them.

Every profile of Joan Didion begins the same way: some quasi-poetic observation of the slight figure she cuts out there in the world, seguing to a contrast with what has often been called the "steely" quality of her prose. (Most hilariously awkward of these: a 1970 Los Angeles Times profile that tries to sustain an extended metaphor [...]

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13

Quit Your Job! A Q&A With Actress-Turned-Pot Farmer Heather Donahue

Heather Donahue, best known as the actress from The Blair Witch Project, has written a book. Now this happens all the time, the once-famous-people-writing-books thing. And often the result is some cookie-cutter “memoir” of which the kindest remark you might make is that it has paid some deserving freelancer’s rent for six months. But Heather Donahue’s story caught my eye, regardless, because her book, Growgirl, was said to be about her quitting acting to grow pot. Medical marijuana, of course, all sanctioned by California law, but pot nonetheless, and, being self-interestedly attracted to stories of people who do about-faces in their careers in their early 30s, I was intrigued. [...]

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8

The Struggle For The Occupy Wall Street Archives

The story of the Occupy Wall Street Archive starts with Jeremy Bold, so we might as well too. When Hollywood decides to cash in and make its OWS movie, central casting could do worse than work off a picture of Bold—he has a dark goatee and black plastic-rimmed glasses. He has a “protest name”—Jez. He's in dark, long-sleeved t-shirts and jeans whenever I see him, hair askew, a well-worn nylon backpack slung over one shoulder and a scarf not infrequently tied around his neck. In other words, he looks like any number of people you might have seen at Zuccotti Park. Jez is 27 and originally from North Dakota. [...]

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15

'Homeland' And 'Enlightened': Women On The Verge Of Nervous Breakthroughs

Mention Lindsay Lohan to me and you’ll be treated to an excoriation of the joy with which this culture greets your average female public breakdown. As such, I've surprised myself this fall with my absorption in the personal and professional unravellings of two female television characters: Carrie Mathison of "Homeland" (Claire Danes) and Amy Jellicoe of "Enlightened" (Laura Dern). If you've also been watching those shows, you might question my yoking them together. Carrie and Amy could not occupy (heh) two more different dramatic universes. “Homeland” is a taut, quickly paced thriller about terrorism whose signature gesture is to end each episode on the edge of a cliff; while “Enlightened” [...]

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61

A Supposedly True Thing Jonathan Franzen Said About David Foster Wallace

There’s really no delicate way to put this: at this year’s New Yorker Festival, Jonathan Franzen said that David Foster Wallace fabricated at least part of—and potentially a large part of—his nonfiction pieces. I wasn’t there, but after reading Eric Alterman’s summary Friday, and finding no mention of the incident in any other coverage of the festival, I watched the conversation online.

Here's a rough transcript of the relevant exchange (with some “umms” and “uhhs” edited for reasons of intelligibility).

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64

Rental Brokers Are Useless

At the beginning of this month I spent about a week and a half of improbably beautiful, sunny, breezy, vacationing-in-New-York days huddled over my laptop in a borrowed apartment, hitting “refresh” over and over again. I would wake up in the mornings and instinctively reach for the phone (kept next to my pillow) and check my email to see whether anything had changed. I often didn’t shower until 3 or 4 p.m. I survived, largely, on coffee, and I slept at most a few hours a night. I didn’t read the news or even watch television except for that one night the stupor was so thick that I managed [...]

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16

Tina Brown, Fanfiction And Princess Diana: Nine Observations

1. Before we proceed, we might all need to take a moment to acknowledge that we've reached the point in our culture where former editors of the New Yorker are writing fanfiction. Publicly, I mean; who knows what William Shawn scribbled in his most private notebooks, and in some sense who wouldn’t want to know, how many miles to Babylon, etc. But still. Fanfiction, in a “news magazine.”

2. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with fanfiction qua fanfiction. I’m not into it myself, but I read serial killer profiles at 3 a.m. when I can’t sleep, so no judgment. But the communications scholar Henry Jenkins has an awfully neat [...]

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101

'Bridesmaids': Am I Doing Being A Woman Wrong?

Everywhere I went last week, women were talking about Bridesmaids. When they would see it, how many and varied were the ways in which they adored Maya Rudolph, how Kristen Wiig really was amazing in those two minutes of Knocked Up she appeared in, etc. Perhaps that only says something about the circles I travel in, although now we know that people spent about $25 million this weekend to see it. But much as talk of weddings, and all the things one Must Do and Must Have at one, often makes me feel as thought I was born in a pod sent here from the planet I Don't Know [...]

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99

Canada! How Does It Work?

1. First things first: In the '90s, one of the best things to watch on Canadian television (faint praise, that) was This Hour Has 22 Minutes. One of its most popular segments was "Talking To Americans," which was, more or less, just what it sounds like. Posing as a journalist, comedian Rick Mercer would get Americans to do things like congratulate Canada on its recent legalization of the stapler. Most of the interviews were conducted in the street-ambush style that makes you feel sorry for the targets, because God, some people were just out shopping and I wouldn’t know the first thing about Mexican politics if you asked [...]

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15

The Middle West Is Not The Middle East And Other Failures of Story Happening Right Now

Political protests are hardly occasions for subtlety, but even so, the overblown analogies to the Middle East in Wisconsin are rather difficult to take. Scott Walker is the "Mubarak of the Midwest"— or, to more Biblically minded commentators, a "Pharoah." Similarly, the protesters are the people who have finally risen up to bring a "Tunisia Moment" to America. Paul Krugman has fallen for it too, terming Paul Ryan's comparison of Cairo and Madison "unintentionally apt." No list of pizza donations goes by without mention that some benefactors are Egyptian. Even the protesters themselves have picked up on it, suggesting Walker become President of [...]

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11

What I Saw At The Toronto International Film Festival

1. At the Toronto International Film Festival the other night, the woman directly in front of me in the rush line said she was an aspiring filmmaker. She was wearing a striped button up shirt, pleated khakis, and a blue nylon shell. She carried a thermos. If I had to guess her age, I would probably end up somewhere around 65. She wanted a free ticket, she told the volunteer wrangler. To anything. The wrangler, who was at the lower end of middle-age and clearly relished the authority she'd been temporarily granted, fiddled constantly with her headset to signal her importance as she listened to this.

"You have to [...]

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144

Behind the Franzenfreude

Time's recent declaration of the obscure and notoriously media-shy writer Jonathan Franzen as our "Great American Novelist" was met, at first anyway, with shocking equanimity, it seems to me. Sure, he has a new book, Freedom, coming out. Sure, Sam Tanenhaus declared said novel a "masterpiece of American fiction" in the New York Times, though he did so nearly a month before regular readers would be able to challenge that view. Sure, such is the confidence of Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux in this book that it is pre-selling as an ebook at the unusually-high price of $14.99. Me, I read The Corrections, enjoyed it, and promptly [...]

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68

'Eat Pray Love' and 'I Am Love': Class Warfare

Today, two women look at summer lady-blockbuster 'Eat Pray Love' in the context of other movies with strong female characters. After this: Maria Bustillos on 'Life During Wartime.'

If your experience is the same as mine, and you do not garner your cultural criticism solely from the pages of O: The Oprah Magazine, you've heard of Eat, Pray, Love largely through negative press coverage. A veritable battalion of sudden class warriors have emerged in recent weeks to bash Eat, Pray, Love for its portrayal of cluelessness in rich white yoga-lady form, a near-universal object of derision if ever there was one in this culture.

It's not that [...]

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