On a recent five-star November afternoon, I decided to visit Trinity Church Cemetery in northern Harlem. Starting at the plateau on Amsterdam Avenue and 154th Street, I followed the winding paths down through a kaleidoscope of autumn leaves and crumbling crypts, which, glowing in the western sun, appeared almost transitory. As one tends to do in cemeteries, I contemplated the end of all things. Lately, I had heard murmurs about “the death” of the internet, and though inclined to dismiss such speculation as a form of insipid nostalgia that often clings to any recollection of the past—and really, what is the internet if not an infinite collection of memories?—I [...]
On a recent walk through downtown Dallas, I stopped to admire an old light fixture attached to an abandoned building. The streets around me, lined with weedy lots and architectural wreckage, were deserted enough to feel vaguely menacing. A car cruised past; its driver and I seemed to regard each other with the same wary suspicion. I returned my attention to the light. “Look at me,” it whispered, defiant and exhausted, “and try to tell me that the old world was not better than the new one.”
I wasn’t so sure, given that whatever good you want to say about the past, the fact remains that it [...]
Author readings and book tours are not an essential component of the writing or publishing processes, and so these events have long been associated with a kind of miasmic purposelessness. Go to your basic reading and sit in the back row, where if you squint, you will see above the head of almost everyone involved—the writer(s)/reader(s), the audience, the publicist, the bookseller, the sales clerk(s) who set up the chairs and must wait around to take them down before heading out to an indie-rock show, the local reporter doing a trend piece on the decline of readings—a clump of thought bubbles bumping up against each other like trapped balloons, [...]
These days when I go out in the garden, I’m reminded of how, as a kid, I used to feel at the end of August, when the start of school loomed and you could already hear the gates to freedom and laziness clanking shut. As an adult, it’s a dread of winter tempered by the last of the color; the brightness is all the more striking for being found in a web of leafless, grey vines and branches. There's a certainty that what remains is about to end.
Because I had only planned to stay in the Berkshires for less than a day, my friend suggested we go on a hike up Monument Mountain. I agreed: New York City has a lot going for it, but mountains are not included. I was also happy to take my mind off of a reading I was scheduled to give that night as part of a local arts festival. My slot was between two bands, which when I accepted the invitation sounded great in theory but felt more problematic as I saw myself talking to a bunch of drunks about opera, German Romanticism and the challenges of being a non-heterosexual writer [...]
89. "Crystal" 88. "Actual Condition" 87. "No Promise Have I Made" 86. "You're a Soldier" 85. "Tell You Tomorrow" 84. "One Step at a Time" 83. "All This I've Done for You" 82. "It's Not Peculiar" 81. "Don't Know Yet" 80. "Bed of Nails" 79. "The Wit and the Wisdom" 78. "Somewhere" 77. "Reoccurring Dreams"
Did everyone go to see Two Boys, Nico Muhly’s new opera, which will have its final performance tomorrow at the Metropolitan Opera? And if so, have you seen any other operas this season, or last, or ever? The reason I ask is that my internet feeds for the past month or so have been filled with an unprecedented number of updates from those who were inspired to wade into the operatic waters for the first time, which, for someone like me—who came to appreciate the form relatively late in life, and has spent my share of time trying to persuade skeptics to join me in this conversion—is exciting. [...]
Shane Jones’ new novel, Daniel Fights a Hurricane, was published last week by Penguin. Like his first novel—Light Boxes, in which a town bands together to fight the month of February—Daniel Fights a Hurricane centers on a force of nature. The hurricane takes many shapes, including a mob of angry children, a monster with sharp teeth, and the madness that may or may not be filling Daniel's head with visions. The book is filled with surreal, hallucinogenic imagery ranging from the terrifying to the hilarious—there are “banana bombs," rotten bananas thrown like grenades—that work to create a sinister, modern fairy tale, but one written for the demented adult [...]
In some ways it's been an easy winter, but in so many others it continues to be brutal. Republicans, #sxsw, the infectious malaise of late-period capitalism: it's hard to believe that any of this will ever end, and logically, we know it won't. Still, during these waning days of winter, when our will to live has ebbed, it's possible to ignore the hellish confines of our existence, at least for a little while. Let's start by taking a look at these tiny buttercups, whose aura of innocence (they haven't been reading the news, after all) should help to thaw your cold heart.
As we head into the late days of November, at least here in the region around New York City, most of the ferns have turned sallow and dry, so that it’s difficult to believe that only a few months ago, they formed a lush, dense carpet of shadowy green on forest floors everywhere. While it’s tempting to be taken in by these superficial signs of frailty and expiration, do not be deceived: those of us who spend time with ferns understand that they are plotting, and one day soon will again rule the world.
"The point being, to understand Isherwood is to understand his infatuation with liars, which—returning to the camera metaphor—I think makes it reasonable to ask whether he himself was lying, or at least half-lying in a way he could find almost believable." —Old Awl chum Matthew Gallaway writes in The Millions about Christopher Isherwood and the notion of being a camera and lying and memory. (He references the great Jonathan Richman song, "Don't Let Our Youth Go to Waste," which was nicely covered by Galaxie 500. But that R.E.M. song is my favorite R.E.M. song, and I think it's also Isherwood inspired, so let's listen to that first.)
One of the worst things about summer, at least in New York City, is that by the time the Fourth of July rolls around, you’re pretty much ready for it to be over. It’s beyond hot, everyone has stains down the middle of their backs and under their armpits, you can’t afford a beach vacation, you’re crushed into subway cars touching other people’s sweaty arms and legs in ways that would fall under a definition of intimate relations in almost any other scenario. For these reasons and more, it’s a good idea to stop and pay tribute to the daylily.
Writers by definition spend a lot of time on the inside of books, which is why what happens on the outside—namely, cover art and blurbs—can feel precarious and daunting. Often these elements are beyond an author’s control or expertise, which can be painful to admit, particularly when the "expertise" of graphic designers and marketers seems so subjective or at odds with an author’s “vision” for a book.
To get some advice on navigating these issues, we asked a handful of writers—including Kate Christensen, Bennett Madison, Stefanie Pintoff, Mark Jude Poirier and Tom Scocca—who have been through the process these questions:
- How important are covers in terms [...]
As I walked through Ocean Grove, a small town just south of Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore, I felt proud of my people. Who else but my fellow childless, non-heterosexual disciples of the past would have had the patience and fortitude to sweep uninvited into this enclave of once-dilapidated Victorian masterpieces, and—undeterred by the proximity to 1) the post-war urban blight of Asbury Park and 2) the religious blight of the Methodist Church, which founded Ocean Grove in 1869 as a “camp revival” site and still owns the land on which every house sits—painstakingly refurbish every spoke and shingle? I imagined what it would be like to live in [...]
If, like me, you garden at ground level in a light-challenged, urban backyard—basically the equivalent of a mineshaft—you've probably found yourself confronting the end of July and August as something like a mid-life crisis. The garden isn't unhealthy; except for a few brown spots here and there, caused by the heat or some pests, it's probably lush and green, a sight your younger, pre-garden self would have imagined with pride as you considered the long odds of having any kind of outdoor space in Manhattan. Yet logic aside, the landscape in front of you seems to lack an element of excitement that once made the venture so utterly absorbing.
In the life of any gardener, there comes a day when you're forced to admit that no matter how much you worship a certain plant, it's just not going to work for you. There are any number of reasons this might happen: insufficient light, space, or some other factor that makes your garden not to the plant's liking. In these cases, it's likely you've spent many a precious dollar on such plants, even after all the evidence points conclusively to failure: They looked so healthy and vibrant at the nursery! You want to redeem yourself for the last batch you killed! You forget how demoralizing it was to watch [...]
Duff McKagan was 15 when he met Kim Warnick of Seattle punk band the Fastbacks. While giving him a ride home from school, she mentioned that her band might need a drummer. "Guitar, drums, bass, whatever, I'll join!" writes McKagan with the kind of tractable enthusiasm that makes his new memoir, It’s So Easy (And Other Lies) (out today), a fun and heartening read. After dropping out of the local alternative high school (where to show up for half an hour every two weeks "proved too great an obligation") and drifting in and out of trouble with drugs and the police, Duff moved to Los Angeles in 1983 with [...]
In The Last of the Live Nude Girls, Sheila McClear describes moving to New York City where, adrift and low on cash, she eventually finds work as a stripper in the peep shows. The book, published this month by Soft Skull Press, has been called "eye-opening, gritty and compelling" and "beautiful." She'll be reading at McNally Jackson on Tuesday, August 16.
Matthew Gallaway: I noticed you posted a photograph on your Tumblr of an XXX store in Times Square. Does that mean they're coming back?
Sheila McClear: I don't think they're coming back, just going extinct. I don't even know of any in the [...]
The title of a book, along with maybe the cover, is most often what’s going to lead a potential reader to pick up your baby book. Which isn’t to say coming up with a good one is easy. To the contrary, it’s the sort of thing, like naming a band, that can cause everyone involved a lot of agony, particularly when an author has settled on something very early in the process and someone else (usually involved in selling it) however many months or years later decides that the book might be better served with something different.
So, how do we know if we have a good title? According [...]