Ira Glass on Storytelling

Fans of This American Life know that it’s a bastion of fantastic storytelling. But what makes its stories so good? Host Ira Glass explains in this series of clips from YouTube:

These are lessons that can be applied to many forms of storytelling, not just the radio show. In fact, I hope to apply some of them to my blogging style.

American Writers On America

There was a fantastic post at Metafilter a few weeks ago. Kattullus wrote:

Writers on America is a collection of essays by various American authors on different aspects of America. It was conceived in the direct aftermath of 9/11 as a way to introduce readers to a United States that is not prominent in American pop culture. It is published by the US State Department and distributed by embassies.

Michael Chabon writes about growing up in the utopian planned city of Columbia, Maryland. Bharati Mukherjee writes On Being an American Writer rather than an Indo-American one. Charles Johnson writes about a great uncle who started a milk company, and after that went belly-up in the Great Depression, founded a construction business.

The other authors with essays in the volume are Elmaz Abinader, Julia Alvarez, Sven Birkerts, Robert Olen Butler, Billy Collins, Robert Creeley, David Herbert Donald, Richard Ford, Linda Hogan, Mark Jacobs, Naomi Shihab Nye and Robert Pinsky.

On Voice of America Eric Felten interviewed Mark Jacobs, George Clack, executive editor of the publication and Joseph Bottum, books and arts editor of the Weekly Standard. NPR interviewed Clack and Elmaz Abinader [RealAudio] about the project and On the Media interviewed Clack by himself.

The comments on this post at Metafilter are interesting, too, with loud cries of “propaganda”, as if it’s wrong to be proud of one’s country. It’s stuff like this that keeps me returning to Metafilter again and again.

[Metafilter: American writers on America]

Great American Writers and Their Cocktails

NPR’s Morning Edition recently ran a fabulous piece on great American writers and their cocktails. This is actually based on a new book, Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide

I’m going to have to try Fitzgerald’s gin rickey. I’m a fan of the gin fizz, and this looks vaguely similar.

Gin Rickey
It is easy to imagine a warm summer evening out on the shore of Long Island — say a party at Gatsby’s house, the bartenders serving up light, refreshing Gin Rickeys as the jazz band swings. In the 1920s and ’30s there were any number of Rickeys (scotch, rum, applejack), but gin is the one that endured. And besides, it was Fitzgerald’s favorite.

2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. lime juice
Top with club soda
Lime wheel
Pour gin and lime juice into a chilled highball glass filled with ice cubes. Top with club soda, and stir gently. Garnish with lime wheel. Serve with two straws.

Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide has made its way to my Amazon wishlist. (What book doesn’t?) I love this sort of thing.

[NPR: Great American writers and their cocktails]

Nude Lit: Authors Who Wrote Naked

Neatorama recently published a list of authors who write in the buff. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but do I really need to know that Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms in the nude? Yikes!

The list includes:

Commenters to the post noted others authors who were purported to feel the muse while in the buff: Sherwood Anderson, Harlan Ellison, and historian Forrest McDonald. I may sit around writing in my undies (sorry — too much information, I know), but naked? I’d get cold!

[Neatorama: The naked truth: Authors who write in the buff]

Thomas Hardy, God’s Undertaker

Leafing through my back issues of The New Yorker, I found another review of Claire Tomalin’s Thomas Hardy, which I mentioned a couple weeks ago. Actually, this piece appears to be less a book review and more a mini-biography of Hardy. I don’t have time to read the article at the moment — it’s quite long — so I’ve torn it out for later digestion. It’s available online: “God’s Undertaker: How Thomas Hardy became everyone’s favorite misanthrope” by Adam Kirsch.

A Pair of Articles on Victorian Literature

Last weekend The New York Times featured a pair of stories about Victorian literature.

The first is a review of the “Victorian Bestsellers” exhibit at the Morgan Library & Museum.

Some of these best sellers are now barely known… Other best sellers remain literary landmarks. After Charles Dickens’s Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club began appearing in monthly installments in March 1836, its press run increased from 1,000 copies for the first part to 40,000 for the finale in October 1837. By 1879 the full novel had sold 800,000 copies and had transformed British publishing.

The exhibition is a bit constricted by taking Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901) as its domain, since, as it acknowledges, the prime example of a best-selling author was Sir Walter Scott, whose 1819 Ivanhoe (part of the author’s manuscript is on display here) sold 10,000 copies in two weeks.

But this show — suggestive and alluring, with its sampling of the Morgan’s riches — demonstrates that it was during the latter part of the 19th century that the appetite of a growing public was institutionalized, and that authors and publishers knowingly worked for large sales, perfecting new forms of packaging for print.

I love this piece because although I’ll never see the exhibit in question, it gives me some background on publishing history that I otherwise might have missed.

The other Times article reviews a new Biography of Thomas Hardy. The reviewer proclaims Claire Tomalin’s Thomas Hardy “excellent”.

This new biography makes its subject a fascinating case study in mid-Victorian literary sociology. Hardy struggles — with an industriousness befitting the age — against editorial rejection, rapacious contract terms and enforced prudery. Leslie Stephen, known chiefly to the 21st century as Virginia Woolf’s father, edited his magazine, The Cornhill, under the watchful, prissy eyes of so many others that he sometimes made “few suggestions beyond bowdlerizations” when working on Hardy’s copy. Serialization often forced the author “to pack in far too much plot” and thereby throw novels like The Mayor of Casterbridge significantly off-kilter. Finally, there were reviewers to contend with; Hardy remained overly sensitive to all they had to say.

There are but a few authors about which I collect supplementary books — Proust, Austen, Dickens — but Thomas Hardy is one of them. I recently re-read
The Return of the Native and loved it. Hardy captures rural country life perfectly. And though he’s writing about mid-19th century England, I feel as if he’s actually writing about the rural Oregon countryside where I grew up. I am eager to read this biography.

[The New York Times: Best-seller big bang: When words started off to market and Thomas Hardy's English lessons, both links from Bibliophilic reader Paul]