Nineteenth Post: A little more Updike

Why is the best stuff always written about authors right after they die? I’d like to request a similar quantity of analysis–right now!–of the writing of Don Delillo, Tom Wolfe, John Irving, and, oh, Junot Diaz as that we’ve seen lately of Updike, Mailer, et al.

Anyway, enjoyed this piece about Updike by Sam Anderson in New York magazine. For one, it gave me more appreciation of writing small. (My predeliction–for reading and writing–tends to swing toward the epic.) For another, there’s this:

His solution to the daily crisis of inspiration was simply not to have it: He wrote steadily, with very little angst, three pages a day, five days a week.

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18: Roberto Bolano, the ultimate unreliable narrator

I’ve recently been semi-fascinated by the idea of the unreliable narrator. I like to be somewhat playful when writing, and I think it makes for a richer experience for the reader if he or she has to make some decisions along the way. The writer can’t do all the work, right?

Anyway, I read much of Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolano. I finally gave up. I just wasn’t enjoying it, although that may something to do with the fact that, at the time, I only had time to read a few pages a night. The book is complicated. A few pages a night is short shrift. Now, 2666 is the magnum opus du jour (see Gravity’s Rainbow, Infinite Jest, Underworld). Personally, I’m going to hold out.

Came across this New York Times article yesterday. Seems that Bolano may have embellished, or let others embellish, his life story. Seems about right. The author as the ultimate unreliable narrator. Very meta.

Seventeen: John Updike dies

John Updike died yesterday. I can’t claim to have read much of his work, which slightly disturbs me. I did read The Terrorist, which I loved. It was amazing to me how he, as a writer, could completely inhabit the mind of a young Muslim who gets recruited to be a suicide bomber. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was a sympathetic portrait. Perhaps empathetic? I really should better understand the difference between those two words. But still, I learned from that.

Also, I read at least part of Rabbit, Run, and paraphrased/appropriated the first line of the book for a magazine story I wrote about pickup basketball.

Today, NPR’s Fresh Air played three excerpts of previous John Updike interviews. I drove in my car then sat at the kitchen table and ate lunch then sat on my couch and listened to them. I admire (and, dare I write, empathized with the fact) that he took hold of a relatively simple life (a Protestant and, he said, “a bit of country boy”) and wrote from that, all the while jealous of the Beats and the urban Jews. Although he did observe that not everyone could be on the road all the time like Jack Kerouac “or nothing would get done.”

Terry Gross read a line from one of his essays that I liked. Something about (I have terrible memory for quotes) how whenever any of us look at our own reflection, it is with the hope that something has changed.

Here’s the interview, plus some bonus coverage.

Here’s John Irving remembering Updike for Slate.

Here’s The Times’s appraisal.

And here’s The Times’s obit.

Sixteen: Alejandro

Saw Alejandro Escovedo play last night. Missed the first few songs.He was great, he rocked. Spent a lot of time playing directly to a group of three young woman in front of the stage. A very drunk woman near us abandoned her boyfriend, went backstage and hooked up with the bouncer, then came back a few minutes later. 

For his encore, Alejandro played four straight cover songs. I’m not going to get the order correct, but it was a Warren Zevon song, a Velvet Underground song, David Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes” (is that the actual name of it?), and “Beast of Burden.” After playing the Zevon song, he said something about how, as a songwriter, he sometimes felt compelled to play songs by other, greater songwriters to show himself how far he had to go. At least, that was the gist. Then he said, as if remembering he was supposed to be a rocker (“I’m on drugs!”), “OK, enough of that classroom bullshit.” And then he rocked again.

Fifteen: Forever

Been through a lot of culture since the last post; reading Pete Hamill’s Forever right now. Here’s a short passage, in which Hamill has a madame of a brothel teach the immortal protagonist Cormac O’Connor the essence of journalism:

“Nothing is as it seems,” she said. “Not here and not in France. Not anywhere. And everything is driven by money. The thing you must do is find out what is truly happening, not what seems to be happening. Understand the lie, and you’ll see the truth. Start off by believing that everything is a lie.”

She paused. “The God story is a lie, told by archbishops to enrich themselves. Democracy is a lie. The police are a lie.”

“And us?”

“We’re a lie too,” she said with a smile. “A good lie.” 

Fourteenth: Long Time, No Blog

So it’s been a while, and I have consumed some culture since last posting. A partial list:

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Live.

Josh Ritter. Live.

Jon Dee Graham and Matthew Ryan. Live.

On Becoming a Novelist, by John Gardner

Michael Clayton

Into the Wild

Thirteenth: Hanging Around

Good story in the NY Times today about Richard Price. I particularly liked this quote by Price:

“I always like to hang out,” he said, “because, one, it’s a way of avoiding really writing; and, two, sometimes God is a crackerjack novelist and you can plagiarize the hell out of him.”