Thanks again for signing up. This newsletter will be something like Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter, but with half as many links and more extended quotes from the linked sources. Here goes nothing:
1. Manjula Martin’s interview of Austin Kleon in Scratch. Kleon gets at why I’m trying out this newsletter in the first place:
How do you share yourself and your passions in a way that’s interesting and helpful to others? Think about you and your writer friends. What do you do when you get together? Well, you probably bitch about how you don’t have any money. But after that, you talk about books you love. So when I talk to young writers, I tell them, You should be keeping a reading log online. And every book you read, post some quote from it or say something about it that’s interesting and just, like, become a good citizen.
There is no secret password to being a writer. There is no secret code. You just do it.
And on what to write about:
It’s like Gertrude Stein said, composition is explanation. She wrote what she needed to write. That seems like a good thing to consider—what do I need to write?
Another way of putting it, per The Complete Madame Realism and Other Stories:
…stories do not occur outside thought. Stories, in fact, are contained within thought. It’s only a story really should read, it’s a way to think.
Tillman gave an inspiring reading at Columbia’s School of the Arts last week, covered here by the Columbia Spectator.
3. Daniel Mendelsohn recommends 5 great books of criticism, including Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag, whose
[greatness] was twofold: first, her aphoristic style, which owes much to Wilde and which gives even her earliest essays an amazingly strong kick even today; and second, her willingness to subject any aspect of culture—high, low, Thomas Mann, drag queens, sci-fi movies of the 50s, Godard, whatever—to the powerful spotlight of her intellect.
4. I saw Todd Philip’s Joker and Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite in the last two weeks, and enjoyed both—especially the latter. Ari Aster, whose Midsommar was one of my favorite movies of the year, wrote a stellar review of Parasite in Film Comment. Anthony Lane, too, wrote a rave review in the New Yorker. And I enjoyed Nick Pinkerton’s review of Joker in 4Columns. Richard Brody, who was less than pleased with both films, compares them in a New Yorker essay.
5. I’ve been reading—and very much enjoying—Namwali Serpell’s Seven Modes of Uncertainty, in which she argues that “structured uncertainty can refract—rather than merely reflect—an ethical disturbance” (2). Here’s an interesting bit she quotes from Nabokov on the moral/political function of reading:
Art has too often been turned into a tool to convey ideas—whether political or moral—to influence, to teach, to improve and enlighten and what not. I am not telling you that art does not improve and enlighten the reader. But it does this in its own special way. (7)