Sep 11 2018

Good Writers Need Tough Readers

London - Georgian Apartments

Good Writers Need Tough Readers

Susan Sontag once observed:

Sometimes a writer will be so uneasy before the naked power of his art that he will install within the work itself—albeit with a little shyness, a touch of the good taste of irony—the clearer and explicit interpretation of it. Thomas Mann is an example of such an overcooperative author. In the case of more stubborn authors, the critic is only too happy to perform the job.

“Against Interpretation,” (1964) in Against Interpretationand Other Essays, (New York: Delta Books, 1966). p. 8.

And, more recently, from writer James Wade has confessed:

I once received a rejection that said one of my sentences was too long. This was new to me because never have I ever (drink) been criticised for long sentences– at least not since grammar class in high school. Other decent writers who employ long sentences as a literary device include Faulkner, Dickens, Hemingway, McCarthy, O’Connor, Lewis Carroll, Salinger, Tim O’Brien, Bukowski, Audrey Niffenegger, and we could go on forever. The point is, I would be a fool to let this rejection letter influence my writing style. But that doesn’t mean all criticism is without merit.

The lesson here is that good writers strive to never be too cooperative nor confrontational with their readers.


Jul 20 2018

The Stress of Balancing Time to Read Versus Time to Write

porticos in Bologna, Italia

The Stress of Balancing Time to Read Versus Time to Write

For about the past month, I’ve been lagging on blogging. Part of it is trying to find a better balance of time spent reading versus time spent writing (things that may be blog-worthy or more for outside publications).

Prepping (in terms of reading literature) for a trip to Germany this winter is also part of the mix.

In other words, I’m trying to find a balance between:

  • Reading general stuff: daily news, blogs, online magazines, etc. on random topics I may be interested in (publishing, politics, etc.),
  • Reading specific stuff: with regard to whatever the specific writing project at hand is,
  • Writing for this Bookbread blog,
  • Writing for publications to “get my work out there,”
  • Writing for long-term book projects.

I’d been having some worries (though not anxiety proper) about all of the above, but in the last two weeks, I see that two very successful writers whom I follow closely are dealing with (somewhat) similar issues.

See, for example, Alan Jacobs, distinguished professor of humanities at Baylor University, and his recent thoughts on the stresses of writing: first here, then follow up here and here.

Now today comes word that Ta-Nehisi Coates is leaving The Atlantic to reflect and regroup.

These guys can basically write about whatever topic they want and find a way to get it published. Sounds like a dreamy position for those of us trying to make a name for ourselves as writers–yet, for different, complex reasons–they are both struggling to satisfy themselves without leaving their readers hanging out to dry.

So I say: Godspeed ye writerly gentlemen, and let your days of scribbling be merry.

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Nov 27 2017

My Article from the “Fortnightly Review”

London - Georgian Apartments

My Article from the Fortnighly Review

It took a while, but after many years I’m quite happy to call myself an “international writer,” after having a piece published by the Fortnightly Review of England-France. In my essay, “Between History and Myth in Austin, Texas,” I explore the differences between history and myth with regard to the Confederate statue removal on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

Looking back, I don’t feel I lived through an important moment in the history of the United States but rather an important moment in mythmaking for the state of Texas….


Aug 18 2017

Custom or Culture: a Modest Distinction

mortadella in Bologna, Italia

Custom or Culture: a Modest Distinction

I was fortunate enough to have something published this week by Real Clear News, of Chicago, under their subdivision of Real Clear Religion.

My piece responds to Rémi Brague’s essay “From What is Left Over” (First Things, August 2017) and its 67 instances of using the word culture.

I point out the modern substitution of the word culture for what used to be called custom to ask: if it is true that the medium is the message, what has been lost by replacing the word custom with culture? Was anything gained by substituting one word for the other?

Read the whole thing here.


Apr 27 2017

Farm Noises (a poetic attempt)

Farm Noises

Some chickens scratch, and

The pebbles mumble,

Afore a rumble

Of Santa Fe train.

 

The highway hisses

Beyond the horizon,

Telling me, tempting me

To ignore this one

Moment teetering

Between night and day.

 

Barnyard ragamuffins #chickens #guineas

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Apr 14 2017

Writing Advice from the Anglo-Irish of the 18th Century

Writing Advice from the Anglo-Irish of the 18th Century

Like Swift does, I need to get outside my own point-of-view (and socioeconomic context) and ridicule it with a fictional character. To use writers whom I detest, and use them in a favorable light to make whatever-it-is point I’m making—that is what Walter Kaufmann does!

“It grieved me to the heart when I saw my labours, which had cost me so much thought and watching, bawled about by the common hawkers of Grub Street, which I only intended for the weighty consideration of the gravest persons. This prejudiced the world so much at first, that several of my friends had the assurance to ask me whether I were in jest; to which I only answered coldly, ‘that the event would show’. But it is the talent of our age and nation to turn things of the greatest importance into ridicule.”[1]

“‘Now, therefore, I began to associate with none but disappointed authors, like myself, who praised, deplored, and despised each other. The satisfaction we found in every celebrated writer’s attempts, was inversely as their merits. I found that no genius in another could please me. My unfortunate paradoxes had entirely dried up that source of comfort. I could neither read nor write with satisfaction; for excellence in another was my aversion, and writing was my trade.”[2]

“We have just religion enough to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”[3]

Don’t go beyond your doorway, your threshold:

“Every man, as a member of the commonwealth, ought to be content with the possession of his own opinion in private, without perplexing his neighbour or disturbing the public.” [R6] [4]

But if you must go beyond your doorway:

“There are but three ways for a man to revenge himself of a censorious world. To despise it; to return the like; or to endeavour to live so as to avoid it. The first of these is usually pretended; the last is almost impossible; the universal practice is the second.”[29] [5]

A little superstition goes a long way:

“There is a portion of enthusiasm assigned to every nation, which, if it hath not proper objects to work on, will burst out and set all into a flame. If the quiet of a state can be bought by only flinging men a few ceremonies to devour, it is a purchase no wise man would refuse. Let the mastiffs amuse themselves about a sheepskin stuffed with hay, provided it will keep them from worrying the flock.”[6]

A little superstition quells the motives:

“fear and hope are the two greatest natural motives of all men’s actions.”[7]

NOTES

[1] Swift, “Vindication of Isaac Bickerstaff” 1709. Jonathan Swift – Major Works. 216.

[2] Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield, “20. The history of a philosophic vagabond, pursuing novelty, but losing context.”

[3] Swift, Apothegms and Maxims [from Journal to Stella] Jonathan Swift – Major Works. [‘Various Thoughts Moral and Diverting’, in Miscellanies in Prose and Verse, 1711] [1] 181.

[4] Swift, Apothegms and Maxims [from Journal to Stella] Jonathan Swift – Major Works. 185.

[5] Swift, Apothegms and Maxims [from Journal to Stella] Jonathan Swift – Major Works. 181.

[6] Swift, “An Argument to Prove that the Abolishing of Christianity in England May, as Things Now Stand, be Attended with some Inconveniences, and Perhaps Not Produce those Many Good Effects Proposed Thereby.” 1708. Jonathan Swift – Major Works. 224.

[7] Swift, “The Testimony of Conscience [a Sermon].” 1714. Jonathan Swift – Major Works. 383.


Mar 14 2017

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 5 of 7

steeple

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 5 of 7

From Laurence Sterne (1713-1768):

I HAVE a strong propensity in me to begin this chapter very nonsensically, and I will not balk my fancy.

––Accordingly I set off thus.

Tristram Shandy (1760) I, xxiii

See also “Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 4 0f 7” and

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 6 of 7.”


Feb 24 2017

Homeschool (A Prose Poem)

porticos, Bologna, Italia

Homeschool (A Prose Poem)

“What is that, Mom?”

“Oblivion, son, what else?”

“But why is it so obvious to you, but not to me?”

“Because I’m not embarrassed of it like you are, son.”

“I only got embarrassed once I realized I’d been ignoring it.”

“Ignoring it since when?”

“Since I started being me.”

“And what have you stopped being since then?”

“Satisfied.”

Possibility is the deconstruction of contentment.”[1]

NOTES

[1] Anscombe, G. E. M. “You Can have Sex without Children: Christianity and the New Offer.” From Renewal of Religious Structures: Proceedings of the Canadian Centenary Theological Congress. Toronto. 1968. The Collected Philosophical Papers of G. E. M. Anscombe Vol. III: Ethics, Religion and Politics. Blackwell: Oxford. 1981.  p. 82.

 


Feb 22 2017

What Happens When I Write (a Prose Poem)

typewriter

What Happens When I Write (a Prose Poem)

Whenever I am believed to be wrong,

I write to feel right.

Who then has the right

To trust what I say

With the words I have used?

Mere muses and abuses–

The lot of ’em.

The muses range from maniacal to melancholic,

The abuses from obsessive to addictive,

And awareness doesn’t really play into the picture.

When I reread what I’ve written,

The reader sees no limit of accusations against the author.

One reads in order that the mind might bend,

But one writes in order that the mind might extend,

Hoping to tangentially touch something somewhat like itself.


Feb 7 2017

There is No Emoji for the Word “Emoji”

Palazzo Re Enzo, Bologna, Italia

There is No Emoji for the Word “Emoji”

Vico writes:

In this study, we shall greatly profit from the antiquity of the Egyptians. For they have preserved two fragments of their history which are no less amazing than the pyramids and which contain two great historical truths. The first is recorded by Herodotus, who says that the Egyptians divided all of the world’s history into three ages: (1) the age of the gods, (2) the age of heroes, and (3) the age of men. The second fragment is reported by Johannes Scheffer in his Pythagorean Philosophy. He says that in these three ages the Egyptians spoke three languages, corresponding to them in number and order: (1) a hieroglyphic language, using sacred characters; (2) a symbolic language, using heroic characters; and (3) an epistolary language, using characters agreed on by the people.

The Third New Science. Penguin: NY. 2000. I, § 1, i, [¶ 52], p. 44. See also I, § 2, xxviii, [¶ 173], p. 86.

Are we not returning to an age of hieroglyphic language?

There is no emoji for the word “emoji.”

There is only the word.

And the word is only a representation of the idea of “emoji,” while emoji are representations of words that are themselves representations of ideas.

An idea represented by a word is once-removed. An emoji is an idea twice-removed.