Friday, October 21, 2016

books read in October 2016

Fiction is in red. Date of first publication in (parentheses).

62. William Inge: Essays and Reminiscences on the Plays and the Man, Jackson R. Bryer (2014)
63. Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week, Ursula K. Le Guin, 2016
64. The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas, Ursula K. Le Guin (2016)
65. Splendor in the Grass, The Play: Adapted from the Screenplay, William Inge and F. Andrew Leslie (1966)

all 2016 booklist posts

Friday, September 30, 2016

I've never been much for the artificial divide between "literary" fiction and "genre" fiction. You still occasionally get the tired old clichés about genre fiction being badly written and full of one-dimensional characters, and literary fiction being plotless and meandering, but that's more and more obviously silliness. That perceived genre barrier is disintegrating, and I love that. I've never seen why audiences should be expected to be satisfied with either gripping plots or good writing. Why shouldn't they be offered both at once? Whether I actually manage to offer them both (or either) is a whole other question – but that's what I'm aiming for.

- Tana French

Thursday, September 22, 2016

pre-election state of mind

In less than two months, the American experiment in constitutional self-government may hit the wall of history. Even if the disaster of a Trump presidency is averted, this fall’s presidential campaign suggests that the United States Constitution is gravely, perhaps terminally, ill.

Trumpism is the symptom, not the cause, of the malaise. I think we have for some time been living in the post-Constitution era. America’s fundamental law remains and will remain important as a source of litigation. But the nation seems to have turned away from a search of values in the Constitution, regarding it instead as a set of annoying rules.

....The corrosive attack on constitutional values has come, and continues to come, from the right. It first broke into the open in 1998, when a repudiated House majority tried to remove President Bill Clinton for minor offenses. It deepened in 2000, when the Supreme Court, by an exercise of lawless power, installed the President of their choice. It accelerated when the inadequate young president they installed responded to crisis with systematic lawlessness––detention without trial, a secret warrantless  eavesdropping program, and institutionalized torture.

In the years since Barack Obama—with a majority of the vote––replaced Bush, the same forces, now in opposition, have simply refused to accept him as the nation’s legitimate leader. In control of Congress, they will not perform that body’s most basic duties––formulating a budget, tending to the national credit, filling vacant posts in the government—and, most shockingly, controlling the nation’s passage from peace to war. Now they have turned their attention to the Supreme Court, and are slowly crippling it in pursuit of partisan advantage.

....the Constitution never was (in James Russell Lowell’s phrase), “a machine that would go of itself;” what has made it work is a daily societal decision that we wish to live in a constitutional democracy. In 1942, Judge Learned Hand warned that “a society so riven that the spirit of moderation is gone, no court can save; that a society where that spirit flourishes, no court need save.”

The willingness to live by fundamental law has fled, and few seem to notice.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

books read in September 2016

Fiction is in red. Date of first publication in (parentheses).

57. The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Songs / Collected Stories (The Library of America), Ursula K. Le Guin (2016)
58. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, Ruth Franklin (2016) (very disappointing)
59. The Secret Place, Tana French (2014) (reread)
60. The Trespasser, Tana French (2016) (v good -- much better than Secret Place)
61. Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock and Fear... and Why, Sady Doyle (2016) (super fucking bloggy style, and the history's all potted)

all 2016 booklist posts

Saturday, September 3, 2016

How young are you? How old am I? Let's count the rings Around my eyes

I heard the Mats singing "I Will Dare" over the PA system at the QFC this afternoon, and it was a wonder I did not crumble into a little heap of ancient dry dust

right there in between the organic kale and the overpriced bell peppers

Friday, August 26, 2016

The bird that I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of one man’s psychological problem. I’m trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering, evanescent—fiercely charged!—interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis. Some mystery should be left in the revelation of character in a play, just as a great deal of mystery is always left in the revelation of character in life, even in one’s own character to himself. This does not absolve the playwright of his duty to observe and probe as clearly and deeply as he legitimately can: but it should steer him away from “pat” conclusions, facile definitions which make a play just a play, not a snare for the truth of human experience.

- Tennessee Williams

Thursday, August 25, 2016

from "The Oracle," by M.J. Engh

"How can you live....How do you bear it?" 
He moved closer, not explicitly smiling, but all his face and body, his very hands, expressing something of a smile. "It's not hard," he said. 
"Tell me." 
"I've always known," he said, " -- no, not always, but since I was a child -- I've known that we live on quicksand....on the side of a volcano....on an earthquake fault. You know that any minute of any day or night the roof can fall on your head, the floor can open below your feet, the earth itself can suck you down. And somehow when you know this -- when you know you always live surrounded by unappealable forces so much stronger than you -- then you are not the slave of those forces. When you must build your house on quicksand, you don't count on its standing. You find your security in yourself; because your self is all you have. And if you're a Buddhist you know that even your self is quicksand. In a way I don't exist, I'm an illusion. This self is only an accumulation of particles and forces interacting, clinging together for a second or a century. But this accumulation, this tension, this equilibrium that I call Philippe Montoya -- this is all I have. When it falls apart, then Philippe Montoya has no more problems. But until then, Philippe Montoya exists -- and what difference does it make what happens outside? Philippe Montoya exists." 
Philippe Montoya could never speak to her like that in the flesh, she knew. But if he could have spoken, that was what he would say.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

books read in August 2016

Fiction is in red. Date of first publication in (parentheses).

48. Summer Brave, William Inge (1962)
49. Picnic, William Inge (1953)
50. The Strains of Triumph: A Life of William Inge, Ralph F. Voss (1989)
51. The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, E. K. Weaver (2015)
52. The Drama of Marriage: Gay Playwrights/Straight Unions from Oscar Wilde to the Present, John M. Clum (2012) (heard about this re Inge and Williams)
53. Jingo, Terry Pratchett (1997) (part of a City Watch books readthrough)
54. The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett (1999) (ditto)
55. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett (2002)
56. Thud, Terry Pratchett (2005)

all 2016 booklist posts

Friday, August 12, 2016

If you have not listened to this concert, GO NOW. NOT EVEN KIDDING.

This closes the interview. I thank her. She says, "You're welcome," and my editor and I leave the car. We sit on the stairs for a few minutes to catch our breath. We spent all weekend chasing Lauryn Hill, hoping to have this conversation about her voice. I compared it to a video game with infinite levels you didn't even know existed, like when you beat a level and you think you won, but then you go through a door and there's a whole other world you have to conquer. Getting to Lauryn Hill was like that.

Sara Sarasohn, my editor, compared the chase to the Israelites rising up and following the cloud over the Tent of Meeting. In the Torah, when the Israelites are wandering in the desert, there was a cloud over the Tent of Meeting, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. When the cloud lifted and moved, the Israelites would see it and know that it was time for them to move as well in their journey through the desert. It was like the presence of Hill was this cloud that we could see in the distance, and we were trying to follow it, and finally, we got to the Tent of Meeting.

Sitting on the stairs together, Sara and I couldn't help but cry, just a little. We talked to Lauryn Hill. And she's doing fine.

- Zoe Chace, 2010

Ms. Lauryn Hill on Austin City Limits "Ready or Not"

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Monday, August 8, 2016


Eugene Lee as August Wilson in "How I Learned What I Learned"

August Wilson, The Art of Theater No. 14 (Winter 1999)

You were the director.

And I acted when the actors didn’t show up. As the director, I knew all the lines and I took over more times than I wanted to. I didn’t know much about directing, but I was the only one willing to do it. Someone had looked around and said, “Who’s going to be the director?” I said, “I will.” I said that because I knew my way around the library. So I went to look for a book on how to direct a play. I found one called The Fundamentals of Play Directing and checked it out. I didn’t understand anything in it. It was all about form and mass and balance. I flipped through the book and there in Appendix A I discovered what to do on the first day of rehearsal. It said, “Read the play.” So I went to the first rehearsal very confidently and I said, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to read the play.” We did that. Now what? I hadn’t got to Appendix B. So I said, “Let’s read the play again.” That night I went back to the book and sort of figured out what to do from that point on.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Saturday, July 16, 2016



Friday, July 15, 2016

and I kneel down and pray

you can turn it off or on

That first "Hey baby" just absolutely fucking slays me.
So far 2016 seems like one of those years that gets described in history books like "As the world slid farther and faster towards fascism, most citizens felt powerless to do anything other than witness the horror." Jesus fucking wept.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Monday, July 11, 2016


Method actors like to talk about something called “public solitude” — that is, the ability to seem alone onstage. Really, to be alone, without wondering how you look to the audience. They will tell you this is the basis of naturalistic acting: to forget about the audience. Only then can you build a character, pay attention to others onstage and act out a scene.
To write a story also requires public solitude. You can’t be worrying how you sound. You can’t wonder whether you or your characters are likable or smart or interesting. You have to be inside the scene — the tactile world of tables and chairs and sunlight — attending to your characters, people who exist for you in nonvirtual reality. This takes weird brain chemistry. (A surprising number of novelists hear voice, and not metaphorically. They hear voice in their heads.) It also takes years of reading — solitary reading.
For all these reasons, writing fiction is pretty much the opposite of writing a good tweet, or curating an Instagram feed. It’s the opposite of the personal-­­­slash-professional writing that is now part of our everyday lives. More than ever, we need writers who are unprofessional, whose private worlds come first.
Women are good at translation. We are culturally programmed for it. We learn early on to translate the world we inhabit: to adapt the stories that permeate our culture to have meaning for us; to adapt our own stories to be amenable to the male ears that might be listening; to adapt our bodies, our voices, our words, our thoughts to make them acceptable.  We translate to find our own stories in a male narrative, and our own vision in a world framed by a male lens.
From childhood, we develop this skill....Of course, this type of translation is not a linear search for linguistic equivalence. It does not prioritise a seeming originary text. It does not see a clear progression from source to target. It does not even consider fidelity to the source important – because that source invariably negates the female experience. It is a lateral, rhizomatic form of translation that gives a resigned shrug and weary sigh to the traditionalists’ frequently, and tediously, trotted out axiom, traduttore traditore(translator, traitor), and carries on regardless with its own meaning creation and quiet works of subversion.