What 10 Classic Books Were Almost Called

From mental_floss:

1. F. Scott Fitzgerald went through quite a few titles for his most well-known book before deciding on The Great Gatsby. If he hadn’t arrived at that title, high school kids would be pondering the themes of Trimalchio in West Egg; Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires; On the Road to West Egg; Under the Red, White, and Blue; Gold-Hatted Gatsby; and The High-Bouncing Lover.

See the other nine at the link.

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Alone at the Movies

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.

The above Stephen Crane quote is from  an essay titled “Alone at the Movies,” by Mark Edmundson, in the American Scholar:

For a year or two during the mid-1970s, living in New York, I was a moviegoer. I was in my early 20s then, working off and on, driving a cab, setting up the stage at rock shows, writing occasional pieces for The Village Voice. But there were also long empty spells. I tried to write some fiction and couldn’t, tried to read and could—but only for so long. I ended up going to the movies.

It was the right decade to be doing that. Martin Scorsese made Mean Streets, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and Taxi Driver; Paul Schrader wrote and directed Blue Collar; and Robert Altman directed Brewster McCloud, The Long Goodbye, California Split, and Buffalo Bill and the IndiansThe Godfather, both I and II, were news then. Woody Allen seemed to be bringing out something good every six months.

I can’t really tell you whether these movies summarized a national mood, but they summarized some moods of mine. Almost all of the movies conveyed a feeling of missed opportunities, of having been tossed out of the garden just before you came to know you’d been living in one…

Read the whole thing at the above link.


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‘The Devil’s Dictionary,’ by Ambrose Bierce

From the San Francisco Chronicle, a review of The Devil’s Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce…”an example composed a century ago, but resonant circa 2011:”

“Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” And the definition of a politician: “An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When he wiggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive.”

Read the whole review at the link.


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The best mystery writer alive?

From thespec.com, a piece on mystery novelist James Lee Burke. An excerpt:

James Lee Burke turns 76 next month and just published his 30th novel. He did not earn his reputation as a modern day William Faulkner, and the finest mystery novelist around — perhaps the finest novelist, period — without paying dues.

He grew up on the Texas-Louisiana coast, worked on an oil pipeline, and later as a college English teacher. He proudly has noted that one of his first novels, The Lost Get-Back Boogie, was rejected by publishers more than 100 times. After finally making its way to print, it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

I’ve only read a couple of his novels, enjoyed them immensely, and given that he’s published thirty, I have a bit of good reading ahead of me.

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A conversation with author Umberto Eco

From the Tablet, (Hat tip: Frank Wilson)…”Umberto Eco, whose new novel imagines one of the most anti-Semitic characters in fiction.”

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The 5 Habits of Highly Prolific Fiction Writers

From Squidoo:

Ever wonder how some writers produce book after book? Why some people are just overflowing with ideas? It’s all about living a writing life, and that is what I am going to focus on: the small things you can do to improve the quantity and quality of your writing.

Writing is one of those things that all writers love to talk about doing, but the truth is, writing is easier said than done. Writing tends to be a solitary activity and it is hard (after that initial burst of creativity passes) to pull yourself away from your family and friends to sit down at the keyboard and face the blank page….

It’s take me many years of writing, and whole lot of reading (the best? On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King) to figure out what really works. Here’s my list of 5 things, and I’d love to hear what works for you.

Read more at the Squidoo link above.

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Bad Sex in Fiction

Stephen King, James Frey nominated for Bad Sex in Fiction Award, in The Washington Post, opens with a bit of humor:

The competition is — um — stiff for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award this year. In the running for the prize, which is given out by British journal the Literary Review each year, are notable authors Stephen King, Haruki Murakami and James Frey.
Author Stephen King. (Joe Kohen – Getty Images)

King was nominated for the award — which celebrates excruciating passages of writing about carnal desire — for his book “11.23.63.”One of King’s cringe-inducing sex scenes is excerpted below:

Continue reading

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Jonathan Swift on the Writing Process

From Richard Nordquist, a poem by Jonathan Swift:

Consult yourself, and if you find
A powerful impulse urge your mind,
Impartial judge within your breast
What subject you can manage best;
Whether your genius most inclines
To satire, praise, or hum’rous lines,
To elegies in mournful tone,
Or prologue sent from hand unknown.
Then, rising with Aurora’s light,
The Muse invoked, sit down to write;
Blot out, correct, insert, refine,
Enlarge, diminish, interline;
Be mindful, when invention fails,
To scratch your head, and bite your nails.
Jonathan Swift, “On Poetry: A Rhapsody,” published on December 31, 1733
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More on Don DeLillo’s new book, “The Angel Esmeralda”

From statesman.com,

To read a collection of short stories in 2011 is to think about the nature of the most American of literary forms.

To read Don DeLillo’s new book, “The Angel Esmeralda,” his first short story collection, is to think that it’s past time, or perhaps the exact right time, for the short story to make the comeback it richly deserves.

Since the 19th century or so, the novel has been the unit of measure, the thing on which the art of fiction has been judged. To write great novels is to be seen as writing great fiction.

This is not to say the short story didn’t have its own vogue well into the 20th century.

Check out a New Yorker from the 1940s or 50s. There are multiple pieces of fiction in every issue. In. Every. Issue.

But authors love to complain, and rightly so, about the ever-shrinking market for short fiction. The novel is the unit; short stories are this other, smaller thing.

Read the whole thing at the link.

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