Laughter

the human race has one really effective weapon


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Stephen King in The Paris Review, 2006

A great long read from Paris Review’s “The Art of Fiction” series. Check it out here.

INTERVIEWER

Cujo is unusual in that the entire novel is a single chapter. Did you plan that from the start?

KING

No, Cujo was a standard novel in chapters when it was created. But I can remember thinking that I wanted the book to feel like a brick that was heaved through your window at you. I’ve always thought that the sort of book that I do—and I’ve got enough ego to think that every novelist should do this—should be a kind of personal assault. It ought to be somebody lunging right across the table and grabbing you and messing you up. It should get in your face. It should upset you, disturb you. And not just because you get grossed out. I mean, if I get a letter from somebody saying, I couldn’t eat my dinner, my attitude is, Terrific!

INTERVIEWER

What do you think it is that we’re afraid of?

KING

I don’t think there’s anything that I’m not afraid of, on some level. But if you mean, What are we afraid of, as humans? Chaos. The outsider. We’re afraid of change. We’re afraid of disruption, and that is what I’m interested in. I mean, there are a lot of people whose writing I really love—one of them is the American poet Philip Booth—who write about ordinary life straight up, but I just can’t do that.

I once wrote a short novel called “The Mist.” It’s about this mist that rolls in and covers a town, and the story follows a number of people who are trapped in a supermarket. There’s a woman in the checkout line who’s got this box of mushrooms. When she walks to the window to see the mist coming in, the manager takes them from her. And she tells him, “Give me back my mushies.”

We’re terrified of disruption. We’re afraid that somebody’s going to steal our mushrooms in the checkout line.


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“Anyone who doesn’t believe in you and your future, to hell with them”

Lots of great anecdotes, quotes, and writing advice from Ray Bradbury, lifted from this post at Tor.com. The below video includes a whole host of books and writers to check out, and some surprising insights into Bradbury’s mind (“Writing is not a serious business!” and “I don’t write things to benefit the world”). Just make sure to ignore the bit about modern poetry.


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Quote of the Day: “Why are beggars despised?”

Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised? – for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modern talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except ‘Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it’? Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately.

A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other business men, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modern people, sold his honour; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.

George Orwell, from Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)


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Friendly Advice from Patti Smith

patti_smith_william_burroughsFriendly advice from Patti Smith and William S. Burroughs, via Brain Pickings:

Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful — be concerned with doing good work… What matters is to know what you want and pursue it, and understand that it’s going to be hard.

Patti tosses a few cliches out there, but it’s good to hear her reaffirm that basic principle: don’t worry about the money, don’t worry about the trends, don’t worry about what other people want or think—concentrate on doing your work and making it good.

[vimeo 57857893 w=640&h=360]

 


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Friendly Advice from Ray Bradbury

ray_bradbury_typewriterBelow you’ll find “Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer,” a short documentary made in 1963 by David L. Wolper. In it, Bradbury gives advice to fledgling writers, reflects on the dangers of new technology, and stresses the importance of the subconscious mind for his thinking.

I pulled this from a post over at Dangerous Minds, which you can find here. Their article summarizes some of Bradbury’s broader points, but it skips much of his practical advice, which is fantastic. Bradbury talks candidly about his early experiences as a writer, the need for an agent, his love of painting, the role his wife played in editing and assessing his work, rejection, and even his fear of the dark.

Cut throughout the interview material are excerpts from his short story “Dial Double Zero,” which only ever appeared as part of this documentary and remains unpublished.

Essential viewing for Bradbury fans, or anyone who has ever had the urge to write.


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Kafka, the Pugilist

kafka_book_cover

I first read The Metamorphosis when I was 18—maybe 19—after it was recommended to me by my dad. I remember thinking it was a strange science fiction story. Completely unlike the Asimov and Clarke I knew. I registered that there was more going on in it than I could understand and I made a resolution to come back to it eventually. That never happened, at least not for a long time. A couple years later, I read In the Penal Colony when a friend of mine gave me a photocopy he’d made at the library, but my impression of it was quickly obscured and smoothed out by the many other books I was reading at the time. I essentially missed Kafka while in college.

And then, last month, a random conversation on an Internet message board reminded me of him. Now I find myself wrestling with A Country Doctor, the second collection of Kafka’s short stories published during his lifetime. After reading The Judgment and The Metamorphosis, it feels like catching a hard right hook to the jaw. The Metamorphosis eats at you page by page; you can watch it work on your soul and on your spirits; watching it makes it somehow easier. The conclusion doesn’t shock, there aren’t any twists or sudden turns, but it wears you down. At some point, you become Gregor Samsa and the world gets that much dimmer. The Judgment catches you off guard and steals a bit of your breath; it hits hard, but the conclusion is absurd, even to the point of being funny.

The stories in A Country Doctor, on the other hand, are taut, tough, and unforgiving. They jab, dodge, fake left, swing right, and crush. They’re bloody and a little ugly, and I’m left wondering how I am supposed to keep up. A story like “The Cares of a Family Man” isn’t even two pages, but it contains so many ideas that interpreting it looks impossible. It’s compact and muscular and if there is a touch of humor there, it’s camouflaged.

How to approach these stories then? Merely reading them gets me nowhere. I have to do more; come back swinging; get into shape and learn the footwork; I have to laugh off blows and toughen up; get bruised. In terms of reading and writing, that means doing the job of interpretation myself.

It’s temping to look for answers from scholars who have spent lots of time reading and studying Kafka’s life and works. Knowing how other readers have responded to him helps. Context helps. So does taking the chance on a personal encounter with his stories. I take comfort in the idea that Kafka can’t be interpreted. That I have to take from him whatever I can glean, and that if there is someone or something behind the text, something fixed and waiting to be found, it is a total secret impossible to penetrate.

I found the following quote while browsing different essays on Kafka. It reinforced this idea of Kafka as a pugilist for me, as somebody I have to fight directly, not vicariously. It’s from a letter written in 1904 to Oskar Pollak, one of Kafka’s classmates at the Altstädter Gymnasium:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? …we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.

Wounded is a great way to describe how I feel after reading some of these stories. Especially the end of “An Old Manuscript.” Kafka describes an alien presence in an unnamed city; armed soldiers that steal and threaten violence; a cowardly defense force; animals eating other animals from starvation; nomads gnawing on bones and consuming raw flesh; and then a conclusion that falls like a blow to the gut:

“What is going to happen?” we all ask ourselves. “How long can we endure this burden and torment? The Emperor’s palace has drawn the nomads here but does not know how to drive them away again. The gate stays shut; the guards, who used to be always marching out and in with ceremony, keep close behind barred windows. It is left to us artisans and tradesmen to save our country; but we are not equal to such a task; nor have we ever claimed to be capable of it. This is a misunderstanding of some kind; and it will be the ruin of us.” (Willa and Edwin Muir translation)

Everyone knows Kafka’s a writer. He’s also a boxer. I can’t always see what he’s fighting with, but sometimes I catch one of his punches and it sends me reeling.