Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Two links

On this wonderfully cool fall day, I want to offer you two good links, one of which may bring a smile and the other, a bit more thoughtful.

First with fun: LOOK at this library information desk made from books!

Can you believe it?! So friggin' fun. It's at the Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands. Leave it to the Europeans, eh? Well done, folks.

And another link, this to a kind of bitter sweet article of sorts from author Steve Almond, who has had many great moments of writing (as when he publicly resigned from Boston College when Condeeza Rice was chosen as a commencement speaker - how bad ass is that?!) Anyway, Almond in this link is writing about the tragedy at the Virginia Quarterly Review, wherein managing editor Kevin Morrissey committed suicide, after which allegations arose regarding editor Ted Genoways' supposed hostility as a supervisor. It's all a mess, and Almond nicely captures the sadness of it all, but in a somewhat useful way, as he uses it as an opportunity to think through the relationship between editors and writers.

Almond mentions his own unpleasant interactions with Genoways when the editor was considering his writing, though of course he does not use this as an opportunity to, as he says, treat "Morrissey’s death as some kind of lurid whodunit." In going over all that is sad about the situation - and there's is a lot of sadness - Almond adds,
And yes, it’s also sad that certain editors, endowed with so much power by a growing army of insecure writers, don’t exercise that power more responsibly.
Fair point. Almond references an article Genoways quite famously published in the Atlantic, which I wrote about here, and points out the hostility in that article to many writers, including those who would/should be submitting to VQR. This adds to his consideration of frustration, from the author's side (his own) and from the editor or agent's side, based on letters he has received from a few, including Genoways. Almond tries to be fair, stating,
That’s what most editors and agents dream about – that one story or novel or memoir they can’t dismiss. And we all want to write it. We all want to summon within ourselves such a voice, such courage, such attention to pain and beauty. But most of us fail. Our days rank as failures. And so we send out work that – as Genoways did me the great favor of pointing out – doesn’t honor our talent. And who do we blame? We blame the editors and agents, who are often merely stand-ins for the parents and siblings who thwarted us long ago.
I appreciate the point. I try very hard to be sensitive to writers, including the authors I'm publishing, those I am having to reject, and friends or colleagues who do me the honor of letting me read their writing and provide feedback. (I'm thinking of this as someone recently sent me a short story that really surprised me, with strong and varied language and great characterization, and I didn't even know she was a writer. I don't know that anyone did!) And having read this article now, I will only keep trying, and also try for more. Almond offers a useful mission for all of us, though he directs it primarily at his fellow writers:

Our job, then, is two-fold: to focus on our own failings as writers. But also to speak more forcefully as advocates for literature. Books are a powerful antidote for loneliness, for the moral purposelessness of the leisure class. It’s our job to convince the 95 percent of people who don’t read books, who instead medicate themselves in front of screens, that literary art isn’t some esoteric tradition, but a direct path to meaning, to an understanding of the terror that lives beneath our consumptive ennui. It’s hard to make this case, though, if all we do is squabble with each other and lament our obscurity.

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