5/23/2008 5:04:34 PM
Literary journals have notoriously small readerships, with only a few venerated juggernauts—the Paris Review, Tin House, Ploughshares, to name a few—standing out from a profuse field that seems to grow exponentially every year. Fourth Genre, published semiannually by Michigan State University Press, is another name that deserves inclusion on the reading lists of lit journal devotees. Trafficking exclusively in nonfiction (the other three genres, as FG defines them, being poetry, fiction, and drama), the journal publishes new material from writers working in a genre that has gained considerable traction over the past few decades.
It’s more than just memoir: Fourth Genre’s website promises “interviews with prominent nonfiction writers, roundtable discussions of topical genre issues, mini-essays by selected photographers and visual artists, letters from readers, and reviews and capsule summaries of current books.”
The Spring 2008 issue features 11 fine examples of literary nonfiction, such as Leslie Haynsworth’s essay-memoir hybrid “My Volvo, My Self: The (Largely Unintended) Existential Implications of Bumper Stickers,” which examines the deceptively simple memes and identity politics perpetuated by bumper stickers. There is a roundtable discussion on “Teaching the Classical Essay,” several full-length and capsule book reviews, and a “comment on the form” by D.K. McCutchen called “The Art of Lying—Or Risking the Wrath of Oprah,” which considers the recent scandals arising from fabricated nonfiction and acknowledges the slippery nature of truth in memoir.
Fourth Genre’s admittedly underpopulated website doesn’t do its content justice; you’re better off seeking out the print edition at an independent bookstore or subscribing online. You won’t be disappointed: Handsomely assembled, meticulously edited, and densely packed with good, diverse prose, Fourth Genre stands as an excellent bellwether for the current state of creative nonfiction.
5/23/2008 3:24:16 PM
To give girls strong role models, the Amelia Bloomer Project publishes an annual list of children’s and young adult books by and about remarkable women. Members of the American Library Association’s Feminist Task Force select the fiction and nonfiction titles, which in 2008 include books by feminist blogger Jessica Valenti, outspoken critic of Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler.
The project has run for six years, but pickings remain slim. “We are frustrated by the small number of truly powerful, well-written feminist books for young readers,” the website states, “and by the small number of non-white, non-Western characters.... We challenge publishers to develop thoughtful feminist books that will open the eyes of young readers to the possibility of equality for women.”
Image by Julio Rojas, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/23/2008 3:15:50 PM
FYI: In today’s highly competitive marketplace, Seth Godin is giving 110 percent, documenting the best business clichés to maximize customer satisfaction. He’s asking readers to think outside the box, and proactively put their two cents in to add to the list. This is a win-win situation for both readers and Godin.
(Thanks, Things Magazine.)
5/23/2008 2:52:05 PM
A good pen doesn’t make your ideas any better, it just makes them easier to put on paper. No matter how snobbish they are about their writing utensils, most writers don’t have the cash to drop on testing out new kinds. The Pen Addict blog lets people know exactly what they’re getting into, writing reviews of with the actual pens in question.
(Thanks, The Morning News.)
Image courtesy of the Pen Addict.
5/20/2008 11:44:04 AM
Freelance writing can be detrimental to your health: “There were deadlines to be met, revisions to be made, clients to be satisfied,” explains John Schaidler in the May-June 2008 issue of A View from the Loft (article not available online). “And the only way to do that, as they say, was to apply ‘seat of the pants to seat of the chair.’ ”
After a stern warning from his doctor, however, Schaidler put on the old running shoes—and promptly discovered that exercise can be as beneficial to the creative process as it is to the body. “I turned and ran back home, my brain buzzing with ideas. I shot through the door, went straight to my desk, and wrote for an hour. It was bliss. At least, it was, until I tried to stand and immediately crumpled to the floor, my legs crippled by lactic acid.”
Schaidler doesn’t claim to be the first creative type to discover the mind-sharpening benefits of sweatin’ to the oldies, just an enthusiastic convert. “Evidence says even the most basic exercise program, even walking, will boost your creativity and provide direct benefits to your work,” he writes.
, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/19/2008 6:00:01 PM
Tokyo-born, Germany-based writer Yoko Tawada has been called “a surrealist with a funky, abrasive sense of humor,” according to World Literature Today. “Hair Tax,” a short piece of her fiction featured in the May-June 2008 issue (article not available online), is a wry case in point.
“After months of controversy, the new hair tax was approved,” Tawada writes (translated from German into English). “The Hamster Lovers’ Guild was said to be the driving force behind the reform. The Guild had always found it objectionable that the tax levied on mammals was the same for a hamster as for a German shepherd.”
Sounds fairly reasonable, no? From there, Tawada traces the increasingly surreal repercussions: Calculating tax based on “surface area,” of course, could be deemed discriminatory against obese animals, so the term “furred surface” is adopted, presenting certain problems for fans of new-fangled furry furniture (brought to you by genetic engineering), and on and on it goes....
In taking regular ideas to irregular lengths, Tawada’s “Hair Tax” pleasantly jostles the brain; the piece is at once familiar and unexpected, begging reflection on the world as it is. "Hair Tax" is available to read online via Words Without Borders, a web-based magazine of international literature recently profiled in the University of Chicago magazine.
And after reading it, if a hair tax still seems a bit, well, surreal, consider this: A Minnesota state representative proposed just such a follicular tax not so long ago. Rep. Jim Abeler carried what began as a snarky suggestion through to its over-the-top end—proposal of an amendment—hoping to make a point about how simple it is to create new programs, reports the Minnesota Monitor. Life imitates art, it would seem.
Image by annia316
, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/13/2008 5:05:59 PM
We write a lot about new books, articles, and new ideas on Utne.com, and we always want to hear from our readers on what they think. In that spirit, we recently started the Utne Reader Conversations Collection book club. It’s a chance for readers and editors to talk about a new and engaging book each month.
The May selection for the book club is Rock On: An Office Power Ballad. It’s a hysterical, behind-the-scenes tour of the corporate music label Atlantic Records, written by McSweeney’s contributor and spoken-word performer Dan Kennedy. It’s funny, but also has deep insights into the music industry today.
Visit the Utne Great Writing Salon on Monday, June 2, to join in the discussion. Senior editor and music reviewer Keith Goetzman will be leading a discussion on the book, the state of corporate music, and the future of music in general.
If you don’t have the book yet, you can order it by visiting the Utne Reader bookstore.
We look forward to hearing from you.
5/13/2008 12:12:50 PM
How much ebullient advertising jargon can you stand? The folks over at Orion, armed with a sassy excerpt from the new book, The Fruit Hunters, offer us an opportunity to sample some of the marketing wizardry that goes into defining who, precisely, desires what particular fruits, not to mention the analytics involved in deciding what makes certain fruits desirable. Important sentence: “Hugeness, once thought to be a key goal, has proven undesirable.” People don’t want to be crushed by a giant banana anymore? Where have I been?
5/12/2008 2:43:04 PM
In an article in Damn Interesting, Christopher S. Putnam tells the little-known but highly relevant case of George John Dasch, a German saboteur whose attempted defection during World War II was betrayed by J. Edgar Hoover. Putnam offers a taut narrative, which concludes with the startling revelation of how the Dasch case informs military policy regarding enemy combatants in the "war on terror."
5/12/2008 11:18:48 AM
The idea of joining a book group can make some readers cringe—the distractions of food, kids, and pets, and a scant hour or two in which to discuss the themes of an entire novel or the intricacies of a nonfiction argument. For dedicated readers, “paired book reading” could be a more satisfying way to tackle a text.
In the “Best of Books” issue of Canadian environmental magazine Alternatives Journal (article not available online), two friends explain their quirky system. The retired men read separately, employing color-coded underlining: green for environmental passages, red for “vital” passages, and yellow (or black) for anything that catches the eye on first reading. Then, they get together for painstaking, detailed discussions of the text, meeting for two hours at a time.
“It can take a couple of years to go through a book,” the men admit, so paired reading is not a commitment every book-group escapee will want to make. For those willing to take the plunge, the friends advise choosing books that stimulate discussion (they enjoy authors James Lovelock, E.O. Wilson, and Thomas Berry, among others) and ditching works that are too arcane or prompt “only head-nodding agreement.”
Image by Bart, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/12/2008 10:17:19 AM
Almost 2 million civilians were killed in southern Sudan's 20-plus-year civil war, and more than 4 million were displaced. Since the Naivasha Agreement of 2005, more than a million people have returned to the region.
The May-June issue of A Common Place, a bimonthly magazine published by the Mennonite Central Committee, features a cover story on the Sudanese who have returned to the South and others who plan to follow. The issue also includes a short first-person piece by Parkiela John, who recently went back to her village after 22 years in Khartoum. John speaks with startling clarity to the difficulties of re-establishing community in the face of great hardship:
When the war came and people scattered, people lost their love for each other. That is what is different. It is because of poverty. If we had what we needed, we would gather together to eat in each other’s houses. But neighbors can’t share food now because there is too little. The lack of food, the poverty, means there is a lack of love.
Photo by Melissa Engle, Mennonite Central Committee. Used by permission.
5/8/2008 10:59:04 AM
By blacking out large sections in newspapers, Austin-based writer and cartoonist Austin Kleon creates poetry. Some of the poems are funny, some are melodramatic, but the site's worth a look.
5/5/2008 4:48:11 PM
“What the hell are they doing up there now?” Frustrated by the logistics of apartment-building revenge—when your upstairs neighbors drag their furniture around every night, it’s difficult to reciprocate passive aggressively—my roommate banged a kitchen chair against the ceiling until the phone rang.
In a whimsical piece for the Threepenny Review, Javier Marías reflects on this well-known feeling of perplexed annoyance (article not available online). Here’s an excerpt:
For years, a female friend of mine had a neighbor who, as far as she was aware, always entered and left her apartment wearing sensible flat shoes; when her neighbor was at home, however, the noise made by her footsteps convinced my friend that this neighbor must immediately put on a pair of high-heeled mules, to which my friend’s imagination couldn’t resist adding a couple of pompoms to complete the image: in the end, she was utterly convinced that, each night, her discreet, sober neighbor made up for all that sober discretion by donning a negligée, the aforementioned high-heeled, pompommed mules, and, possibly, some sort of diabolical underwear, even if she wasn’t expecting a visitor. I once asked some young people about the dull, continuous “papapam” emanating from their apartment, as if they were working some kind of printing press, and their answer was even more bizarre than my imagined explanation: “Oh, we’re running an illegal whisky distillery,” they told me.
Image by rossination, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/2/2008 5:49:59 PM
“Attractive instructors are popular instructors. Popular instructors fill classes. More students mean more revenue,” Norma Desmond (a pseudonym) writes matter-of-factly for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Which is why toward the end of her job search, knowing she’d been typecast as an aging adjunct professor, Desmond decided to get Botox injections.
There’s so much emotional hype surrounding cosmetic surgery (who’s had it, who hasn’t, who never would, and who’s lying), that sometimes a really simple thing gets lost in the fray: Looks matter. Looks impact our lives. Good, bad, fair, unfair, frustrating—they do.
That’s what’s so fantastic about Desmond’s essay: She just tells the truth. As someone who “spent [her] middle years feeling slightly sorry for people who have felt the need to have their skin stretched tight as drumheads,” Desmond lucidly explains how she came to find herself sitting in a doctor’s chair.
, licensed under
5/2/2008 5:08:10 PM
It turns out that sex advice columnists have feelings, too. Dan Savage, the author of the weekly Savage Love column syndicated in alternative weeklies and other publications nationwide, is widely read for his witty vulgarity, abundant sass, and stinging political asides, but generally not for his tender tributes to his mother. Until now. Savage’s April 3 column was a tour de force ode to his just-deceased mom, who clearly was a huge influence on her “total fag” son. After he came out as a teenager, he writes, “My mother came around fast and she came out swinging—rainbow stickers on her car, a PFLAG membership card in her wallet, and an ultimatum delivered to the whole family: Anyone who had a problem with me had a problem with her.” His public repayment of her allegiance is sweet and powerful.
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