A writer is a person who distributes silences and empty spaces.
…I feel like it makes sense to me that, in an era where there is so much self-exposure and kind of unself-aware, or uncritical ways, like reality television, or the way that people are constantly constructing themselves and consuming other people through Facebook profiles and Twitter feeds, that the essay offers the opportunity for a kind of annotated self-exposure, a sort of self-exposure that’s also questioning itself and being aware of its moves and interrogating its own moves, and when I think about the confessional writing that I love, [it’s] precisely because you get this thrill of exposure that I do think shares something with all of our forms of reality consumption — but you get that thrill of exposure alongside a certain kind of self-consciousness and a certain kind of contextualizing.
I interviewed Leslie Jamison and Roxane Gay for Salon. Anyone who is interested in essays should read this interview.
I’m moderating two panels at community bookstore.
The first one is on Middlemarch. I’ll talk about one of the best books of all time with Rebecca Mead (My Life in Middlemarch) and Kathryn Schulz (book critic for NY Magazine) this coming Thursday (4/24) at 7pm.
Next Tuesday, 4/29, I’ll moderate a panel on essays featuring three fantastic writers: Jessica Hendry Nelson (If Only You People Could Follow Directions), Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams) and Valeria Luiselli (Sidewalks).
In one sense, reading is a great waste of time. In another sense, it is a great extension of time, a way for one person to live a thousand and one lives in a single lifespan, to watch the great impersonal universe at work again and again, to watch the great personal psyche spar with it, to suffer affliction and weakness and injury, to die and watch those you love die, until the very dizziness of it all becomes a source of compassion for ourselves, and our language, which we alone created, and without which the letter that slipped under the door could never have been written, or, once in a thousand lives—is that too much to ask?—retrieved, and read. Did I mention supreme joy? That is why I read: I want everything to be okay. That’s why I read when I was a lonely kid and that’s why I read now that I’m a scared adult. It’s a sincere desire, but a sincere desire always complicates things—the universe has a peculiar reaction to our sincere desires. Still, I believe the planet on the table, even when wounded and imperfect, fragmented and deprived, is worthy of being called whole. Our minds and the universe—what else is there? Margaret Mead described intellectuals as those who are bored when they don’t have the chance to talk interestingly enough. Now a book will talk interestingly to you. George Steiner describes the intellectual as one who can’t read without a pencil in her hand. One who wants to talk back to the book, not take notes but make them: one who might write “The giraffe speaks!” in the margin. In our marginal existence, what else is there but this voice within us, this great weirdness we are always leaning forward to listen to?