Odd Words December 3, 2009Posted by Mark Folse in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
It’s that time of year again, when the book and related event listings turn to cookbooks, cute Cajun kid’s books with Christmas themes and that sort of thing. If you want to catch Angus Lind signing books just keep you eyes peeled. You can’t miss him. As for me, here;s two quick things: one a link on a subject that interests me and the other the New Laurel Review release reading featuring editrix/poetry doyen Lee Meitzen Grue and her contributors at 17 Poets.
§ From Zadie Smith’s response to David Shields Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, exploring (in Sheild’s view) the death of fiction. If you are interested in creative non-fiction, memoir or other essay forms, you are going to want to read this review and probably pre-order a copy of this book. (I think I need to get Odd Words a review copy of this) A hat tip to dsb of bark, bugs, leaves & lizards for finding this one.
I can’t say that I felt myself, in essence, being more “truthy” in essay than I am in fiction. Writing is always a highly stylized and artificial act, and there is something distinctly American and puritan about expecting it to be otherwise. I call on [Virginia] Woolf again as witness for the defence. “Literal truth-telling,” she writes, “is out of place in an essay.” Yes, that’s it again. The literal truth is something you expect, or hope for, in a news article. But an essay is an act of imagination, even if it is a piece of memoir. It is, or should be, “a form of thinking, consciousness, wisdom-seeking”, but it still takes quite as much art as fiction. Good non-fiction is as designed and artificial as any fairy story.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the intersection of fiction and non-fiction, especially what we have come to call creative non-fiction (which is not, as one wag put it, a license to just make stuff up). I began writing again in 2005 after the Flood of New Orleans, first on a now retired blog called Wet Bank Guide which started out as a news aggregation site and a polemic for the salvation of New Orleans, but which also grew into a form of essay ultimately collected in Carry Me Home. At the same time, the more I fell back into the habit and practice of writing, other things started to come out: fiction, poetry. While the poetry is largely imaginative and conventional, the fiction kept veering out of control into something highly autobiographical. More than just the old saw “write what you know”, I found myself taking events out of my life, organizing them into narrative format (with no more invention that absolutely necessary) and polishing them until they gleam like the essays Smith discusses. Perhaps it is, as she points out, a guy thing, this desire to write short pieces that can be made as mechanically clean as a clockworks. I don’t think its a failure of imagination, which is much of Smith’s and Shields’ point. That’s the whole point of creative non-fiction, to structure reality and polish it so that the purpose (be it beautiful or ugly) flashes out like the facets of a carefully cut stone.
There is too much to digest easily in Smith’s essay so early on a Sunday morning (but what better time to consider it). I think I need to try and wheedle a review copy of Shield’s book, and come back on some very slow Thursday with a post just on this topic.
§ Don’t miss tonight’s New Laurel Review release party featuring editor-in-chief Lee Meitzen Grue, with readings by contributors. 8 p.m. Thursday. Gold Mine Saloon, 705 Dauphine St., New Orleans (French Quarter), 568-0745, http://www.goldminesaloon.net.
§ UPDATE: I got this late but it sounds very interesting. New Orleans: A T(w)een Travelogue features the stories and photos of 12 young women aged 11 to 14, all from out of town, as they explore New Orleans. I’m always interested in the contrast between an insider’s and an outsider’s view of place and how that fits into writing about place (place as character as much as setting).
Having survived a female tween I may buy this for my now 17-year old and see how that matches up with her own experience of arriving in New Orleans to live at age 14, starting over in high school in a strange (and flood distressed) town without the comfort of her old circle of friends. (I think she should write a book about that experience, but that’s another day’s tale). These young authors and the book’s editors will be at Garden District Books at The Rink on Washington Ave. Tuesday Dec. 8 at 5:30 pm