Author Archives: Robert Birnbaum

Nathaniel Bellows

Nathaniel Bellows

“I have a sensitivity to reviewing because of my experience, to the task, and to the weight of what a review can do and how it affects all the different parts of publishing.”

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March 17, 2004: “Far be it for me to step in the large pile of turds that Mel Gibson has left behind”

Far be it for me to step in the large pile of turds that Mel Gibson has left behind with his deft marketing of his deity-inspired rendering of Christian mythology. As Joseph Epstein replied when I queried him about his intentions to weigh in, it would require him to see the movie, which he was […]

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Alice Flaherty

“It is very painful for them to think of literature, of writing literature, as this product of this disgusting organ with the consistency of tooth paste.”

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February 25, 2004: “I was going to write about the unrefined thoughts…”

I was going to write about the unrefined thoughts I had on the passing of Golden Age of TV icon Jack Paar. Which involved some teleportation back, against time’s arrows, to the past, when television was Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bill and Kukla Fran and Ollie and Studs Terkel (this was in Chicago) and Dave […]

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Tibor Fischer

Tobor Fischer

“If I knew exactly everything that was going to happen from page 1 to page 300, I’d never get round to writing it because I would get so bored.”

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February 8, 2004: “Regular garden-variety cantankerousness”

Regular garden-variety cantankerousness—now regularly euphemized as “contrariness” or “curmudgeonly behavior”—is responsible for my life-long (as least adult life) disregard of the Justinian calendar. The lapse in my attention to my journal was superceded by the end of the annual end-of-the-year hysteria that has firmly rooted itself in the American culture—it might be thus in other […]

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Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi

“I think if a civilization or a culture does not take its own works of literature seriously it goes downhill. You need imagination in order to imagine a future that doesn’t exist.”

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Edward Jones

Edward Jones

“…all the effort and knowledge that went into writing that first story. You can’t transfer it over to the second story. You are always starting at the bottom again. So it’s—a nasty job. It’s a nasty job.”

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Neal Pollack

Neal Pollack

“I hate it when a book opens and there are three pages in italics and then the narrative starts. Just tell me a goddamn story! I don’t need three pages of italics.”

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Chip Kidd #2

Chip Kidd

“A part of what I feel is not great is when authors — or authors and their agents, or agents on behalf of their authors — come to me and they want me to design their books because they think it will solve all their problems for them. And now I can safely say, I designed my own book cover for my novel and it was not a runaway success.”

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Martin Amis

Martin Amis

“I think all writing answers the very human desire—not for immortality but for some extension of your mortal span.”

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December 7, 2003: Scary Martin Amis

"Scary" Martin Amis Recently I printed out a digital image I made of Martin Amis at my most recent conversation with him. I showed it to my friend Janice and her immediate reaction was that he was scary looking, "He looks like a vampire," she opined. Michael, my other friend who was also given a […]

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Louis Begley

Louis Begley

“I cannot read novels of huge length, with no characters, no intelligible plot, and really no point except a compendium of private jokes and obsessions.”

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December 1, 2003: “Despite industrial imperatives that focus on current releases…”

Despite industrial imperatives that focus on current releases with the hopes of creating bestsellers, hopefully in the giga proportions of Harry Potter, there are occasional reminders that the literary moment is not coincident with the commercial one. Jonathan Yardley’s "Second Reading" columns in the Washington Post are some of those. Recently Yardley revisited the prodigious […]

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November 23, 2003: “Rosie is not reading this book…”

Rosie is not reading this book. But she is helping out. Read on. Recently I went to some Homo sapiens events with Rosie, my steadfast canine companion. They weren’t billed as dog-friendly events, but such is my arrogance (or confidence) that I thought nothing of making Rosie my date. It helped, of course, that I […]

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