Author Archives: James Warner

Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places

“Publisher’s Weekly” took some flak for only including male authors in their list of ten best books of 2009. Of those ten books, I’ve so far only read Await Your Reply and The Lost City of Z. I don’t know what the ten best books of 2009 are, and nor do you. However Dark Places […]

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On Being in Fact a Little Careless, or Rather Seeming to be

An 1875 notebook entry by Thomas Hardy, today’s guest blogger —“Read again Addison, Macaulay, Newman, Sterne, Defoe, Lamb, Gibbon, Burke, “Times” leaders etc., in a study of style. Am more and more confirmed in an idea I have long held, as a matter of common sense, long before I thought of any old aphorism bearing […]

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Reading Living Authors, Reading Dead Authors

Have you ever been reading someone… when suddenly they died? That is, were you ever halfway through reading someone’s book when the news of their death reached you? I can only remember one time that’s happened to me — with Bruce Chatwin. Like many people, I read The Songlines first out of Chatwin’s books, then […]

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Must Writers Know the Names of Trees?

Here’s a scene from Isaac Babel’s story “Awakening,” featuring a childhood encounter with an “Odessa News” proofreader —“He pointed with his stick, at a tree with a reddish trunk and a low crown.‘What’s that tree?’I didn’t know.‘What’s growing on that bush?’I didn’t know this either. We walked together across the little square on the Alexandrovsky […]

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The Dalai Lama Doesn’t Drive, nor did Kingsley Amis

Something I heard Paul Ekman say during a Litquake panel was that the reason we can respond automatically, when we’re driving and someone cuts into our lane, is that our ancestors had to be able to react when a large feral cat jumped in their direction. That’s why we have instantaneous reactions that aren’t under […]

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Are Consonants More Masculine Than Vowels?

From Otto Jespersen’s Growth and Structure of the English Language, first published in 1938 — “… there is one expression that continually comes to my mind whenever I think of the English language and compare it with others: it seems to me positively and expressly masculine, it is the language of a grown-up man and […]

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Roadrunner Rules

Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times Of An Animated Cartoonist gives a set of rules that more-or-less govern the universe of Chuck Jones’s Road Runner cartoons. This list strikes me as a rich source of insight into the workings of creativity and comedy —“1. Road Runner cannot harm the coyote except by going ‘beep, beep.’ […]

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Story as House

“Everyone knows what a house does, how it encloses space and makes connections between one enclosed space and another and presents what is outside in a new way. This is the nearest I can come to explaining what a story does for me, and what I want my stories to do for other people.” — […]

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The Neuroscience of Changing Fonts

Editor Susan Bell recommends that, prior to printing out your manuscript for another edit, you change the font — this could help you see the text with a fresh perspective. From Bell’s book The Artful Edit — “Jim Lewis discovered that going from Times Roman to Helvetica kicked the complacency out of his eye.”A blog […]

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Richard the Third, Act One Scene Two

John Lydon — a.k.a. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols – wrote in his autobiography No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs that his favorite Shakespeare plays when he was growing up were “Richard the Third” and “Macbeth.”When I was an adolescent, those were my favorite Shakespeare plays too — perhaps this should be explained in […]

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Sacrifices in Chess and Plotting

Alex Yermolinsky, in The Road to Chess Improvement, writes about the role of intuition in deciding when to sacrifice pieces —“I asked Alex Shabalov what criteria, if any, he uses when he customarily sends his games into wild spins of tactical mêlée. He said that his main concern lies in a variety of ideas present […]

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Falling Short in the Names Department

Martin Amis wrote this in The Moronic Inferno —“The way a writer names his characters provides a good index to the way he sees the world — to his reality-level, his responsiveness to the accidental humour and freakish poetry of life. Thomas Pynchon uses names like Oedipa Maas and Pig Bodine (where the effect is […]

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Children in Failed Nation-States Begging for Books — Some Perspective

In Doris Lessing’s essay collection Time Bites, she describes visiting an refugee camp for Afghan women and children, in Pakistan in 1986. She writes that the boys begged foreign visitors for books, pens, paper. But all they ever got taught was to recite the Koran, and the girls received no education at all. Lessing’s sense […]

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Lydia Millet

lydia millet

Lydia Millet is the author of six novels, most recently How the Dead Dream (2008), which was named a best book of the year by the L.A. Times. Her new collection of short stories is called Love in Infant Monkeys (2009). Her 2002 novel My Happy Life won the PEN-USA Award for Fiction, and Oh Pure and Radiant Heart (2005) was shortlisted for Britain’s Arthur C. Clarke Prize.

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Lydia Millet and the Devastating Loss of the Divine

My interview with Lydia Millet just went up on Identity Theory. She talks about the ways our society treats the profane as the sacred and vice versa, and why she revels in being a dry-nosed primate.Her story collection Love in Infant Monkeys is just out from Soft Skull.Millet told me that ambitious macrosocial writing isn’t […]

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