Another Take on Catholic Literature & Writers

In 2011 I wrote an essay in The Millions titled “Where Have All the Catholic Writers Gone?” Little did I know that the topic would interest a great number of people, and that the piece would continue to pop-up in online discussions.

Earlier this week the essay surfaced again when Nick Ripatrazone penned an article in The Millions titled “Counter and Strange: Contemporary Catholic Literature.” Ripatrazone is the author of a new book titled The Fine Delight on what he describes as “Postconciliar Catholic Literature.” He argues that Catholic writing (by Catholics of all stripes) is vibrant and vital right now, which stands (somewhat) in contrast to my case that there has been a significant decline since Vatican II and the disappearance of the old “Latin Mass.”

Tot conflueix / All's conected

Ripatrazone nicely summarizes the main focus of my essay:

“While I strongly disagree with Fay’s overall thesis that postconciliar liturgical retranslation led to a decline in Catholic art, his short essay introduces important points. Fay writes elegiacally about the postconciliar shift from Latin to English, or local, Mass: ‘what for centuries had seemed eternal, mysterious, and rich in symbolism — the very marrow that feeds artists — was suddenly being conducted in the same language as sitcoms, TV commercials, and business meetings.’ Was Fay’s observation convenient hindsight, or lived reality?”

I was also humbled to see that my essay seemed, in part, to have been an inspiration for his new book:

“I needed Fay to ask the implicit question, and in the past year I’ve attempted to provide the answer in The Fine Delight, my new book on American Catholic writing after the Second Vatican Council.”

One of the curious aspects of Ripatrazone’s argument is that he dispenses with any kind of specific definition of what a “Catholic writer” is, which allows him to include all kinds of writers under the Catholic tent, such as Jeffrey Eugenides and Thomas McGuane, whom one struggles to associate with Catholicism.

photo by: SBA73

Some Fun with Novelist Gary Shteyngart

Today my friend Roman Tsivkin and I had some fun with the Russian-born novelist Gary Shteyngart on Twitter. My friend Roman and Shteyngart share a very similar background–both are Russian Jews, about 40, live in NYC, both were born in what used to be Leningrad, and they both look VERY MUCH alike.

Roman recently posted a new photo of himself (see below) and I had to Tweet both Roman and Shteyngart and remark on the similarity…Only on Twitter can you interact with a writer as well-known as Shteyngart and have a little fun too.

Roman’s new Twitter photo:

Roman Tsivkin

And here is a photo of Shteyngart:

Gary Shteyngart

And here is the exchange of Tweets:

photo by: Mark Coggins

A Marine’s Vietnam Story & Other Writing

Operation Georgia - Marines blow up bunkers and tunnels used by the Viet Cong

This month I published a creative nonfiction story titled “The Consecration” in Booth, the literary journal of Butler University. The story is taken from my recently-completed memoir, and recounts my teenage friendship with a Marine Gunnery Sergeant who had fought in Vietnam as a combat engineer.

This week I also published a book review in Full Stop where I looked at recent works by novelist Marilynne Robinson and French philosopher Pascal Bruckner in light of today’s disheartening culture wars.

photo by: expertinfantry

Writers & Day Jobs


For my January article in Full Stop I wrote about writers and day jobs with a little intro about T.S. Eliot and his years working as a clerk at Lloyd’s bank in London.

I couldn’t have imagined the interest that the article generated across the Internet over the last week and a half. There are clearly a lot of writers who work full-time and are conflicted about what this does to their creative work.

Here is a sampling of the sites that wrote about and linked to the essay:

photo by: wbaiv

Kerouac’s ‘Big Sur’ Now a Movie

When asked about the novels of Jack Kerouac Truman Capote quipped: “That’s not writing, it’s typing.” His famed comment underscores Kerouac’s mixed reputation as a writer, both then and now. Kerouac’s output was certainly uneven, but his ambition for the novel and his vision for a new American prose was both genuine and compelling; Kerouac’s writing at times is full of fireworks and wonder.

In 2012 Walter Salles directed the long-awaited film of Jack Kerouac’s famous novel On the Road. And now, a year later, we have a film of his novel Big Sur, which recounts the efforts of Jack Duluoz (a fictionalized version of Kerouac) to get sober and regain his footing as a writer at a cablin in Big Sur, California. Jacket Copy has an interesting piece on the challenges of making a movie of Big Sur. Here is the trailer:

The Legend of Gary Shteyngart’s Blurbs

A smart, amusing look at the strange publishing practice of blurbing new books and how Russian-born novelist Gary Shteyngart has emerged as a kind of blurbing king pin who will seemingly blurb just about anything, and do it with real flair.

The short 15-minute video has dozens of interviews with New York writers, critics and editors, as well as an interview with Shteyngart himself. The film was made by writer and editor Edward Champion.

Casting Sophia Coppola in ‘The Leopard’

My Twitter friend the writer Kim Askew invited me to guest post on her site Romancing the Tome last week as part of a celebration of the release of her new book Tempestuous (co-authored with Amy Helmes). I wrote about one of my favorite novels The Leopard by the Italian writer Giuseppe di Lampedusa and why director Francis Ford Coppola should use it as a vehicle to redeem Sophia Coppola’s notoriously poor acting performance in his 1990 film The Godfather III.


Hoping Sophia Coppola one day stars in ‘The Leopard’

I was honored to guest post for Kim alongside such luminaries as famed literary networker Lauren Cerand, writer and editor Edward Champion and publisher Richard Nash.

This is not the first time I’ve written about Sophia Coppola. Last year in The Millions I imagined moving to Paris and bumping into Sophia and her singer husband Thomas Mars somewhere in the Latin Quarter.

My ‘Full Stop’ Piece on David Foster Wallace

Recently I had the good fortune to be named a monthly contributor to Full-Stop Magazine. For my December piece, I wrote how I had been unknowingly “shadowing” the late-novelist David Foster Wallace across America for years. When I read the novel Infinite Jest back in 1996 or ’97,  I immediately recognized that Wallace and I shared connections to some very odd and specific American places.

Vol. 1 Brooklyn linked to the article today as part of their “Morning Bites” daily round-up. Morning Bites (and Afternoon Bites) features some of the best literary and cultural writing  online and is well-worth keeping tabs on.

I have blogged about David Foster Wallace before. Most recently I wrote about the mystery surrounding religion and David Foster Wallace. There is a lot of speculation that DFW had been something of a closet Christian–but the issue of his faith in not a clear one–and D.T. Max’s new biography seems to discredit the notion that Wallace was a believing Christian.

photo by: anokarina

William Giraldi: Tough-Love Critic

A new essay or book review by critic William Giraldi has become something of an event. In a world where bloggers discuss how they “feel” about a book, and the online literati praise every new novel as if it were Ulysses, Giraldi has become the adult in the room, reminding us what true criticism can and should be.

In September Giraldi wrote “Letters to a Young Critic” in The Daily Beast after a review of his was singled out for being too negative. His Daily Beast essay was chock-full of no-nonsense opinions guaranteed to make him persona non grata on Twitter and in trendy Brooklyn bookshops:

“Much of what you will review will be written by those who have emerged from the MFA mill and who have been Pavloved into believing that every effort, no matter its anemia or inertia, deserves praise because the writer tried so hard and cares so much. You’ll be confronted by the preposterous sense of entitlement that the professionalization of writing has brought about…Don’t pander to the ‘literary’ snipes who live their dreary lives online, that legion of wonks who are mere tourists in the land of literature.”

In an age that rejects objective truth and vilifies judgment of any kind, Giraldi insists that there are objectively bad books, books that drag us all down as writers, readers and human beings, and that a critics’ obligation is to call a spade a spade. “Relax your standards in literature,” he writes, “and the relaxation of other standards will follow.” In the same vein, T.S. Eliot wrote that the function of criticism was “the common pursuit of true judgment.” (The problem of making objective artistic judgments in the modern world is something I wrote about for Full-Stop Magazine in June).

At the end of the essay Giraldi provides a kind of syllabus of great essays and books that any would-be-critic should read and ponder.

On November 30 Giraldi returned with a review in the Los Angeles Review of Books called “Rotten Reviews Redux: A Literary Companion.” Like his essay in September, this piece is full of wisdom and tough-love gems for the online literati. Giraldi surveys the enduring legacy of E.M. Forster’s book Aspects of the Novel along with the almost-forgotten one by critic Percy Lubbock The Craft of Fiction. He also focuses on the “pervasive suspicion that the best literary comment is always penned by those who are masters of the genre they comment on.” But, perhaps even more importantly, the review is worth reading because Giraldi’s acerbic wit is on full-display , and in the PC-world of book reviewing, there is nothing more refreshing. A sampling:

 “A world with no deservedly antagonistic reviews would be a literary Disneyland: a wretched uniformity of pleasantness.”

“What a critic likes and feels is immaterial; it’s what a critic sees and thinks that matters. But that is precisely what you’ll find spattered across the Net and in many a newspaper east to west: unlettered opinions with scarcely more authority than the feral scratching in Cro-Magnon’s diary.”

“Literature to these online cabals is a social event and not an artistic endeavor; they congregate to swap recipes of cuisine no discerning person would ever care to eat. The idea that a novel can be garbage, and that a critic has the imperative to call it such, is anathema to their aspartame outlook; these vast middle-strata scribes have turned to writing, apparently, because Habitat for Humanity is too demanding.”

photo by: wolfB1958