Full Stop For Book Lovers & Writers

While many people mourn the disappearance of Sunday book sections in newspapers across the U.S., the number of quality sites online—The Millions and The Los Angeles Review of Books come to mind— for high-quality book reviews, criticism and literary essays continues to grow. I recently spent time clicking through the excellent site Full Stop, which is finishing its first year online.

The website’s mission is to “focus on young writers, works in translation, and books we feel are being neglected by other outlets while engaging with the significant changes occurring in the publishing industry and the evolution of print media.”

writer-musician-alina-simoneWriter and musician Alina Simone.

In visiting Full Stop, I came across a number of intriguing articles, including an interview with musician and writer Alina Simone who had no intention of writing a book until an editor at Farrar, Strauss & Giroux heard her music. The encounter led to her collection of essays You Must Go and Win. She explains:

“…(the editor) really just heard me on Pandora. I don’t really know what he was thinking. Maybe in some way it was based on the lyrics to my songs? I’m guessing that he had some feeling that I could write. I don’t know really what that was based on, exactly. He insists it was just the music – he heard the music and thought I could write a book. You know? I don’t know, maybe editors develop some sixth sense about a person.”


picture-writer-george-saundersGeorge Saunders is one of several authors that chime in on “The Situation in American Writing.”

There is also a series on the website now called “The Situation in American Writing.” It’s based on a 1939 questionnaire The Partisan Review sent to a number of prominent writers. Full Stop updated the questions and writers like George Saunders, Kio Stark and Marilynne Robinson, who wrote the Pulitzer Award-winning novel Giliead, give their two cents. Robinson writes about the current state of literary criticism:

“For a long time the academy has been training people in a style of criticism that is marked by nothing so much as jargon, and by generalization that is pointedly inattentive to the character of any particular book. So there is a great breach between the persons of letters who would otherwise lead the public conversation about books and the vast majority of the reading public. No wonder they are so small a voice. It would no doubt enhance our awareness of the serious writing that does indeed go on if there were critics of the kind that used to introduce such writing to a serious readership.”

And then to the delight of a Japanophile like myself, there was a lengthy essay by Steve Vineberg about the new Criterion DVD release of the 1983 Japanese movie The Makioka Sisters, which is based on the novel by Junichiro Tanizaki.

Vinberg writes beautifully both about Japan and film:

“The movie — one of the most magnificent-looking ever released — is conceived largely in terms of wide, carefully composed long shots that emphasize the formality of traditional Japanese life; of the astonishingly graceful, flowing movement of the four sisters; of the sumptuous silk kimonos they wear, which glide and slither (and are never supposed to squeak), and in one breathtaking scene are hung and layered like screens for the set of a bunraku puppet play; and of the lyricism of the landscape, which Ichikawa and Hasegawa capture in different seasons.  (Intriguingly, the music Ichikawa chooses is western:  it’s by Handel.  But its stately classicism seems ideal for the material.)”

I would say Full Stop is worth adding to your RSS reader.


Writing, Making Money & Raising Kids – How It’s Done

There are times when I’ve found myself skimming through The Paris Review interviews and hoping the interviewer would stop being profound and ask the writers more pedestrian questions about their early writing life: How did you make a living in the beginning? What was your writing routine? How did you write every day and make time for your spouse, kids, etc.? Did you ever have to have a full-time office job?

Now there is a website with writer interviews, The Days Of Yore, that asks the practical questions all writers are obsessed with, including some that are simply fun and superfluous, such as what novelist Jennifer Egan ate in the lean years (apparently “a huge cup of coffee and a corn muffin every morning” from a NYC diner).

Novelist Jennifer Egan (photo by David Shankbone)

The editors, in their own words, write that the mission of The Days of Yore is to focus on that part of an artist’s life (they do not focus exclusively on writers) that delves into the…

“…floating, in-between time when we’re figuring out how to establish and sustain ourselves (and make money) doing what we want to be doing.”

From the perspective of a struggling writer, the interviews reveal how some successful writers have confronted the age-old challenge of creating art amidst the demands of every-day life.

Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit From The Goon Squad, says she worked as a private secretary for a time, which allowed her to write from 8 am to 12pm each day:

“I became a private secretary for this woman, the Countess of Romanones. She had been a spy during WWII…She now had a HUGE contract to write two more books and, you know, her life was spiraling out of control, so I was her private secretary. I worked from 1-6 only and she paid enough to live on. She was very difficult to work for, but I had from 8-noon to write.”

Read the full interview with Jennifer Egan.


Paul Elie is the author of the book on American Catholic writers The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage. He also has a day job (a rather nice one) as an editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He spoke about working on his own writing while working as a full-time editor:

“It’s a strain for me to ‘be a writer’ from 10 p.m to midnight after a long day at work and with children, which is what I do most days now. But what makes it possible is that my writing is mine. Those two hours are the part of the day when I’m not working for anybody.”

Read the full interview with Paul Elie.

George Saunders is the author of the short story collection CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. He worked for years as an environmental engineer and actually welcomed the stability of a full-time job: “I found that I was much more comfortable being a corporate guy, with a steady income, who pushed the rules a bit, than I was being a sort of beatnik, not working, with two kids at home.”

As for his advice to young writers trying to make a living nowadays:

“I think the only defensible position is to sort of say to hell with making a living and put all your energy into making something new, that seems beautiful to you – that is, to try your best to push your work into a new/iconic place and let the chips fall where they may.”

Read the full interview with George Saunders.