The Sunday Post for August 16, 2015

An Accomplished Writer Takes a ‘MasterClass’ From a Gargantuan Selling Writer

Writer Joyce Maynard takes a $90 “MasterClass” in writing from James Patterson.

In the 42 years I have worked full time—day in, day out—as a writer, producing, so far, 15 books (a couple of memoirs, a collection of essays and a bunch of novels). I have made it onto The New York Times list for a lifetime total of four weeks—back when the movie version of my novel Labor Day sent the novel that inspired it very briefly onto the charts. Other than that one heady moment, I have labored, like most of my writer friends, in one level or another of financial challenge. But I have held onto the undying faith that any day now, things might change, and all those readers out there who have been buying books by people like Jodi Picoult and James Patterson would suddenly realize what they were missing, and pick up one of mine, instead. And then I, too, would be one of those writers whose books the person on the seat next to you on the airplane always seems to be reading.
Off the Books: For some communities, the controversial labor practices of Andrew Carnegie outweighed the potential benefits of his libraries.

Jacqui Shine Looks at Andrew Carnegie’s libraries, why he built them, and if this legacy tips the scales away from his actions against nascent organizing labor. Some of his motivations will ring true to lovers of Horatio Alger tropes:

Carnegie’s philanthropy consisted not of handouts, but of investments in civic institutions. He was particularly interested in libraries because he believed that “self-help is the basis of every improvement, material, intellectual or spiritual, and that no mode of public benefaction could be chosen which exacted cooperation from the individual to such an extent as the public library.” The library was also a symbol of his own self-making. In his autobiography, Carnegie credited access to a benefactor’s library as the force that kept him “clear of low fellowship and bad habits” in his youth.

The Story Is the Thing: On Lucia Berlin

Lydia Davis on Lucia Berlin:

Things actually happen in the stories—a whole mouthful of teeth gets pulled at once; a little girl gets expelled from school for striking a nun; an old man dies in a mountaintop cabin, his goats and his dog in bed with him; the history teacher with her mildewed sweater is dismissed for being a Communist—“That’s all it took. Three words to my father. She was fired sometime that weekend and we never saw her again.”

Is this why it is almost impossible to stop reading a story of Lucia Berlin’s once you begin? Is it because things keep happening? Is it also the narrating voice, so engaging, so companionable? Along with the economy, the pacing, the imagery, the clarity? These stories make you forget what you were doing, where you are, even who you are.

At Sea With Joseph Conrad

We end up talking about Conrad and London a lot in the SRoB Slack channel (not as much, as, say, Chimamanda, it should be noted), but if even if you are as against Conrad as some in our group, it’s worth looking at this Maya Jasanoff piece for the illustrations (but since you’re there, give it a read too, won’t you?)

The tall ship Corwith Cramer stumbled into the Celtic Sea, engine roaring, 7,500 square feet of sail furled up mute. Its two masts ticked against the horizon like a metronome set to allegro. I joined a row of pallid sailors crouched at the leeward rail. Foam-lathered swell swung for my face, then reeled abruptly away. By the third time I threw up over the side, the “wine-dark sea” of Homer’s poetry just looked like the basin of a billion vomits.

Misery loves blame, so I blamed Joseph Conrad, whose fiction had brought me here. Before Conrad published his first novel in 1895, he spent 20 years working as a merchant sailor, mostly on sailing ships, and fully half his writing — including “Heart of Darkness,” “Lord Jim” and “The Secret Sharer” — deals with sailors, ships and the sea. These loom so large for him that as I have researched a book about Conrad’s life and times, I have felt it essential to travel by sea myself.