Fiction in the world

Visualizing a happier, more just world is a direct assault on the forces that are trying to break your heart. . . . Happier, kinder worlds in fiction naturally lead people to band together, to try and create pockets of that experience in our world. And there’s plenty of evidence that these fan communities feed directly into political organizing.

Never Say You Can’t Survive by Charlie Jane Anders


It’s the experience of writing that I’m addicted to . . . the spying into character’s lives, the living dangerously while always having reality as a safety net, the falling in love, the falling in hate. Writing lets me feel what my life hasn’t. It lets me experience what my life couldn’t.

            –Peter Miller

Remember the best part

I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do–the actual act of writing–turns out to be the best part.

–Anne Lamott

Grimly determined

“I was turned down for ten years. I couldn’t get a thing in print. My writing went nowhere. I guess you have to be persistent. Talent is just one element of the writing business. You also have to have a stubborn nature. That’s rarer even than the talent, I think. You have to be grimly determined. I certainly was disappointed; I got upset. But you have to go back to the desk again, to the mailbox once more, and await your next refusal.”

—William Gass, from a 1995 interview with BOMB


“‘I simply imagined,’ [Faulkner said of As I Lay Dying] ‘ a group of people and subjected them to the simple universal natural catastrophes which are flood and fire with a simple natural motive [burial] to give direction to their progress'” (111).

Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction

Short Perfect Novels

One of the many benefits of reading The Sentence by Louise Erdrich is that, in addition to being an excellent novel, it includes a list of short (about 200 pages or two hours to read) novels. Once my current stack of books is a little shorter, I’ll try reading or rereading books on this list.

  • Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
  • Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
  • Sula by Toni Morrison
  • The Shadow-Line by Jospeh Conrad
  • The All of It by Jeannette Haien
  • Winter in the Blood by James Welch
  • Swimmer in the Secret Sea by William Kotzwinkle
  • The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
  • First Love by Ivan Turgenev
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  • Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  • Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
  • Fire on the Mountain by Anita Desai

The subject of the literary novel

Seen through the eyes of its characters, the world of the novel seems closer and more comprehensible to us. It is this proximity that lends the art of the novel its irresistible power. Yet the primary focus is not the personality and morality of the leading characters, but the nature of their world. The life of the protagonist, their place in the world, the way they feel, see, and engage with their world – this is the subject of the literary novel.

Orhan Pamuk in The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist

Epistemological storytelling

There’s something epistemological about storytelling. It’s the way we know each other, the way we know ourselves, the way we know the world. It’s also the way we don’t know: the way the world is kept from us, the way we’re kept from knowledge about ourselves, the way we’re kept from understanding other people.

–Andrea Barrett