Critical Reads September 14, 2012: The Big Nuts Edition
- Best of List
“I read a piece by Malcolm Gladwell in a recent New Yorker. (Stop rolling your eyes).”
This week, when Mat Johnson interviewed Victor LaValle for Bookforum, it became apparent that one of the myriad benefits of being friends with an interview subject is that you get to refer to him as "Big Nuts." As such, this week in Critical Reads we're highlighting all the instances in which the biggest nuts of the book world got intimate. That means interviews with Roger D. Hodge, Alison Bechdel, and Jay-Z via Zadie Smith. And it also means a needy breakup letter from Simone de Beauvoir.
Victor LaValle Interview (Bookforum)
"Alright, Big Nuts. How does this book suck less than all the others?" So begins the interview of Victor LaValle by Mat Johnson, and with this beginning, an awareness of what makes this a great interview: intimacy with the interviewee, an interviewer with a voice the way fiction writers talk about voice, and a familiarity with the subject's body of work. There are touching moments ("You were the first real friend I made post-undergrad, meaning the first friend who knew me after I'd cleaned myself up a bit."), musings on making it ("When we were trying to make it as writers we were in our late 20s, we didn't socialize."), and talk of the kind of rocking literary friendship that makes Franzen and Wallace look like Mailer and Vidal: "Yo, let me say this though before we go, you let me have the writing career I've had. I started out writing humorless, Toni Morrison rip-offs. I talked to you on the phone one time and you said, ‘You're funny, you're crass, why doesn't your work look anything like that.' It was the single biggest lesson of that MFA time." Congratulations, Big Nuts; you've done a fine interview."
Roger D. Hodge: The Personality of a Magazine (Guernica)
After the unfortunate sex scandal at the Oxford American and the perhaps even more unfortunate retelling of it at the Editors in Love blog, the magazine looked for a replacement for editor-in-chief Marc Smirnoff. Enter: Roger D. Hodge, Harper's veteran and author of The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism. Aing a Qs fielded over at Guernica magazine, he said he'll be upping the ante on longform literary journalism.
Did Zadie Smith's Fish Sandwich Violate NYT Ethical Guidelines? (Slate)
When two people I admire as much as Jay-Z and Zadie Smith sit down at the same table, I'm apt to think it must be a good thing. Smith, interviewing Mr. Sean Carter, recounts the lunch and interprets the lyrics of the rap superstar. She carefully, and with some skepticism, constructs the contradictions of Jay-Z as the contradictions of being black in America today. But there was one thing she wasn't so careful about, and that was the fish sandwich Carter purchased for her at Parm. According to New York Times ethical guidelines, an interviewer should not receive gifts from an interviewee, and that includes a fish sandwich.
A Breakup Letter From Simone de Beauvoir (Brain Pickings)
There is a phenomenon of nerdy voyeurism that we frequently shuffle beneath the skirt of scholarship, historical enquiry, or literary research. But let's be clear: it often comes down to the same filthy curiosity that makes us ogle car wrecks and watch reality television and eavesdrop on conversations. So without further ado: the breakup letter written by Simone de Beauvoir to Nelson Algren.
‘Menopause is a Punchline to a Joke': An Interview with Alison Bechdel on the Occasion of Her 50th Birthday (Jezebel)
Yes, writers age. And if they're female writers, they go through menopause. In this interview with Alison Bechdel, the author is characteristically open to making her private life public. We learn that she is menopausal, for example, and she gets into phobias: "My main fear is being found out to be the idiot that I fear I am. And then my next fear is dying." Follow Rob Trucks' "Americans Turning 50" interview series for more interviews with half-century-old famous people.
Check back every Friday for the next installment of our Critical Reads series.
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