Big day at Bookslut

In the June 2013 of Bookslut, I’ve got three pieces.

Let’s lead with the big news. Until now, I haven’t interviewed anyone since junior year of college, when I worked for the school paper. So, I was nervous to conduct one. First, there’s the interviewee: Rebecca Solnit. She’s a literary hero of mine, and one of the best nonfiction writers working. And then there’s the subject of the interview, which was her new book, The Faraway Nearby, which is amazing, longwinded, dense, and lyrical–classic Solnit, in other words, and maybe the best book she’s written in a decade.

So, stakes is high. The interview went well, I think, and it’s the lead piece of this issue. Here is Solnit talking about memoir:

I was delighted that the British edition has The Faraway Nearby‘s genre, on the back cover, listed as “memoir/anti-memoir” at my request. Memoir has become, at its most predictable, the new nonfictional branch of conventional fiction. There’s difficulty. There’s overcoming. There’s happily ever after. And happily ever after is usually defined as having acquired all the usual goods. There’s often a kind of trophy display there that’s no gift to a reader. There’s also a kind of assurance about the self that doesn’t work for me: that the author knows who she herself is, and who others are, and that people are consistent. That works really well for plot-based storytelling, but it doesn’t resemble the realities I’m interested in, where the self metamorphoses, contains surprises and inconsistencies and contradictions, and has fluctuant and ambiguous boundaries.

The first review is a glowing piece on Austin Grossman’s You, a novel about video game design, arrested adolescence, and the awkward pains of growing up. The guts of it–sad, funny, wise–tugged at a specific and semi-buried part of me, all of which shows up in the essay:

Every sci-fi nerd who went dateless on prom night (and every other night), every D&D fan who saw his friends dwindle from three to two to one, every girl who pretended she was uninterested in higher math so that jocks could find other reasons to ignore her, we all had reasons to leave geekdom behind when we left home. We found new acquaintances who didn’t know, or would ever need to know, that we’d spent multiple all-nighters cramming down Ursula K. Le Guin novels and grinding through levels of Dragon Quest. What good did it ever do for us? But those digital roots and twines cling to us. We can’t extract ourselves from them without losing the best parts of who we are, even if those best parts look (to us) like acne scars, lonely masturbation, and a decided lack of eye contact with anyone even remotely attractive.

The second review deals with a reissue of Gertrude Stein’s Paris France, which I also quite liked. I took issue with Adam Gopnik’s introduction, which does a disservice to Stein’s writing and is lazy to boot:

It’s not that Stein is “apolitical” or “amoral,” which Gopnik accuses her of his intro, but rather that she refuses to privilege political abstractions — whether royalist, republican, or revolutionary — above everyday life. That’s what the flatness and lack of punctuation conveys, that everything she writes about — all the people, places, memories, arguments, and poodles — are equally important. Paris France is remarkably democratic.

We see that democracy in action in Stein’s recording of dialogue. She loves talk, whether nostalgic or philosophical or utilitarian. All kinds of chitchat get thrown into the brief book, mixed in fluidly — like a jazz pianist improvising new riffs — with the exposition. If Paris France is full of anything, it’s full of gossip. That, too, marks it as “feminine.” I think, ultimately, that it’s this very femininity, this emphasis on women and womanly thinking as shaping the country (which Stein argues has shaped the twentieth century), that makes Gopnik turn up his nose at the frivolity.

Collect ’em all, kids.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the co-author (with Daniel Couch) of Bob Mould's Workbook (Bloomsbury, 2017). His work has been published in The Quarterly Conversation,, Bookslut (RIP), The Comics Journal, The Baseball Chronicle, and other periodicals. Twitter: @walter_biggins.
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