Talking with Donna Tartt in Park Slope tonight

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I’m thrilled: Tonight Donna Tartt will read from her wonderful new novel, The Goldfinch, at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, and then she and I will have a conversation about it. 

We’re filling up, but you can still reserve a spot, if you’re interested. And if you’d like to join us but can’t make it for one reason or another, here are some highlights from her archives as consolation.



Nobody’s Stranger: My Miami noir love story

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Nobody’s Stranger,” a new (and also very old) twisted Miami-noirish short story of mine, goes up in two parts at Medium this week.

I say “old,” because I wrote the first version of it in Harry Crews’ class at the age of twenty. That early draft got lost, but my friend Andy and I reminisced about it (and about studying with Crews) on this site nine years ago, and afterward I wrote this version.

Since then I’ve tinkered with it here and there but it’s mostly been sitting around in a folder. Not long ago, Julie read and liked it, so when Lizzie asked if I had any fiction she could consider for Open Ticket, her great new Medium collection, I sent it along. She’s read big chunks of my novel-in-progress (excerpted at Narrative), which is very different, so I was nervous. To my surprise and delight, she asked to run it.

Here’s part one.



My teeny NYT Magazine columns, in one place

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I’ve been meaning to create a slideshow of my New York Times Magazine columnlets, for my own archival purposes more than anything, and I’ve finally done it. They appear in the “One-Page Magazine” every Sunday, in print and online. My ambit is loosely historical, so I don’t always focus on books and writers, but in one way or another I often do.



My profile of Joan Didion for Humanities

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Anyone who’s stopped by this site over the years probably knows that I revere Joan Didion. I had the great honor of interviewing her for Humanities Magazine in the lead-up to her receipt of the National Humanities Medal. The profile that resulted is pretty brief, so I posted some outtakes on my Tumblr.

The short time I spent with her will stay with me always.



Sunday reading, a day early

My New York Times Magazine columnlet this week is about Chris Offutt’s attempts to bake a “Bible Cake” recipe (first published in a Kentucky P.T.A. cookbook in 1967) without cursing.

Just about every time I mention a piece of writing in one of these tiny columns, it’s because I hope everyone who sees it will seek the thing out and read it. This one is no exception. I hope I captured a fraction of the flavor (sorry) of Offutt’s full essay, which appears in The Oxford American.

Last week’s columnlet was on Joan Schenkar’s speculations about Patricia Highsmith and marriage equality for The Fertile Fact. Another recent one was devoted to Brett Fletcher Lauer’s faux Missed Connections, which he wrote about for A Public Space.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s conversation with Jonathan Franzen about his forthcoming novel, The Sound of Things Falling, is only available in the galley, but it’s a fascinating prelude to an excellent book.



It got better

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My father used to theorize, proudly, that Bowers v. Hardwick was based partly on reasoning from some law review note he wrote. The details are hazy in my memory, and the claim was always speculative, not to mention (characteristically and horrifically) grandiose, but whether or not my father actually helped preside over this era of hatred and bigotry, I’m thrilled it is finally coming to an end.

(Thanks, Ken, for the U.S. rainbow flag.)



Summertime salutations

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I sometimes miss writing here, on this website. It seems so old-fashioned to me now, a tiny Internet island disconnected from everything else. I remember first starting to type in this little box, or one very much like it, and the wonder and excitement and anxiety I felt when people responded from their own little boxes and linked to what I’d written. That was eleven years ago. Eleven years!

I’m not the sort of person who wishes things had stayed as they were. I like Tumblr and Twitter, etc., etc., and I’m interested to see what comes next. But I do feel a little wistful from time to time for the newness of the experience of typing some stream-of-consciousness thing like this — which is not at all what I was expecting to write when I opened up WordPress — and setting it loose into the world.

Now I’m putting that energy into my book, which feels good and right, but I wanted to say hello to any longtime readers who might be passing through. So, hello out there! Isn’t this blogging thing crazy?

I originally popped in to link to some things I’ve done in the past couple of months and neglected to mention here: an essay for The New Republic,How Occupy Changed Contemporary Art: Molly Crabapple’s ‘altarpieces to the revolution’,” and an interview with Naomi Alderman about religion, Margaret Atwood, and The Liars’ Gospel, for Barnes & Noble Review. I’m still having a lot of fun doing my columnlet for the New York Times Magazine’s One Page Magazine every Sunday. The panda mask at the top of this post is Kyle Hilton’s illustration for the one based around Emily Witt’s fascinating “What Do You Desire?” Last Sunday’s subject was the great Sinead O’Connor.

Right now, apart from my novel, I’m working on a dream of an assignment for another of my favorite magazines. I’m so excited, I keep wondering if I made this up. But I have a contract, so if all goes well, you can read it there eventually.

Finally, I need to thank the illustrious Bud Parr of Sonnet Media, who quickly redid my site and got it back online the last time it went belly-up. If you’re looking for someone to design and maintain a website for you, you really can’t do better than Bud.

Happy summer, you guys! If you were here, I’d make you a salty dog. We could drink them on the terrace with all my herbs and flowers, and my lemon tree, which survived the winter indoors, but we’d have to do it really quickly. It’s getting ready to storm.



Stuff from me, in the mail

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Putting together packages for Quarterly Co. has been a lot of fun and a lot of work. I’m ironing out the details for for my very last one right now.

The most recent shipment included Colson Whitehead’s Colossus of New York, art from Molly Crabapple, a short story from Roxane Gay, (a link to) Patty Griffin’s “Florida,” and a letter. The subject was places. Muriel Spark, Roland Barthes, Denise Levertov, Bill Hickok, and Breaking Bad made appearances in previous packages, which were about work and grief, but not the combination thereof.

I’m also excited to be contributing to the Rumpus’ Letters in the Mail. My dispatch goes out in June. Subscriptions are $5 monthly, if you’d like something fun to keep the bills company in your mailbox.



On the rise of the “Christian bar mitzvah”

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For the weekend’s New York Times Magazine, I wrote about the increasing popularity of traditional Jewish rituals among American evangelical Christians — including, in a small but growing sector, “bar mitzvahs” for their kids. The article, “Oy Vey, Christian Soldiers,” appeared in the March 22 issue, and you can see some photos and videos of these practices in a related post.



On Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers

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For NPR, I review Rachel Kushner’s brilliant lightning bolt of a novel, The Flamethrowers, which straddles two revolutions: the squatter-artist colonization of Manhattan’s SoHo in the 1970s, and the rise of Italy’s radical left during the same period. An excerpt:

Its young artist narrator, Reno, is wistful and brutally candid at once, with a voice like a painting — lush and evocative — but also like a scythe. “Enchantment,” she says, describing her dashed hopes after a one-night stand, “means to want something and also to know, somewhere inside yourself, not an obvious place, that you aren’t going to get it.”

The rest is here. See also: Kushner’s Paris Review essay on the photos that inspired her while writing; praise from James Wood and Ron Charles.



Letter from Jerusalem

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It’s impossible to choose a favorite thing in Jerusalem so far, but right now I believe it may be the Bulgarian feta with hyssop and sun-dried tomatoes that’s laid out every morning with the rest of our hotel’s immense breakfast spread.

I’m here for the Jerusalem International Book Fair, where Mark Sarvas, Boaz Cohen, Naomi Alderman and I spoke yesterday about books, the Internet, and writing and creating art from a place of passion and authenticity.

Mark and I don’t see each other nearly often enough these days, and it’s been great to roam the city and catch up. Boaz is smart and charming; it’s easy to see why his radio show and his blog are beloved here. And I adored Naomi, whose first novel, Disobedience, I praised on this site years ago and whose game-writing I’ve always wanted to know more about. She and I nerdily compared iPad apps and promised to meet up in New York to talk about being refugees from fundamentalism.

Max and I spent Monday in the Old City, and had drinks and dinner that night at Mona (yum) with the writer Menachem Kaiser, Israel Museum Director James Snyder, and some other fine people. Yesterday was all about the book fair, but after drinks at the National Library, Max, Mark, and I slipped off to dinner at Eucalyptus.

This morning Max and I head to Bethlehem for a few hours, and then we’ll meet up with Mark at Yad Vashem. Tonight we dine at Canele. Tomorrow morning we go to the Israel Museum for the new Herod exhibition, and in the afternoon to the Mount of Olives and Garden of Gethsemane. Early Friday morning — a little after midnight — we head home. So far, thanks to my body’s time zone confusion, I’m averaging three-and-a-half hours’ sleep a night. I’d really like to get a nap in; for now I have jetlag limericks from Facebook friends.

Max took this photo, looking east from the Tower of David Museum, on Monday afternoon.



Things I’m Doing

I’ve updated events page to include upcoming appearances at the Pratt Writers’ Forum, Jerusalem International Book Fair, and 2013 AWP Conference, and a reading from the anthology What My Mother Gave Me, at Greenlight Books.

Later updated to say: I just saw Kirkus’ nice bit of praise for my essay, “Mess Up Your Mind,” from the anthology (now a New York Times bestseller!): “Maud Newton writes about how she and her mother circle each other warily, their orbits held by a love of literature.” We’ve had some bumpy times, mama and me, but I