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In response to my 11/27 post, a concerned reader writes:  “And yet a little historical perspective is in order. Making a living as a writer of fiction was extremely rare up until the 19th century. Then a combination of factors resulted in a huge market for reading material. This whole fiction thing is just a […]

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In some ways, I wish I hadn’t read Strong Opinions, the volume of Nabokov interviews. Mostly, I guess, because he used to seem a lot more likable. The Nabokov of Speak, Memory, for instance, is a very engaging and clever intellectual with a hint of the raconteur. Not so the persona of the interviews. As […]

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Winston Churchill once characterized Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” What would he have made of Vladimir Nabokov? A great prose stylist, but what did he mean by it all? In interviews, when asked about the meaning of his work, he would vehemently deny any meaning at all. He claimed […]

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A reader (who defined herself as ‘a young 83’) wrote to me last week to let me she was enjoying The Great American Desert, and when I asked her what it was about it that she enjoyed she replied as follows: Mostly I love the book because it is  ‘clean’. Call me old fashioned but […]

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William Faulkner is supposed to have remarked once that Earnest Hemingway had the distinction of never having used a word that sent a reader to the dictionary.  Hem’s reply, upon hearing of this, is alleged to have been, “Poor Faulkner.  He thinks you need big words to make big emotions.” A few of my own […]

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Virginia Woolf, as near as I can tell, never finished what is widely considered one of the greatest novels ever written.  Tom Eliot had been praising it to the skies, and maybe, she says, that is why she admittedly approached Ulysses with a chip on her shoulder.  Then she had trouble getting into it, and […]

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A distinct sameness has been pervading the stories the kids in my writing class are working on.  A sameness almost unrelieved, despite all our talk about visual writing, and looking at examples in books, by description of any sort.  Our mice live in featureless worlds.  They display only the most rudimentary hints of personality.  I’d […]

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Jack Kerouac’s motto is supposed to have been “first thought = best thought.”  I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that he thought up a lot of other mottos before settling on that zippy little nugget of wisdom.  Kerouac was even more of a liar than is usual with writers; he even lied about his methods […]

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