The world lost a great writer recently, and I lost a good friend. Joel Deutsch — poet, essayist, novelist — died in Los Angeles. Joel devoted his life to learning and writing. Thanks to a grant from The National Endowment for the Arts, he edited and published a highly regarded journal, Meatball. Later, he wrote intensely personal essays about going blind that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. His piece about introducing Russian immigrant friends to American culture, Exits and Entrances, was featured on World Hum.
A number of his friends gathered last night to remember him. We read his poetry and shared memories. This sketch of Joel was made by an old friend of his, writer Charles Bukowski. It makes me smile.
This week I interviewed Henry Rollins — punk rock icon, spoken-word performer, writer, actor, DJ — about his new book, Occupants, which features his photographs and observations from war-torn and troubled places around the world. It’s a powerful book. I loved what Henry had to say about travel and the kindness of strangers and how his journeys have humbled him over the years.
Here’s a taste:
Humbling to the point where you have major regrets about some of the stupid things you said, some of the things you thought were right. You keep going to these countries, and it’s like, you forgot the lesson from the last time. Because the first person you encounter kind of bitch-slaps you upside the head in the most wonderful, innocent way and you realize, God, I’m still an asshole. And this guy, by doing nothing except being broke and so incredibly polite—it takes you aback, you realize, I’m still not there yet. I still have like eight miles to go before I can even get into the parking lot of humility. I have to keep going back. It’s like going back to a chiropractor to get a readjustment.
Read more here.
Ernest Hemingway bought his beloved boat, Pilar, in a shipyard in Brooklyn in 1934. Could the ensuing time he spent on the boat have altered his writing style? At least one writer thinks so. Paul Hendrickson is the author of the new book, Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961. (Given all the ink that has been spent on Hemingway’s life to date, I love the notion of framing a new biography around his boat.) NPR’s Rachel Martin interviewed Hendrickson. She asked, “What did he [Hemingway] want from the boat?”
Hendrickson had an intriguing reply:
I think he wanted escape. I think he wanted to get away from shore. In fact, I make the case in this book that Pilar helped broaden out, so to speak, his prose line. When you say Ernest Hemingway, what do you think? You think of these simple declarative sentences, these magical and yet very short sentences, free of the subordinate clause. What happens, Rachel, from the mid-’30s onward, the Ernest Hemingway sentence gets longer and longer and longer. Why is this? I like to make a case that aboard Pilar, getting away from shore, getting away from the sniping critics, getting away from all the petty little literary games, he can get out there in the Gulf Stream and he can free himself in some way.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Really enjoying David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. It’s mostly a transcript of conversations between Lipsky and DFW over five days in March 1996, while Wallace was on a book tour for “Infinite Jest.” As you might expect, DFW comes across as brilliant but very human.
He made it clear during the trip that he wasn’t altogether happy with his first novel, “The Broom of the System.” He regretted arguing with his editor, Gerry Howard, about proposed changes, and apparently getting his way. At one point before “Broom” was published, DFW sent Howard a 17-page letter explaining his objections. Having edited more than a few writers myself, doing that editor-writer dance that’s different every time around, I couldn’t help but feel for Howard.
Lipsky asked Wallace if he’d re-read the letter since the book came out. To which DFW replied:
Oh, sure. It talks about how the entire book is a conversation between Wittgenstein and Derrida, and presence versus absence. I mean, Gerry [Gerry Howard, Broom's editor] didn’t want the book to end there. We have a cast of characters who are afraid their names don’t denote, word and referent are united in absence, which means Derrida… you know what? It’s a brilliant little theoretical document, unfortunately it resulted in a shitty and dissatisfying ending, right?
And in fact it was a very cynical argument, because there was a part of me–this was a year and a half after I wrote it, and I know that the ending, there was good stuff about it, but it was way too clever. It was all about the head, you know? and Gerry kept saying to me, “Kid, you’ve got no idea.” Like, “We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if you hadn’t created this woman named Lenore who seems halfway appealing and alive.” And I couldn’t hear. I just couldn’t hear it. I couldn’t hear it. I was in… Dave Land.
I had four hundred thousand pages of continental philosophy and lit theory in my head. And by God, I was going to use it to prove to him that I was smarter than he was. And so, as a result, for the rest of my life, I will walk around… You know, I will see that book occasionally at signings. And I will realize I was arrogant, and missed a chance to make that book better. And hopefully I won’t do it again.
I’m looking forward to my first Litquake in San Francisco. The 12th annual literary festival takes place Oct. 7-15 and features writers like James Ellroy and Thomas McGuane. It culminates in a big Lit Crawl around the Mission District.
I’ll be reading Oct. 15 at Words on the Waves, an afternoon of events on Sausalito houseboats. I’ll be joining Peter Delevett and Daniel Duane. The theme: “Out to Sea: Writers on Travel.” It should be great fun. Who’s ever been to a reading on a houseboat? Space is limited, and so are tickets.
Just read Stephen King’s On Writing. Loved this bit about the craft of writing fiction and, well, something else altogether:
At its most basic, we are only discussing a learned skill, but do we not agree that sometimes the most basic skills can create things far beyond our expectations? We are talking about tools and carpentry, about words and style…but as we move along, you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.
Beautiful. The backstory from the video’s creator: “I worked on this project on and off for over a year and a half. It is composed of over 10,000 photos shot in California by my wife and I.” I love the tilt-shift sequences, among others. Be sure to click on the little arrows to blow the video up to full screen. (Via LAObserved)