Zisko is really excited about the Valerie Martin. So much so she tried to steal it before I could photograph it.
Valerie Martin’s work is always spectacular. Everyone should buy her new book (and all of her books). In the interest of full disclosure, she was my creative writing professor, but I don’t think it counts as bias if it’s also the truth.
You don’t need me to tell you that Ann Patchett has published a new book. If you’re here, then you probably already know that. Pick it up tomorrow at your local indie, or order it from Patchett’s Parnassus Books (I bet she’ll sign it for you).
I hesitate to say that this collection of essays, brought together largely from Patchett’s days as a contributor to publications such as Vogue and Gourmet, offers something for everyone. But in my opinion, that’s exactly the state of things. Whether you’ve devoted many years to the pursuit of a single dream, whether you’re a child of divorce, if you’ve ever loved a dog and lost her—this book is for you.
This is the story of a happy marriage, but as Patchett will be the first to tell you, it is rooted in divorce. Her parents, her grandparents, her sister, herself. How could a person with so much matrimonial upset make a new marriage work? Patchett shares the whole story, with just as much warmth and grace and generosity as we’ve come to expect from her novels.
As a fiction writer, Patchett says, you lie for a living. You tell stories about people you’ve never met, in places you’ve never been. As an essayist, you tell the truth. As far as I’m concerned, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is the truth according to Ann Patchett and I want to read all of it, for better or for worse.
Margaret Atwood’s Ten Rules for Writing Fiction. See her at the National Book Festival on Saturday, September 21!
1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
4 If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick.
5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
6 Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
9 Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
10 Prayer might work. Or reading something else. Or a constant visualisation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.
I grew up in a city, Omaha, that’s even smaller than Minneapolis and not that far away. The Midwest isn’t someplace I’m trying to escape – it’s where I’m raising a family. I hate to think that intellectual freedom is something we fight for only in certain parts of the country. Kids here have the right to read. They have the right to think and imagine. To see their own world in books. To see other worlds in books.
I grew up in a Midwestern city that’s even smaller than Omaha. In fact, to call it a city at all might be overly generous. I was a nerdy, nerdy kid. I read lots and lots of books. My parents let me read anything I wanted to, and I don’t know how I would have managed without that freedom. When your only friendships at school involve the characters in your books, that freedom is critically important. Hooray for Rainbow Rowell. Hooray for my parents, too.
Today, just for you guys, Radiolab is launching a new Tumblr! It’s called Radiolab Reads, and it’s the ultimate summer (or winter) reading list of books featured on (or beloved by) Radiolab.
We’ve included a link to buy each book if you feel like digging in. And PS, if you do buy something through one of the links, it’ll help support the show (a portion of the proceeds will go to Radiolab, and help us with production costs).