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June 01, 2009

Comments

EG

Anyone find it odd that all these people calling for/writing about a workplace literature have very little (recent) experience with the workplace? de Botton went straight from grad school to publishing books. Now he is involved with founding some institutions nebulously involved with life improvement and architecture. Ferris briefly worked for an ad agency right out of college, but, it seems, hasn't worked a proper job since the late 90's when he enrolled at UCI MFA. Ed Park helped found the Believer and wrote criticism for the Village Voice and other publications. Even if he was staff, criticism positions are more akin to freelancing than slog it out office jobs. Don't know about Mark's background in this respect. Where are the people who have worked 10+ years in a office where writing/literature is not involved?

Niall

Just because de Botton has never really worked in an office doesn't mean his idea isn't a good one. I've worked in corporate America for 25 years as a white collar drone, and let me tell you, life happens at work. Not at the Starbucks or the Jamba Juice or the gym. Yet I find no authors who really right about office life. At least, not American authors. I suppose they're too busy angling for the booth closest to the power outlet for their Mac Book.

Sigh.

Niall

I meant "write about office life" of course. Something about long meetings makes my spelling go all to hell...

B

Thanks for the mention about the Aspen literary scene, Mark!

tod goldberg

I've never murdered my wife, but I wrote a book where the narrator might have. And, I think, generally, most people working in offices are doing so not because they are aspiring novelists, but because they are the kinds of people who work in offices. When I worked in advertising, everyone there was pretty much committed to advertising (well, except for the singer Montel Jordan, who also worked I where worked) and that was in LA, where everyone is a screenwriter. So I think people who work in offices don't tend to be the people crafting great office novels because if they had the talent and drive to be writers, most of them would have already been fired from their mundane office jobs for using the office printer for their novel.

I will also say that that one of the best office stories ever is Daniel Orozoco's excellent short story "Orientation" -- it's online in several places.

Andrew

re: Wexford. Got the train this morning from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, to Dublin. On the platform met Peter Murphy, author of great new novel 'John the Revelator' published by Faber ('an absolutely wonderful novel' - Colm Toibin). And Toibin is from Enniscorthy, in which town half of his new novel, 'Brooklyn', is set. Guess where the other half is set?

CKH

Watch out for those Nancy Drew books! She's a great, self-assured role model, but on the other hand the books are abysmal with regard to multiculturalism. The classism, racism, antisemitism and other stereotypes are all a product of their time. I am sure this can open lively conversations for you when she's 8 or 9 and reading them. You'll love them for the way she dotes on her dad, of course. Nancy Drew is just one of the conflict-generating things you'll encounter--along with Barbie dolls and Disney princesses...

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TEV DEFINED


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."

SECOND LOOK

  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

    Bs

    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe

    Rider_4

    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."