Essays and Memoirs
The Social Author #6: Rachel Maddow, Isocrates, and the Power of Speech Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Rachel-Maddow-013014-MSNBC(Guernica May 22, 2014)

Strange as it seems, writers and their work used to be welcome on TV. Via YouTube we can find, from 1959, the very cool, Boston-inflected Jack Kerouac, reading from On the Road to a jazz trio improv on The Steve Allen Show, and, from 1968, a very inebriated, belligerent Jack on Firing Line with William F. Buckley. There’s Jerzy Kosinski, William Saroyan, and Gore Vidal on Johnny Carson, as well as (my favorite non-author) the foresty-eyebrowed Ed Begley Sr., reciting Robert Service’s “The Face on the Barroom Floor.” Mike Wallace probing Aldous Huxley. Edward R. Murrow person-to-person with John Steinbeck.

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Men in Peril, Hollywood, & Our Culture's Skewed Portrayal of Heart Disease Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

heart-1-somethings-gotta-give(Bright Lights Film Journal April 11, 2014)

In our culture, the onset of a myocardial infarction is depicted (we know it best from the movies) one way: a chest-clutching, chair-clattering, death-summoning heart attack that a man (seldom a woman) suffers in public, is ambulanced to emergency, and, if he survives, awakens to one or more of these three dramas: the unplumbed depth of his character, as in he’s never too old to learn; the unconditional love of a woman who cares for him; and the exposure of his relatives’ divided loyalties. There are genetic legacies to expect it, there are gender roles to enact it, and there are psychological wounds to graven it. Not surprisingly, for decades Hollywood screenwriters have used the infarct to wring out a morality tale whose outcome ennobles women’s love and retribution as well as men’s helplessness with this “male” disease. There may be no better example of the female-comeuppance, heart-expanding, heart-attack film than Something’s Gotta Give, a 2003 screwball comedy by writer/director Nancy Meyers.

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Orality Hunger (for David Shields) Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Magnavox(Solstice March 15, 2014)

Since I began writing nonfiction more than two decades ago, I’ve ranged from book to long-form journalism, criticism, essay, memoir, and, of late, video essay. Form changes and so, too, does focus; I adapt to the different style and voice. Each time the tone shifts as well—the critic’s bark, the memoirist’s grandiosity, the essayist’s guile. Moving among these voices, I find I love the challenge and the change. How far might I push myself?

With each book, I’ve added a wrinkle. I want the books to sound, to ring, in the culture, in and beyond the written realm. I want my books and their texts to be oral, to take a parallel journey in the speech arts—dialogue, lecture, and multimedia. Put more simply, I’m a fidgeter; I have to move between book and presentation, the written and the oral, during and after composition. I’ll explain by describing each of my books.

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The Social Author #5: The Fearless Oratory of Christopher Hitchens Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

hitchens(Guernica February 6, 2014)

In Mortality, Christopher Hitchens’ trenchant elegy to the vocal chords he was losing to esophageal cancer, he writes that, “To a great degree, in public and private, I ‘was’ my voice. All the rituals and etiquette of conversation . . . were innate and essential to me.” At the Guardian, where, just out of Oxford, he got his journalistic start, his mentor told him that his prose was well argued but dull. Write “‘more like the way you talk.’” Life-launching advice. One swipe of the screen back in Mortality, he notes, “It may be nothing to boast about, but people tell me that if their radio or television was on, even in the next room, they could always pick out my tones and know that I was ‘on’ too.”

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My Vegan Heart Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

bosch hieronymus detail strawberry2(Everyday Health January 15, 2014)

After my third heart attack in five years, I became a vegan, or a plant-based eater. Then I wrote about it in my book, The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease, which tells the journey of my having gone from a non-recovery recovery to healing after those near-fatal trials,which finally forced me to change my diet.

I was already a vegetarian, a “right” eater — or so I thought. That earlier journey began thirty years ago, while reading Francis Moore Lappe’s ground-breaking book Diet for a Small Planet. I was shaken to the core by the scale of factory farming and clear-cutting of Central American rain forests by McDonalds and other fast-food corporations.

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The Social Author #4: A Great Literary Future Behind Us Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Ginsberg(Guernica December 20, 2013)

Among the still-active maxims of literature’s evolving identity is that writing is carved in stone while speech and social authorship, once uttered, blow away. As I noted in my previous Guernica essay, capitalizing on this dynamic is the secret of the Bible’s reach. When a reader switches to the aural realm, reciting and hearing the book makes the page—and its message—more compelling. The Bible lasts because it works both orally and in print. The book achieves immortality because it is a number one print seller and the most talked about and handled book in our language.

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The Social Author #3: On the Social Authorship of the Bible Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Bible(Guernica November 13, 2013)

Here at the end of the four-century reign of books in our culture, which is to say in the digital age, I’m curious about what happens to the Bible, publishing’s crown jewel. As Robert Pogue Harrison writes in a 2012 New York Review of Books multi-book review on the King James’s 400th anniversary, that book "is rapidly becoming terra incognita. Whether in the King James Version or in new versions, the Bible is neither read, nor read aloud, nor memorized to anywhere near the extent it was when Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson extolled the KJB as America’s 'national book' a century ago."

If it’s true that the digital era is iconoclastic, muting the sacredness of religion-spawning texts, then can we still say that this “holiest” of Western books is still “holy?” By “holy,” I mean first that the Bible is supposedly decreed by God and so inerrant; and second that its long veneration as a literary masterpiece has earned it unimpeachable value. Both of these lend it an aerie all its own. The “divinely inspired” Christian canonical book, Old testaments and New, codified in Greek in the late 4th century, translated into Latin in the 5th century and English in the 17th, sells some 25 million copies each year. Would Christianity be possible without the Bible?

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