Publications
Review: Shepherd by Richard Gilbert Print E-mail
Criticism

shepherd(River Teeth Blog June 1, 2014)

Growing the Soil and the Soul

Sometimes a memoir, spilling into the ken of autobiography, must grapple with an author’s lifelong enigma—his book’s story, the story. As we read, we feel this cyclonic summing-up, the best chance after the life (or as far as the life has got) to say what, in particular, shaped that life’s core meaning. Perhaps the revelation is that we don’t get another go-round (obvious but important), that we never knew the storm was gathering while it happened (as much good as bad), and that the life we thought we lived was not exactly the one we did live (the new self the memoir discloses to its surprised narrator).

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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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Review: Memoir: An Introduction by C. Thomas Couser Print E-mail
Criticism

0538480(American Book Review, 35.2, May 13, 2014)

A book that intelligently and capaciously introduces memoir for the general reader is, like a Chicago Cubs pennant or a movie reuniting Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, long overdue. Such a flight I’ve been expecting, and I’m happy to say the bird has landed. So much about the memoir’s individuation in recent years, having gained traction as art and as therapy, C. Thomas Couser addresses. It seems there are few better qualified than he to take on the form. Since the late 1970s, Couser, American Studies professor at Hofstra University, has become a formidable authority on life-writing—with American Autobiography (1979) and Altered Egos (1989), about our national obsession for self-writing; Recovering Bodies (1997) and Signifying Bodies (2009), on the true stories of the ill and disabled; and Vulnerable Subjects (2003), about the ethical landmines authors face, writing about willing and recalcitrant intimates.

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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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Languages of the Heart Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

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Languages of the Heart (Sanctuary Outtakes) April 2014

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As a heart patient, I’m hypersensitive to the languages that characterize this disease. I’ve noticed heart-focused authors speak in self-help, clinical, and cliché-ridden tongues. The problem is, these languages are so embedded and so simplistic that they make us think we have caused our disease and we, in turn, have to cure it. Like being poor, those afflicted with heart disease (we might add cancer as well) are responsible for their own ills. It begins when a culture personifies the heart with clichés, from pop song to religious tract.

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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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