Bloomers At Large / Features

BLOOMERS AT LARGE: “Spend Some Time Thinking”

by Vicraj Gill

Actor Bob Balaban has, in the words of The Daily Beast‘s Noah Charney, “done just about every role one can do, in the course of [his] television and film career.” He’s also taken on nonacting roles—namely, later-life writer. Balaban talks to Charney about the series of children’s books he’s authored about a boy and a bionic dog, McGrowl and about his book Spielberg, Truffaut, and Me: An Actor’s Diary (2002), a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Balaban’s not the only author whose name is linked with François Truffaut. Another is Bloomer Henri-Pierre Roché, author of the novel Jules et Jim (1953), which Truffaut made into a 1962 film of the same title. Click here to read Lisa Peet’s profile of Roché, and here for more on Jules et Jim.

With Roger Angell’s “Life in the Nineties,” the New Yorker brings us an excellent example of the kind of writing years of life experience can produce. The essay gives us 93-year-old Angell’s thoughts on his day-to-day life, on his memories, and on death, mortality, and the necessity of human connection.

At The Atlantic, Megan McArdle considers the question “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators.” She cites Stanford researcher Carol Dweck, whose studies of motivation and failure establish that there are two types of people, those who believe an individual’s talent is inherent and fixed and those who don’t. Dweck calls people in the latter category “growers”—a term that evokes our own, “Bloomers”—for their willingness to learn from past failure and persist. (The notion of growing and blooming in this way isn’t limited to literature: see also Freeman Dyson’s take on failure and persistence in the hard sciences.) Turning back to writing, McArdle concludes that it’s self-defeating to assume (as more fixed individuals might) that “being a good writer is defined by not writing bad stuff.”

One place writers might avoid the procrastination McArdle writes about? The train. After Alexander Chee told PEN he found working on the train so effective that he’d like to set up an Amtrak writers residency, writers such as Anne Korkeakivi—a Bloomer who contributed to our “Experience Required” essay series last year—joined him in testifying to the “suspended impregnable time” trains provide for writers to work.

Procrastination isn’t the reason it took Marek Waldorf nearly twenty years to publish The Short Fall (2013). The book was “pretty much finished by 1995,” as he tells Hal Hlavinka in an interview at HTMLGiant, though it wasn’t published until last year. He finds it interesting to see how one’s writing and the world it addresses change as one ages. The two separate presidencies that have elapsed since 1995 also had interesting consequences for Waldorf’s novel, whose protagonist is a presidential speechwriter disabled by a bullet he takes for the nominee.

Jason Porter just published his first novel Why Are You So Sad? at 42, though he’s been writing fiction for a while. The book focuses on Raymond Champs, a furniture company employee who surveys people to find out why the sadness and malaise he feels seem so intrinsic to corporate culture and modern life. Porter sat down with Full Stop’s Scott Cheshire to talk about the book, which Cheshire memorably describes as “Kierkegaard writing an episode of ‘The Office.’”

The work of Bloomer W.G. Sebald is marked by “delicacy, intensity, and [a] tone of sombre mystery,” as The New Yorker notes in this exclusive excerpt from Sebald’s latest, the posthumous A Place in the Country. (Robert Goree said very similar things in this excellent feature piece on Sebald last year.) Country, released earlier this month, is a collection of linked essays on the lives of talented artists (Robert Walser, to name one) who struggled with fragile natures and difficult lives.

Another writer featured here at Bloom, Zora Neale Hurston, gets a nod in Rachel Kushner’s chat with the New York Times as part of their “By the Book” feature. Kushner calls Hurston “possibly a much better writer than the critics and rivals who tried to erase her from history.” For more on Hurston’s pathbreaking work and the way writers like Alice Walker rescued it from erasure, see Edward Porter’s piece on the author.

If what a writer needs is a champion, Bloomers might find one in Elisabeth Schmitz, Vice President and Editorial Director at Grove Atlantic. Schmitz’s first project for the publisher was Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain (1997), published when Frazier was 47. In an interview with Guernica, Schmitz also mentions Grove’s work with Jamie Quatro—whose debut I Want to Show You More was published by the press last year—and Karl Marlantes’s Matterhorn, which our own Joe Schuster wrote about in this 2012 feature piece.

More Bloomers are mentioned in Iowa Writers Workshop alum Eric Bennett’s piece on the history of the institution at The Chronicle of Higher Education. In the piece, Bennett describes the four camps into which he believes Iowa’s writers and faculty tend to fall and identifies Bloomers in several. Such as Marilynne Robinson, whose early work puts her in the class of aloof, “adamantine” modernists, but whose later books fit with the warmer vein of writers whose sentences “unwind,”—like Cheever’s or Fitzgerald’s—“with glowing ease.” Meanwhile, Paul Harding’s novels typify the “magical realism” category; Iowa alumni who work in that style, Bennett says, draw inspiration from Bruno Schulz (one of this month’s featured authors).

Bennett also mentions George Eliot’s Middlemarch as a novel that “embed[s] the instant in the instant’s full context and long history”—which, he argues, Iowa doesn’t equip its writers to do. To write as Eliot does, Bennett concludes, “you’re going to have to spend some time thinking.” Sounds like something a Bloomer would do.

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Homepage photo credit: Janicskovsky via photopin cc</span<

One thought on “BLOOMERS AT LARGE: “Spend Some Time Thinking”

  1. If not working, or just insomniac, lying in bed thinking is a productive time for solving structural problems in the current novel. Alternatively, for analysing what exactly was effective in producing emotion in the novel you read last night.

    I particularly like your example of writing on the train. Is Amtrak fairly silent? British trains are made wretched by puerile mobile phone conversations, often held very loudly. First class is prohibitively expensive. Actually, standard class is too. Otherwise, train writing, the suspension of responsibility and engagement does make it a perfect opportunity.

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