Tag Archives: Colson Whitehead

A year of favorites: Tobias’s Best Of 2011

Posted by Tobias Carroll

This is the first of two lists of the books I read this year that I most enjoyed. This one focuses on books released this year; the other will focus around books that I encountered for the first time in 2011 that first entered the world in preceding years.

Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia is an intentionally messy book with shifting and sometimes overlapping narrators and a sense of history, both familial and musical, looming in the background. Not long after I finished it, I found the narrative ambiguity somewhat frustrating; a few months later, I find myself appreciating it a lot more. It’s about the ambiguity of art and the toll that making art can bring, on both the artist and the people around them. The Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s final novel, reads like a collage, its characters and narratives overlapping and sometimes crystallizing for moments of almost unbearable revelation or violence or horror. (Or all of the above.) 


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Afternoon Bites: Akashic Books, John D’Agata, Permanent Wave, and more

“While we are beyond delighted at the success of Go the Fuck to Sleep, my life and life at Akashic has not changed that much…” MobyLives checks in with Akashic’s Johnny Temple.

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The pre-Sag Harbor, pre-zombie music writings of Colson Whitehead are available

Posted by Tobias Carroll

In a reasonably genius move, the Village Voice‘s Sound of the City music blog is reprinting some of the record reviews that Colson Whitehead wrote for said newspaper in the early 90s. First up: Basehead’s Not in Kansas Anymore.
On Not in Kansas Anymore (Imago), Basehead drops most of those hip hop gestures—a little half-hearted scratching is all that’s to be had—leaving only the band’s mellow, minimalist arrangements. A college boy to the core, Ivey’s lyrics are pure middle-class angst, which means racism, beer, and girls are all of equal importance.
The whole thing is worth reading; apparently, Sound of the City will be reprinting more of his reviews in the days to come.

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Are Electric Literature/Colson Whitehead the Greatest Tag Team Ever?

Today is Wrestlemania, tomorrow is the beginning of the Electric Literature/Colson Whitehead #Stuffmymusesays Twitter Contest. Which is more badass?

or winning this…

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Best of 2009: Books

Tobias Carroll’s picks

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
Midnight Picnic by Nick Antosca
Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler
by Amelia Gray
Lowboy by John Wray
The Other City by
Michal Ajvaz

Asta in the Wings by Jan Elizabeth Watson

Between Jan Elizabeth Watson’s novel of a brother and sister raised in isolation and Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, this was a good year for novels evoking childhood. Both Watson and Whitehead deftly suggest their narrators’ adult destinies with a few turns of phrase — in Watson’s case, it’s done almost entirely through implication. That the unsettling and compelling mood that Watson establishes in the first third of the novel isn’t dispelled when its setting is disrupted is an impressive feat as well.

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor is neatly precise in its focus: the hand-drawn maps that greet you as you open the book, the occasional points in which cleanly arranged fonts give way to hand-written explanations of the anatomy of insults. It’s a personal geography — hell, a personal reference shelf — writ large. And his evocation of the outskirts of New York City in the mid-eighties summoned up many a wary flashback to Top 40 radio and long summertime drives.

Big World by Mary Miller

There is, I would say, a fine literary tradition of short stories focusing on lives that could be called marginal: situations that could disintegrate at the loss of a paycheck, relationships whose implosion could be anticipated by even the most casual of bystanders. Her protagonists are sometimes heartbreakingly transparent and at others maddeningly inscrutable, but they never fail to earn the reader’s empathy.

Jason Diamond’s Picks

Favorite Fiction Collection

Not sure if it’s due to my own ignorance or just a severe lack of proper translations, but I haven’t read as much contemporary fiction from Russia. I guess the closest I’ve come is the wonderful collection Wild East: Stories From the Last Frontier, which doesn’t really count, nor does the crop of writers from post-Soviet countries living in America like Shteyngart, Gessen, Hemon or Anya Ulinich. This is why I found Rasskazy: New Fiction From a New Russia to be a very welcomed addition to my bookshelf this year. While I can’t say I loved every single story in the Tin House collection, Rasskazzy stands to remind us that Russia is a country still putting out vital literature — despite the memory of censorship that creeps into its writing.

Favorite Non-Fiction

Kari Lydersen’s tale of the Republic Windows & Doors factory takeover, Revolt on Goose Island (Melville House), was not only a great account of an extremely interesting moment for 21st century labor activism, but it was a book that should place Lydersen’s name alongside Sinclair, Royko, and Terkel in the canon of great Windy City political reporting.

Also of note:

Shoplifting From American Apparel by Tao Lin
The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible! by Jonathan Goldstein
Studs Terkel’s Working by Harvey Pekar, & Paul Buhle (Graphic novel)
Lowboy by John Wray
Granta’s “Chicago Issue”

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How to Write a Novel: Impractical Advice From People Who Have Done It

“Put your left hand on the table. Put your right hand in the air. If you stay that way long enough, you’ll get a plot,” Margaret Atwood says when asked where her ideas come from. When questioned about whether she’s ever used that approach, she adds, “No, I don’t have to.”  Enough said, Margaret Atwood.

I go through phases where I don’t care at all about the practices of other writers, as I’m fairly certain nearly all of us are unbearably unproductive, even if it’s only in secret we solemnly peruse the blogosphere (which might, in fact, be unconsciously urging us toward illiteracy) in self-loathing procrastination.  But for a few reasons my alert is up lately, reading about how other people write.  The Wall Street Journal unabashedly titled their conglomeration of short interviews “How to Write a Great Novel” (from where Atwood’s above quote was pulled), as if they truly held The Answer.  (They didn’t.) They did interview our friend John Wray, though, who read new work from his new MacBook at the Vol. 1 Brooklyn launch and anniversary party last week.

Pretty awesomely, Colson Whitehead wrote an essay, half joking, that might actually be helpful called “What to Write Next.” In upwardly practical advice, Amy McDaniel of HTMLGIANT urges motifs, not metaphors.

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Bites: Hemingway’s African Snows, Colson Whitehead on Your Next Novel, The Virtuousness of Swiss Prisons, and more


Hemingway’s short story “The Snows of Kilimanjara” may make a resurgence in the coming years, as the African snows, once “as wide as all the world…and unbelievably white,” of the sky-high peak could be completely obsolete within as little as 12 years.


Pop Culture


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