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Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: Full-time and Freelance

LaunchThe biggest news this week is that my employer, Fig Tree Books LLC, has launched its imprint and announced its first four books, which will be published beginning in March 2015. Read the full press release on our wonderful website. And/or check out this generous coverage from Library Journal. (It’s never too late to celebrate! Lift a virtual glass as per the nifty image I had fun creating and am sharing here.)

Working for FTB means that I won’t be doing much of the freelance writing-about-books that I’ve done for such a long time. When I began working for FTB last month, I had just finished two such freelance assignments. One of them–a fall books preview article for The Jewish Journal–was published this week. I hope you’ll take a look. The other, a review-essay for The Missouri Review, will be in the forthcoming fall issue. I can give you a hint about it, though: If you found Meghan Daum’s essay in this week’s issue of The New Yorker interesting, you’ll find some similar food for thought in my TMR piece.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins tonight. I’m not going to blog for the next couple of days. But rest assured, I’ll be back! In the meantime, here’s wishing a sweet and happy new year to everyone else who is celebrating.

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Wednesday’s WiP: Book Reviewing on the Brain (Again)

18166873Book reviews were something of a big topic among the Twitterati this past week. I’m thinking mainly of the reaction to a review published (and subsequently withdrawn) by The Economist. But I saw some lively, if not especially incisive, commentary about another review, of a novel, in another well-known publication (summary: some people seemed to think the reviewer was too harsh).

But the book review that most caught my attention over the last week was one included in The New Yorker‘s “Briefly Noted” section. I’ll give you a moment to click over and read it (it’s the second one, on Frederick Brown’s The Embrace of Unreason).

You’ll see why I’m so dissatisfied by the anonymous New Yorker reviewer’s take when you read my own review of the same book, commissioned for a publication-that-shall-not-be-named, but eventually “killed.” I’ve been told that the review’s “death” resulted not from any specific problem with the piece; in fact, what you’re seeing here is the “final” version that incorporates revisions requested and approved by my editor.

Without further ado–my review: Continue reading ›

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Guest Post: Mark Shechner on Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories, by David Shrayer-Petrov

Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories. By David Shrayer-Petrov, edited by Maxim Shrayer. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. 262pp. $29.95.

Review by Mark Shechner

The present situation for Jewish writers and their readers bears little resemblance to the scene of just two decades ago. It has been so transformed as to be scarcely recognizable. If there is a prior state of affairs, however, in which our time can see itself in an historical mirror it would be the ferment of the early 20th century, the springtime of Jewish writing in America, when writers ambitious to speak for their culture and their moment commonly had at least two languages to choose from, Yiddish and English. We know that some even wrote in Hebrew, and who now remembers the names of those whose also wrote in Russian and Polish? Who recalls Dusk in the Catskills by Reuben Wallenrod, published in 1957? Wallenrod doesn’t appear in any of the standard histories. Nor will he any time soon. He wrote fiction in Hebrew.

The contemporary moment recycles history in this sense: much of it is fueled by émigrés from abroad who work in multiple languages: a handful still in their native tongues, but most in English, sometimes a decentered English under the tonal canopy of another language. The FSU (former Soviet Union) writers are the most remarkable cases in point. 2014 alone has seen the publication of books by Lara Vapnyar (The Scent of Pine), Anya Ulinich (Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel: A Graphic Novel), Gary Shteyngart (Little Failure: A Memoir), Boris Fishman (A Replacement Life), David Bezmozgis (The Betrayers), and David Shrayer-Petrov (Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories). And that is just a single year’s production. These writers are either themselves members of the refusenik generation that forced open the prison gates of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s or their children. Wherever they settled, they brought with them their passion for the written word, their febrile imaginations, and their stories.

David Shrayer-Petrov, born in 1936, continues to write in Russian, though he has lived in the United States since 1987 where, besides writing, he has worked as a doctor. Though he has a reputation in Russian émigré circles, his name is little known in American discussions, even though Syracuse University Press has previously published two volumes of his fiction: Jonah and Sarah: Jewish Stories of Russia and America (2003) and Autumn in Yalta: A Novel and Three Stories (2006). Both books were edited by his son Maxim Shrayer, a professor at Boston College and himself a fiction writer: Yom Kippur in Amsterdam (Syracuse, 2012). Continue reading ›

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Friday Finds for Writers

Treasure Chest
Writing-related resources, news, and reflections to enjoy over the weekend.

  • The New Yorker reports on Ansel Elkins’s hotel stay as winner of a residency awarded by Paris Review and the Standard East Village.
  • Good news for those who know Nantucket (or who think they do): There’s a Goodreads giveaway under way for John Vanderslice’s wonderful story collection, Island Fog. (I’ve had the opportunity to read the book in e-galley form, and it’s one I highly recommend.)
  • Author Mark Rubinstein’s post about reader-generated book reviews brought to mind Rebecca Klempner’s recent essay for Tablet. You’ll find ethical issues embedded in both pieces.
  • Saul Bellow’s Herzog was published 50 years ago. Andrew Furman recently revisited the novel (along with his students). Much to his surprise, he discovered a new perspective on Bellow and his book.
  • Adam Kirsch and Francine Prose reveal their favorite out-of-print books. What’s yours?
  • Happy weekend, everyone.

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    Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress

    Writing practice goings-on from the past week:

  • Within the past week, I’ve received the first two rejections in response to the literary humor piece I mentioned here awhile back. So, said piece is now off to find a possible home for the third time. Will that be the charm? One can hope.
  • Last Friday–the first of our six-week summer schedule at the day job, whereby we work longer M-Th and get Fridays off–I spent a chunk of time revising my newest poem. I think that it is improving (slowly).
  • I’m making slow but steady progress on my next essay-review for The Missouri Review. Still rereading/taking notes on the books; hope to begin writing over the long holiday weekend.
  • I have renewed my Paris Review subscription. (Thanks to @mathitak for cluing me in to the fact that the summer 2014 issue was already out; that made me check on my subscription, which had expired. And thanks to the NBCC for the cool membership benefit of a 25 percent subscription discount for this particular magazine!)
  • Yesterday I awakened to discover that this here website was down. To make a long story short, my amazing webmaster saved the day with a new strategy (which includes a new hosting service).
  • And, last but not least: I sent out the July issue of The Practicing Writer this week. I’m delighted to feature a Q&A with Celeste Ng in this issue along with the usual range of no-fee contest info and calls for work from paying litmags & presses.
  • And how about you? Anything you care to share from your past week’s writing practice?

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