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Q and A

Feb 16, 2012; Tom Asks:

Are you familiar with the work of Jodi Picoult? If so, what is your opinion of her writing? A friend highly recommends her, but I have a slight concern that eighteen novels in approximately twenty years cannot be indicative of quality. Who knows, maybe she is wildly prolific. Or, like the novelist in "The Diviners", her books are team written.

Stacey answers:

I haven't read anything by Jodi Picoult. It doesn't seem like my thing, but who knows? Though I am tempted to judge books, many books, before reading them, I've been humbled by that stupid habit so many times that I've had to give it up. Also, I'm deeply suspicious of the tendency, even among writers who are themselves women, to denigrate books by women that seem to focus on love and the domestic trials of women. Really, what the fuck? That's great subject matter. Great books have been written on that subject matter! Most books are about that stuff in the end (unless they're about pirates). And there's nothing wrong with describing a character's hair and clothes and favorite kind of ice cream. It says a lot, and Updike wouldn't hesitate to do it. That's all I got on this one.

Feb 14, 2012; Ryan L. Asks:

I recently read "The Rememberer", by Aimee Bender. I was just wondering how much of that story did you think was strictly metaphor and how much of it was strange surrealism fiction. It almost felt to me like Bender was encrypting a message while at the same time exercising her "science fiction-type" writing method. Your thoughts?

Stacey answers:

Hi Ryan, I just re-read the story (finally). Even before re-reading it, I would have given the same answer: it's all metaphor. Everything is--that's how our minds make connections between emotions and thoughts, memories and experience, love and loss, monkeys and men (which I would say is what the story is about).

Some metaphors are stronger than others (because they're new or startling or apt), while others get a little fuzzy at the edges or drift into one another. Maybe those kind strike you as a conscious attempt to be strange? My guess is that's what you mean by "strange surrealism," but I see it all as a part of art. Allowing things to be a little fuzzy or drifty is part of leaving room for meaning. If you clamp down too hard on a metaphor, it goes away, or else becomes simile and then dies.

Sometimes you have to keep reading an author to see what she's up to with her language and images--especially with a story like this, so short, with a honey-eating salamander.

Feb 09, 2012; Tom Asks:

Last Murakami question. I promise. Have you seen the film version of Norwegian Wood? If so, how is it?

Stacey answers:

No. I didn't even know there was one! I haven't read the book either, though I want to. I hope I live long enough to read all the books I want to read, or even half the books. More of them. And so we bring the discussion back to death.

Jan 31, 2012; Lauren Asks:

Hi Stacey. Wanted to write back and thank you for your answer. I don't know why it is exactly, being young and with a life ahead of me and all that jazz, or perhaps because of those things, but fear is definitely a more prominent emotion in my life than it used to be. And uncertainty. I think your comments helped release a little anxiety, in that there is some paradoxical comfort in knowing you can't control very much, and especially not another person. Unless you're crazy manipulative. Even then. You wrote that it's great to find books that feel like a part of your life. Which books would those be for you? I have always felt like certain poems resurface again and again. Lately, Borges' "Limits" and Larkin's "Aubade". If they seem dark, re:fear. I also like Piet Hein's Grooks which are lovely and silly and funny. I'll leave you with one (but it's incomplete because a grook is technically a poem with a drawing) A Toast The soul may be a mere pretense, the mind makes very little sense. So let us value the appeal of that which we can taste and feel.

Stacey answers:

Thank you for the Grook! But I really love Larkin's "Aubade": Death, death, death! So Lauren, your question about which books have been a part of my life left me stumped. The problem is that they all feel like part of my life, even the ones I don't like very much. But, overall, anything dark, humorous, and/or darkly humorous makes me feel like I'm not the last freak of my kind on the planet. Lately I've been loving Martin Amis for this, but the list is long and constantly changing.

Jan 28, 2012; Pickles, Pickles, Pickles Asks:

The first paragraph of your answer to Lauren is so Groucho Marx that I was looking for attribution. Who would you say are your comedic heroes?

Stacey answers:

It's true though, all the stuff about the cat. I know what you mean, Pickles, but I'm not exactly trying to be funny, but maybe Groucho wasn't always exactly trying either. As for old Jewish men, I like Jackie Mason, or at least I love his "I look like a hooker" joke (I'd tell it but you need the intonation for it to make sense).

My favorite comedy is usually a little surreal and sometimes not-funny in a way that makes it more funny to me. I kind of like early Woody Allen--though mostly I just love Annie Hall. I love anything that seems to be the product of a demented child-brain, like Andy Kaufman (Mighty Mouse is on Youtube) and of course "Kittens Inspired by Kittens." I love Louis C.K. and his brilliant show Louie, and though I've never immersed myself in the Kids in the Hall oeuvre, I've watched the Kids in the Hall movie Brain Candy a dozen times--not sure I can explain that. I love Kathy Griffin; she's funny but what I'm in total awe of is her bullshit detector. I once saw her making fun of a spokesperson on Larry King. It was an amazing TV moment, watching her say what she really thought; it was kind of wild.

As for funny writers, I love Diane Johnson and find Le Divorce especially wonderful. I loved Martin Amis's The Pregnant Widow. That was funny, funny, smarty-pants funny, especially the part about Pride and Prejudice. I won't spoil it; maybe you'll read it someday.

Jan 23, 2012; Murakami is incredible! Asks:

Thank you for the suggestion. I started The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and all I can say, pardon the lack of imagination, is WOW!

Stacey answers:

Right on.

Jan 18, 2012; Tom Hancock Asks:

Are artist ever happy? Maybe they would be if they had a good Pirate novel to read. A real swashbuckler that gives them something to do besides their work.

Stacey answers:

Good point. I don't know why pirate novels aren't popular anymore--maybe they were never popular. Pirates seem at least as cool as vampires, though they don't get to live forever and wear fancy gowns. They might not even get to take showers.

But even a thrilling swashbuckler probably wouldn't make most artists happy. They might be temporarily amused, then go back to brooding. I don't know if artists are ever happy. I don't know any happy artists (but if I met one I'd kill him). I don't think I even know any happy people (but if I did I might not like them). I think I might need to get out more.

Jan 18, 2012; Tom Hancock Asks:

Which Haruki Murakami work should I read first? A Wild Sheep Chase seems interesting. Then again, they all do.

Stacey answers:

I've heard A Wild Sheep's Chase is good but haven't read it. I might have started it and been put off by the business of the first chapter being about a guy making a cup of coffee. That was before I understood that every Murakami novel begins with a long, boring, detailed section and then slowly becomes more strange. Pretty much everyone likes The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle because it's so amazing. I say read that. The Elephant Vanishes, a story collection, is also really great. I wouldn't recommend Kafka on the Shore (because talking cats should say things like, "Why are you starving me to death when my little nose is so sweet?", not, "You are taking too much of my time sir," like snooty headwaiters) and the gigantic 1Q84, which has cool parts but is wildly repetitive.

Jan 18, 2012; Lauren Asks:

Hi Stacey, Liam shared a link to your Q&A page a few days ago and I have been reading it ever since. It's been a source of amusement and thoughtfulness at the end of long days. There's a delicious sense of eavesdropping while you dole very wry, good advice and a funny-poignant insightfulness that I feel drawn to. I haven't read any of your fiction, yet, but I thought since I had the opportunity to, I should tell you candidly how I have appreciated reading your miscellany. And perhaps see if I couldn't participate in the conversation, as well. I have a few questions. The first deal with reading. Have you read "Cannery Row" by Steinbeck? I just finished it. I think I am at a time in my life for it to matter a lot to me. Also, have you ever read any Eric Hoffer? You share a certain clarity. My other question is an advice seeking one. You wrote on here that "making art is fraught with fear, as is love. There's a lot at stake, like your sense of yourself as smart or worthwhile or interesting or useful". I feel a little silly, since you gave solid advice on tackling fear related to making art, but do you have any advice on negotiating the fears that arise in love? Best wishes, Lauren

Stacey answers:

Hi Lauren. Thanks for writing in. I’m not qualified to address the fears of love. I just want to warn you. For instance, I recently adopted a terminally ill cat because I could only deal with short-term commitment. Then, when I realized I loved her madly (she’s so soft and so small), I asked the vet to just euthanize her now so I wouldn’t have the agony of anticipating it. Did she? No she did not. She thought I was joking! Silly vet.

With that in mind, all I can really offer is the reminder that there’s no such thing as love without fear. There is no one who won’t leave you, or won’t die, or cannot disappoint you, or will protect you in every circumstance, or give you everything you need, or make you feel happy, or make up for what you’ve lost. Except Jesus, but he’s a mythological being (don't argue with me on this). So if you’re holding out for that, or trying anxiously to get there, you can stop.

I haven’t read those books. I’d like to though. It's so great to find books that feel like they're part of your life. I put them in my library queue.

Jan 11, 2012; Tom Hancock Asks:

I meant to post a comment and question about catch-22. About one third the way through I really caught on to Heller's rhythm for the book and it made reading it even better. It was kind like acquiring an new skill; as if I could suddenly play piano or work crossword puzzles. John Yossarian is a protagonists protagonist. In a slight way he reminds me of myself during a certain period of my navy career when I realized the doctrine of Mutual assured Destruction was indeed MAD. Anyway, great book for the ages. About Mr. Hornby, or Hornsby, if you prefer; I think he is a really good writer that one day may become a great writer if there is a really kick-ass novel waiting in him. But for now I do enjoy his portraits of contemporary life and his use of popular music in his stories (always back to the music). So what is the latest on the Pirate novel?

Stacey answers:

You are like my father, always asking about the pirate novel. I'm in a shame/procrastination spiral and haven't looked at it in a month, okay Tom? Are you happy now?

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