April 27, 2017
My latest Geek Reads column was published on 4/26/17 at Electric Literature. It looks at Halldór Laxness’s most radical novel and the importance of rethinking epic storytelling.
“Iceland’s sole Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness (1902–1998) published twenty-two novels, among many other things, during his long career. I’ve not read all of them, but of those I have Kristnihald undir Jökli strikes me as by far his strangest, his funniest, and his most radical. Susan Sontag once declared, ‘It is like nothing else Laxness ever wrote’ and I’ll take her word for it. I’m also told that it was the last novel he completed before turning to playwriting.”
April 25, 2017
On the Death of Miklós Vajda (1931–2017)
I’ve just learned from George Szirtes that Miklós Vajda has died. He was a translator and editor of The Hungarian Quarterly — and he taught me an enormously valuable lesson early in my career. It took me a long time to understand that every editor who has rejected my fiction has done me a favor. That’s especially true of the man I once heard described as “Hungary’s greatest living philosopher.”
The first story I ever published, in a now-defunct print journal, required twenty-five fresh drafts. When it finally appeared it did so next to some prose by one of my heroes, Andy Kaufman. That made the whole maddening process worth it; those twenty-four rejections proved invaluable. The most formative rejection I’ve ever, however, came from Vajda in 1995. It said:
“Thank you for sending your story. I am sorry to say, however, I found it crudely written, superficial and much too long for the little it says to say. It seems your main concern must have been finding expression for the contempt you feel for your colleagues, for modern art, people in general. You have talent but this story does little to prove it.”
That is a tremendous rejection. Over a decade later, I read a subsequent — and published — version of that same story at my MFA graduation. The opportunity to continue to improving a story is one I’ve learned to appreciate. To this day, every story I write needs to pass my internal “crude, superficial and too long” test before I send it out. RIP Vajda Miklós.
[Adapted from something I once contributed to The Millions.]
April 24, 2017
There’s a long review of Bit by Bit in Electric Literature. The reviewer wrote:
“Importantly, Ervin makes it a point to introduce as many view points from underrepresented populations as possible. There are many female critics, game developers and players interviewed and quoted in Bit by Bit. For a population that (by some measures) encompasses half of the gaming world, women are not mentioned or addressed enough. That Ervin made it a point is a step in the right direction. […] Bit by Bit is an engrossing and necessary read.”
April 3, 2017
My review of Compass by Mathias Énard ran in the Washington Post on 4/3/17.
“It’s a novel that looks closely at the intersections — historical, personal and, most of all, musical — between East and West. It also provides another welcome look at the kinships that bind the Middle East to Europe. In doing so, “Compass” reminds us that these are not static places, but in fact dynamic combinations of cultures and traditions.”
November 27, 2016
My review of the Collected Essays on Evolution, Nature, and the Cosmos by Loren Eiseley ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 11/25/16.
“The Library of America edition comes at a great time. Perhaps, at long last, we can understand what Loren Eiseley spent his life attempting to tell us: ‘Perpetually, now, we search and bicker and disagree. The eternal form eludes us – the shape we conceive as ours. Perhaps the old road through the marsh should tell us. We are one of many appearances of the thing called Life; we are not its perfect image, for it has no image except Life, and life is multitudinous and emergent in the stream of time.'”