Supporting roles

I recently had the honor of offering advance praise for Andrew Martin’s new story collection Cool for America, coming out from Farrar Straus Giroux on July 7:

Overeducated and undermined, the women and men in Andrew Martin’s stories fortify themselves with beer, weed, intensely felt verdicts about music and literature, and messing around with people they probably shouldn’t be messing around with. Martin’s prose is as melancholy and ruthless as Raymond Carver’s, and his wit is as dark and sharp as Mary Robison’s or Donald Antrim’s.

Order a copy from your favorite indie bookseller now!

This past Tuesday, I had an electronically mediated conversation, hosted by Brooklyn’s Community Bookstore, with Donald Nicholson-Smith about his new translation of Serge Pey’s new story collection Treasure of the Spanish Civil War, just out from Archipelago Books. The conversation was recorded and is now streamable.

A long time ago—maybe a year ago? in another lifetime, at any rate—I was interviewed by writer Barbara Nichol for a radio show about reading that she was producing for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She tapped me for some of the sociology and neurology that I reported on for The New Yorker more than a decade ago—reporting that I updated a couple of years ago. Her show is now streamable online, in three segments, each about an hour long: part one, part two, and part three. I don’t have a large role—a one-sentence cameo in part two, and a paragraph or two in part three—but it’s an interesting listen.

Fiction about the Spanish Civil War; new reviews of “Overthrow”

Some news . . .

On Tuesday, June 23, at 7:30pm, I’ll be having a conversation about Serge Pey’s The Treasure of the Spanish Civil War, a new collection of stories about the Spanish Civil War, with Donald Nicholson-Smith, who translated the book from French. The conversation, which will take place online (register here!), is being hosted by Park Slope’s Community Bookstore. I wrote about the American experience of the Spanish Civil War for The New Yorker a few years ago, but Pey’s stories are concerned with the way Spaniards experienced the war, including the experiences that some of them had as refugees in France afterward. Please tune in!

Phil Christman, author of the new book Midwest Futures, has written a great essay for the Christian publisher Plough that looks at my novel Overthrow and also at recent books on technology by L. M. Sacasas and on union organizing by Jane McAlevey, as well as a re-issue of Vivian Gornick’s history of American Communism. Of Overthrow, Christman writes, “It’s a Philip K. Dick plot as experienced by Henry James characters,” which is from now on my elevator pitch for the novel.

Pekka Torvinen has written a generous review of Overthrow for the Finnish student magazine Ylioppilaslehti. At least I think it’s generous; it’s in Finnish. According to Google Translate, in any case, Torvinen writes, “The book often describes the environment quite unnecessarily for the plot. But ah, how often such a point made me stop and think about my own life!”

A Panel on criticism & social media

On Tuesday, February 18, at 7pm, Naomi Fry, Ben Ratliff, and I will talk about criticism and social media, under the guidance of Eric Banks of the New York Institute of the Humanities, at the McNally-Jackson bookstore’s new South Street Seaport location, at 4 Fulton St., New York. I’ll probably end up referencing this 2015 Harper’s essay of mine about the problem. Please come!

Leaflet #10

Another newsletter . . .


Pluralism

I’m reading Buddenbrooks. It’s a very dry kind of funny, and it occurred to me the other day that maybe even the title is funny. It’s a little odd in English, anyway (maybe it isn’t in German?), to refer to a family’s last name in the plural without a definite article. The family name is Buddenbrook, no s, so in English, the usual title would be “The Buddenbrooks.” Mere “Buddenbrooks” has a little spin on it. There’s a little diss of generalization, as if Mann were saying, “Enclosed please find some Buddenbrooks,” or “Buddenbrooks: A Representative Sample.” Or, with a shake of the head, “Buddenbrooks, man.”

Peter, trying to get into Huckleberry Finn, a couple of months ago: “There’s kind of a lot of Tom Sawyer fan service.”

About six months ago, I started bringing a camera along when I took Toby for his morning walk. My original idea was to take a picture every day of the little vista that Toby and I see when we first reach the Nether Mead, which on some mornings is so beautiful that runners stop to snap it with their phones. We pause there so I can take off his leash. The series was going to be deliberately a little boring but it would be a way of photographing time, I told myself. Unfortunately I am too much of a jackdaw and on the very first day, even one photo of the vista seemed boring, and instead I have ended up taking pictures of whatever seems noticeably pretty or noticeably ugly, which I know is rank middlebrow pictorialism—too much studium and not enough punctum—so you don’t have to @ me, photography critics. Mostly I have only photographed natural things: mushrooms, flowers, clouds, parts of trees. For a few days in late summer I was earnest enough to post photos of leaf blight, which did not win many likes on Insta. (But did you see the leaf blight, person who scrolled by without stopping? Did you really see it?) I like the way the photos register the gradual shift of the seasons when I flick through them, which can be done on my blog Steamboats Are Ruining Everything or, in a selection and in a square format, on Instagram. So you see I am photographing “time,” after all. The record isn’t rigorously a daily one, because once a week, on Saturday, Peter takes over the morning walk while I go to the green market, plus I’ve been out of town a few times, and some days I just don’t manage to take any photos worth sharing. On good days, though, I take more than one photo, so I have coverage, as the cinematographers say. There’s at least one photo for every day, if not of every day. Maybe what interests me most about the undertaking is that almost every morning I go into the park fairly certain that probably nothing of interest will come up, because after all I walk pretty much the same route every day, and it’s only a day later than yesterday, so what new thing could there be. Yet almost every morning, there is something. (On one banner day: Slug copulation! They coil around each other, upside down, and then translucent sex organs come out of the sides of their heads, which in turn coil around each other. Very much NSFW, if you’re a slug.) But not always. Which makes it like writing: consistent self-discouragement vs. unreliable pleasant surprise. Bonus: A couple of times, Prospect Park’s Instagram account reprinted one of my photos, making me famous, so there’s that.

I didn’t mean to be the sort of author who would start a newsletter and then drop it as soon as his book was published. But publishing a book is a little . . . disconcerting? (I’m doing better now. I joined a Cross Fit “box.”) The book news since (oh gosh) September 4, if you haven’t already followed it on my blog, includes a couple more nice reviews. Nicholas Dames, for Public Books: “It’s a novel that keeps faith in even the unlikeliest candidates for where redemption might next come.” Tim Pfaff, for the Bay Area Reporter: “Crain is a true craftsman, but the writing mostly doesn’t care what you think of it and shows off shamelessly.” And I sat for a few more interviews, including with Shaan Sachdev, for Bookforum; with Emily Homonoff, for Reading with Robin; and, on video, with Kevin Moore, for Cuny TV’s Twilight Talks.