All the News That’s Fit to Squint At

I have an ongoing battle with myself (damn, every time I get on top, I’m on the bottom too) about reading and listening to the daily news. It can be such a litany of woe and strife: so many deaths, so many injustices that I become inured to the actual screaming pain of it and instead numbly click on to the next article. The drive to drink more news swill is partially due to me wanting to be a journalist for so many years, and for thinking that if I stay current with global currents, I’ll know what’s happening.

But often, what’s happening is just as real under the radar, on the other side of the insistent NOW. Life works its odd ways in the road-not-taken nooks and crannies of not-news and not-hot-news. So, while I continue to battle with whether I’ll lap up the blood-soaked headlines of today, I also subscribe to a number of email newsletters, some of them writing-related, some not, that take a different perspective on what’s interesting and important. (Note: do not point out that reading yet more digests of information doesn’t really address the prescription that it might be time to wean oneself off the news entirely. Bah! Resolutions are for New Year’s.)

So, some offbeat compendiums of not-quite-news:

Next Draft
A daily digest of the provocative, the crazed and the head-scratching (and sometimes it does include top-of-the-news stories, though often from a different angle). The guy behind this, Dave Pell, usually has some wry or deadpan take on the articles he lists, before you click through to the madness.

Brain Pickings
Often centering around writers and literature, this is a weekly digest of the old, the new and the odd. Let them explain: “Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.”

Work in Progress
A weekly (though not always) newsletter from the Farrar, Strauss Giroux publishing company, it will often have oddments from the byways of literature and literary types, sometimes with snippets from interviews of famed authors long dead, or snipings from unruly authors quite alive. Some promo of their own publications here, but not obnoxious.

Shelf Awareness
And if you want to find out which of your favorite bookstores are closing this week, this newsletter’s for you. Well, that’s not all they do—from their About: Shelf Awareness publishes two newsletters, one for general readers and one for people in the book business.
Shelf Awareness: Enlightenment for Readers, our new newsletter, appears Tuesdays and Fridays and helps readers discover the 25 best books of the week, as chosen by our industry experts. We also have news about books and authors, author interviews and more.
Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for the Book Trade, which we’ve been publishing since June 2005, provides booksellers and librarians the information they need to sell and lend books. It appears every business day and is read by people throughout the book industry.

Writing on the Ether
And if you need to read about which publishing industry maven is trashing Amazon today (but it’s funny, really), you can do no better than to go to Jane Friedman’s fine blog and read the Thursday edition of Writing on the Ether. There’s more than just Amazon trashing going on, with all the publishing industry in a constant froth about pretty much everything. Porter Anderson surveys and curates sharp commentary from every whichaway.

Extry, Extry, Man and Dog Both Bite Reporter

And a bit of my own news: Men With Pens put up a post of mine about “Why I Write.” Go there and tell me why you write as well. Or why not.

And I was a finalist in the Gotham Writer’s Workshop 50-word monologue contest, which solicited 50-word monologues on growing up in the suburban 60s. Guilty. I won two tickets to a Broadway revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” which I would dearly love to attend, but it being on the Right Coast, I can’t. I’ll be finding some backbiting, caustic, alcoholic NY friends of mine to give them to instead.

Memories: The Long Arm of the Writer

A long time ago, I read an article where the writer suggested that Hemingway killed himself not because of his depression, but because of the treatment for his depression. The suggestion was that the electroshock had erased a good deal of Hemingway’s memory, and that a writer without memories is not a writer—and that that loss provoked Hemingway’s hand. However, much information has come out regarding his long-deteriorating mental and physical state prior to his suicide, and the loss-of-memory issue might have only played a minor part, if any.

The reason I bring that up is because I was down in Southern California this past weekend, spending some time with my mother to honor what would have been my father’s 94th birthday, his first birthday after his recent death. We went out to the graveside and saw the stone for the first time. My mother, in her natively collected and humorous way, remarked that it was a little odd to see her own name on the stone, which awaits what I hope is a long time to make claim to its inscription.

During the visit, my mother, sister and I shared memories of my father, a couple of which were new to me. That conversation in turn pushed me to rummage through my memory attic, blowing the dust off some crusted considerations of my boyhood long ago. It struck me that I hadn’t made good use of some of the eccentric characters I’ve known over time, many of whom are easy subjects for the kind of tales that evoke a “No way! That couldn’t have happened!” response from astonished or amused listeners.

Memories Are Writers’ Clay
It’s clear to me that most lives, whether you were raised in a dusty Ethiopian village of 100 souls or born to a gilded Manhattan penthouse, are suffused with character and incident that could fill books, if you selectively shaped the telling. And that working of the clay of character or incident needn’t be exclusive to fiction’s floor—the mad workings of the human animal are prime frameworks for engaging essays as well. (Note that libel issues can sometimes constrain a telling, though with the right makeup and hat, you can hide your pawn in plain sight on the narrative chessboard.)

I’ve seen enough peculiar and striking expression of the vagaries of our species to fill the memory banks—I’m going to start withdrawing some so the investment pays off. Poke around in your skull a bit, look at some old photographs, ask a relative about the time your great-aunt poured a drink on Maurice Chevalier’s head at a dinner party. Memories are material from which writers weave.

Bonus Bloggishness
I wrote a post of copyediting tips for the Men with Pens site last Friday. Putting the post together was fun, but it was more fun yet fielding the comments. Check it out.