Joshua Ferris (of And We Came to the End fame) spoke in class yesterday. He described his reading and writing process and it seemed diametrically opposed to my own. Ferris takes an enormous pad and writes little chunks all over, assembling a narrative from the fragments. Just thinking about writing that way made me uncomfortable (which likely means I should try it). The traditional method of writing, according to Ferris, is to build an idea (he called it a platonic ideal) in your head and then try to get it down on paper. I see writing as more of a thread, and as I write I’m trying to build something up from a spool of text. Ferris isn’t much of a world-builder, and admitted as much, saying there was no way he could get away with such an exotic narrator (a plural “I”) without setting his novel in such a familiar setting (i.e. an office). Another takeaway: Ferris talked about his MFA, saying that the only lesson he really took from Irvine was figuring out how to read without imputing his own aesthetic onto other people’s work. I have been struggling with how to read critically but correctly and that seems to be the key. Our professor suggested John Updike’s Rules for Reviewing (which seem to have vanished in its original form, leaving only bloggy traces):
Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.
Submission to the spell… if only it were easy