Archive for May, 2010

The April 26th issue of The New Yorker included a series of letters Bellow wrote to his fellow authors, critics, and other publishing figures – everyone from Philip Roth to William Faulkner to John Cheever. As I’ve mentioned before, I can’t get enough behind-the-scenes glimpses at the writing lives of authors I admire, so naturally I found the letters fascinating. One in particular, though, caught my attention. It’s a 1948 note to David Bazelon, about a recent work of Bellow’s. Here goes:

It took hold of my mind and imagination very deeply but I know that somehow I failed to write it freely, with all the stops out from beginning to end. They were out in a few places. I could name them. And I must admit that in spite of the great amount of energy I brought to the book at certain times, I was at others, for some reason, content to fall back on lesser resources… [T]here is a certain diffidence about me, not very obvious socially, to my own mind, that prevents me from going all out, as you call it. I assemble the dynamite but I am not ready to touch off the fuse. Why? Because I am working toward something and have not yet arrived. I once mentioned to you, I think, that one of the things that made life difficult for me was that I wanted to write before I had sufficient maturity to write as “high” as I wished and so I had a very arduous and painful apprenticeship and still am undergoing it. This journeyman idea has its drawbacks as well as its advantages. It makes me a craftsman – and few writers now are that – but it gives me a refuge from the peril of final accomplishment. “Lord, pardon me, I’m still preparing, not fully a man as yet.” I’m like the young man in the Gospels, or have been till lately. “Give all thou hast and follow me,” says Christ. The young man goes away to think it over and so is lost. There’s a limit to thinking it over…

This idea of holding something back, of having these aspirations for your writing and wanting to wait until you’re really “ready,” until your apprenticeship is over, to tackle them in full, really resonated with me. It’s the sort of thing that crosses my mind every time I dream up another book idea – “I’m still preparing.” At a certain point, I suppose you just have to light the fuse.

Oh, and in case I owe you a World Hum-related email, here’s another relevant line from Bellow: “Forgive my having the manuscript so long. I should have read it at once. But I don’t live right.”


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I’ve been back in Barbados, visiting my folks, for about a week and a half now. It’s been a restful time: I’ve been eating well, enjoying plenty of sunshine and fresh air, and getting caught up on sleep that I didn’t even realize I’d been missing. We spent the weekend on Bequia – one of my favourite places in the world – and have tickets for the ICC T20 cricket tournament on Friday. Life is good.

I’ve also been aiming to get caught up on email, editing, and other professional administration-type stuff – so if you’re waiting to hear from me, hang in there. And, of course, I’m way past due for an update on this site. So here goes:

The big news around World Hum this month was our inclusion as a Webby Award Honoree for Best Copy/Writing. The other honorees included NPR, BBC and Vanity Fair, and being listed was a huge thrill. Congrats and thanks to all our fine writers!

And speaking of fine writers, here are some highlights from the last month in World Hum features:

  • We published a couple of really powerful personal narratives in mid-April: In The Leap at Crater Lake, Amy Eward confronts her infertility and the strain it’s placing on her marriage, while in An Unexpected Trip, Katherine Lonsdorf shares the lessons she learned after an assault by a cab driver in Jordan.
  • We also ran a five-part series from Frank Bures, The Roads Between Us: A Journey Across Africa, along with a very cool Google map that includes some additional notes from Frank’s West African road trip.
  • It’s always a pleasure to have Pico Iyer’s byline on the site. His latest for us is an exploration of the lives and works of Jan Morris and V.S. Naipaul, two “master portraitists” of travel writing.
  • And finally, today we published a fine humor piece from columnist Tom Swick, imagining what might happen when a travel writer takes the podium.

I’ve got a few stories in the works, but nothing up on the site just yet. Stay tuned.

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