Insurrection. Global pandemic. Cascading climate crises. Never-ending Zooms. We seem to be living through the dystopia Hollywood has always dreamed of, sans a satisfying narrative arc.
In times like these, nihilism beckons. Just give up, history seems to be saying. There’s nothing you can do. The best you can hope to for is to protect your own as you watch the world burn.
Some novelists begin a new story by identifying a central theme, and then let the characters, plot, setting, tone, pace, and all the rest unspool from there. That’s never worked for me. Instead, theme is usually something I can identify only after the story is on the page. It’s the shadow cast by the narrative. …
Be bold. Many eschew grand ambitions for fear of falling short, so the higher you aim, the thinner the competition. Plus, because nothing is truly easy, you might as well attempt something truly hard. Who knows? You might even succeed, surprising everyone, yourself most of all.
Because so few people are willing to risk boldness, being bold makes you a leader by default. Some will see their feelings articulated in your vision and join up. Others will see their fears reflected in your vision and cry foul. …
Every month, I send a newsletter recommending books, fiction and nonfiction, that crackle and fizz with big ideas, entertain with wild abandon, challenge assumptions, and find meaning in a changing world. Reading is an integral part of my creative process and I often find gems in unlikely places.
Every year, I go back through and select my absolute favorites. Without further ado, here are the twelve best books I read in 2020:
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is a novel as exquisitely balanced as the temperament of the Russian aristocrat it follows through his decades of house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. …
The girl entered the Dark Forest.
Leaves whispered. Shadows swirled. Bright eyes gleamed. Mud sucked at her boots. She evaded the bandits, won over the fairies, escaped the quicksand, emasculated the creepy lumberjack, survived the poison thorns, defeated the monsters, fed wild carrots to the unicorn, slipped away from the strangling vines, and outsmarted the witch.
The woman emerged from the Dark Forest.
She dropped her pack, salved her blisters, ate an apple with a hunk of cheese and a chocolate bar, drank from the brook, and sighed.
Ahead was the Open Steppe, the Rushing River, the Endless Desert, the Stormy Sea, the Bottomless Cave, the Highest Mountain, the Brilliant Stars — worlds pressing up against worlds forever in all directions, thick with promise and peril, almost but never quite overwhelming, a summons and an apology and a challenge. …
My friend Derek has a six year old grandson who came for a visit. They were exploring the basement together when the boy pointed to the door on the left and asked, “What’s in there grandpa?”
“Canned foods and supplies for the kitchen,” said Derek.
His grandson pointed to the door ahead of them, “What’s in there grandpa?”
“Your grandmother’s files,” said Derek. “Nothing too exciting.”
He pointed to the door on the right, “What’s in there grandpa?”
“I don’t know,” responded Derek, entirely truthfully. “I have no idea. Maybe dragons?”
“Dragons!” he said, eyes lighting up. …
Ursula K. Le Guin on the book as technology:
The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.
From Words Are My Matter.
“At the heart of Sylvan Esso is this really fun argument — Nick wants things to sound unsettling, but I want you to take your shirt off and dance,” says Amelia Meath of the band she cofounded in 2012 that now boasts two million monthly listeners on Spotify. “We’re trying to make pop songs that aren’t on the radio, because they’re too weird. It’s a pop band, but we’re talking about complicated emotions.”
Not only does this pithy description perfectly capture Sylvan Esso’s wonderfully distinctive music, it subverts the false distinction between “high” and “low” art — adjectives that themselves reveal an underlying bias. …
Turn it off.
The feed was the information infrastructure that empowered nearly every human activity and on which nearly every human activity relied. A talisman that lent mere mortals the power of demigods. Doctors used it for diagnosis. Brokers used it to place bets. Physicists used it to explore the mysteries of quantum entanglement. Farmers used it to grow food. Kindergarteners used it to learn the alphabet. The feed was power, water, transportation, communication, entertainment, public services, relationships, industry, media, government, security, finance, and education. Without it the churning torrent of human civilization would cease. …
There’s a school of advice that claims good writing is the result of endless, painstaking, comprehensive rewrites that iterate toward perfection, but I’ve learned much more about craft writing and publishing nine novels than I ever would have rewriting my first novel nine times.
Quality versus quantity is a false dichotomy. Quantity is a route to quality. Not the route. There is no the route when it comes to making good art or software or podcasts or sourdough. …