EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

If you delight in partaking of a dram of whisky, you likely delight in what I think of as whisky extracurriculars. There are some foods and drinks for which savoring them directly is the height of our experience with them, but any whisky buff will tell you that there’s a bit extra with the water of life.

I’ve been a devotee of Islay whisky for a decent chunk of my life, loving how the essence of sea and coast can be distilled into a glass, with aspects of brine, seaweed, the iron of terra firma, peat, and the smoky fingers of the kiln playing around one’s nose and tickling the back of one’s throat. The island of Islay produces the most intense whisky in Scotland. Many drinkers prefer the more honeyed malts of the Highlands, though if you drink one you tend to drink the other. What’s ironic in my case is that I’ve given up drinking entirely, for a host of reasons — isn’t that always the way in these matters? — and yet my relationship with whisky, post-drink, continues on.

That’s one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by the 1949 film, Whisky Galore!, which is based on the novel of the same name by Compton Mackenzie, an author few people remember today. More… “The Laughing Dram”

Colin Fleming’s fiction appears in Harper’s, Commentary, Virginia Quarterly Review, AGNI, and Boulevard, with other work running in The Atlantic, Salon, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and JazzTimes. He is a regular guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Downtown with Rich Kimball, in addition to various radio programs and podcasts. His last book was The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss, and he has two books forthcoming in 2018: Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls, and a volume examining the 1951 movie Scrooge as a horror film for the ages. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

Byatt turns 80 today. I interviewed her some years back after she had finished The Children’s Book, a very long novel, short-listed for the Booker Prize. Set in the decades leading up to World War I, it follows several families (loosely based on the family and friends of the children’s writer, E. Nesbit) as they try to live according to exaggerated progressive and esthetic principles. Like all of Byatt’s works, this one is sprawling and erudite. Byatt herself seemed to know everything about everything — a modern incarnation of George Eliot, acutely aware of carrying this mantle. Byatt has written a lot but remains best known for her 1990 Booker award-winning novel, Possession. Academics of my vintage have a special fondness for this work since it tells the story of two literary scholars whose lives parallel those of the two 19th century poets they are researching. Both pairs fall in love in the face of obstacles. The book is filled with large swaths of Robert Browningesque and Christina Rossetti-ish poetry that Byatt composes for her characters. It’s a tour de force of mimicry though I admit to having skipped a good deal of it to get to the love story. I suspect that its appeal for many of us was that it was a dissertation wrapped in a bodice ripper. The 2002 movie, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart, captures the intellectually and emotionally overheated effect, making for a great grad student date flick. A dramatic moment in the interview was Byatt’s terse statement that she doesn’t speak to her sister, novelist Margaret Drabble. •

Feature image courtesy of Nationaal Historisch Museum via Flickr (Creative Commons). 

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

Creative people walk. The philosopher and compulsive stroller Friedrich Nietzsche left little room for debate when he claimed 125 years ago, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”

And he had a lot of company in this belief, especially among the pantheon of the early big heads: Tchaikovsky, Rousseau, Dickens, Mahler, Thoreau, Kant — all were habitual walkers, some to the point of obsession. Thoreau, for instance, adhered to a simple calculus — he could write for an hour only if he offset that with an hour of walking. Tchaikovsky walked precisely two hours every day to remain creative. Rousseau believed he could conceive thoughts worthy of committing to paper only if he walked. Rousseau further claimed that just looking at a desk left him dissipated and vaguely nauseous, foreshadowing the affliction of modern cubicle dwellers everywhere.

What English teacher hasn’t cursed Edgar Allan Poe? Isn’t he responsible for all those cheesy revenge plots and creepy sex-death fantasies that teenagers (mostly male) insist on writing? Can you really quarrel with T.S. Eliot’s observation that Poe had “the intellect of a highly gifted person before puberty” (though going through puberty seems more apt) — or with Edmund Wilson’s indictment of Poe’s “awful diction”?

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale… More…

 

Tom Clancy’s death did not shake the literary establishment. That’s because Tom Clancy was never part of the literary establishment. He was an insurance salesman. In his spare time, Clancy wrote military thrillers. His first book, The Hunt for Red October — about a Soviet naval officer who takes his super-secret sub and defects to the US — was published by the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis. Clancy got $5000 bucks for it. But Ronald Reagan read the book and started telling everybody how much he loved it. Soon enough, Clancy was a bestselling author. The story gets ridiculous from there, with books spilling off the presses and hundreds of millions of dollars changing hands. Movies were made. Video games were made. This was the stuff that publishers and business-minded authors dream about on cold autumn nights.

The more… More…

In the week it takes me to read five different books on how to be a writer, approximately 30 books are delivered to my Berlin apartment. This is a decline from the 15 to 30 that used to be delivered every day, and I’m grateful for the barrier of costly international postage that keeps these numbers down. I will immediately discard about three-quarters of the books. Some of these, I would say maybe eight percent of the books I receive, are self-published. Under their bios the writers dutifully list the writing programs they attended. Now they have landed here, with a clip-art book cover, a cheap binding, and a $12 stamp to send it to a book critic who doesn’t even really review fiction anymore. I feel bad for these writers, and the years of effort and money they spent on a writing education, and all of that boundless optimism… More…

We know him not at all, and yet completely. That has always been the paradox of William Shakespeare. The characters he created in his plays have worked their way into the collective DNA of the English-speaking world, of Western culture broadly considered, and of world culture through Western culture. The language of Shakespeare — that unique and startling way he had of phrasing things–has become the common currency of thinking, acting, being. But we don’t know much about his life. We know the basic details: born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, married Anne Hathaway in 1582, died in 1616. Beyond that, he is a mystery. We don’t have any information that explains how he could have had such an immense and lasting influence, an influence that only seems to grow, century after century. When you reflect on it for a moment, it doesn’t seem possible that one person could have created… More…

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Two hundred years is a long time, and much of the appeal of Jane Austen lies in how long ago she wrote. Every year the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) meets in a major city and stages a series of events that recreate that long lost world. There’s a bonnet-making workshop and a Regency-style ball, and everyone marches around in archaic fancy dress. All of this strikes an appealing note to those of us who find the modern world chaotic and unmannerly, who wish that we could take tea at the right hour (if only someone could brew a proper cup) and think we would all look much better in Empire gowns.

 

By the same token, much of the appeal of… More…

He was a writer, first and foremost, and he spent a lot of time thinking about writing. He was a good writer. He could turn a phrase. He could move a story along. Still, it was difficult to make any money at the thing. He spent some time in Greenwich Village in the 1930s, hanging out with the other writers and artists, thinking about what it means to spend a life with the written word, to pay the bills working as a writer. He found his answer in the pulp fiction scene of the ’30s and ’40s. Magazines and book publishers were looking for fast-paced writing that told fast-paced stories of adventure, mystery, and intrigue. He could do that. He could do that as well as anyone.

 

His name was L. Ron Hubbard. This year, 2011, happens to… More…

Flying into Provincetown on an eight-seat prop plane, you see what Norman Mailer meant when he wrote the preface to Are We in Vietnam? — “In Provincetown, geography runs out, and you are surrounded by the sea. So it is a strange place.”

 

In the summer of 2009, I arrived at the end of geography, one of the inaugural Norman Mailer fellows — seven writers who spent a month in Provincetown and attended seminars in Mailer’s house, established as a writer’s colony after his death in 2007.

After settling into a condo a few houses down from Mailer’s, Larry Schiller — filmmaker, writer, and the colony’s enigmatic executive director — gave us the four-digit code that would allow us to enter the Mailer house for exactly 28 days, at which point the code would change and stragglers would have… More…