Tag Archives: david mitchell

Quote of the Day

 

“Ice burns, and it is hard to the warm-skinned to distinguish one
sensation, fire, from the other, frost.”

A.S. Byatt, Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice

Yep, I had to write about the weather. For those of us living in Canada – the whole freaking country – and New England, this has been one of the most severe winter’s on record. How bad, you ask? It’s currently -23 with the wind chill in Toronto as I write this post, and it actually feels warm compared to the last three weeks.

We broke a record here yesterday for coldest temperature. In fact, the City of Toronto had to go to Ottawa to make an exceptional request yesterday: open up the federal armouries to house the homeless. Fortunately, Ottawa acquiesced.

On December 26, 1993 I experienced -70 degree weather, the coldest I’ve ever braved. (Interesting fact: If you stand outside naked at -70, your heart will stop in 60 seconds.) That being said, the last two days have felt colder than -70 here in the T Dot. After five minutes outside in full winter gear, I thought I’d developed frostbite in my fingers – and I had gloves on.

So, yeah, winter sucks.

But back to Dame Byatt! Not only is she an exceptional writer (Possession was a masterpiece), but she’s the heavyweight responsible for helping put a young go-getter named David Mitchell on the literary map; it was she who read an advanced reading copy (ARC) of his second novel, number9dream, and championed him before anyone (except me, of course) knew the limitless potential Mr. Mitchell possessed.

With respect to today’s QOTD, I like the imagery Dame Byatt evokes in this one sentence because, as I’ve felt these past few weeks, when it gets this cold it really is difficult to distinguish between the sting of being burned by fire and the acute pain that an Arctic wind can inflict on exposed (and sometimes covered) skin.

Please, all mountain gods, bring an end to this winter torment and usher in spring early this year. We deserve it!

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Rock Stars of the Publishing World

Image result for editor and author

Now, granted, I’m a little bit biased here, but let me draw you a picture. In your head. Can you see it yet? Let me try harder.

Remember when Dave Winfield was drafted by teams in the NBA, NFL, ABA (American Basketball Association) and Major League Baseball (as a freaking pitcher!) – and all in the same year! Okay, that guy had sick skills to pay the bills.

Then there was renegade Bo Jackson, an all-star in both Major League Baseball and the NFL. (Anyone remember the “Bo Knows” ads back in the early ’90s?)

Possibly the best-known and glitziest cross-sport athlete, however, is “Neon” Deion Sanders, who, in 1992, became the only athlete ever to hit a home run in the Majors and score a touchdown in the NFL in the same week. Booya!

Anyway, forget all that jazz. In the literary world, many will tell you that you’re either an editor or a writer. You can’t be both, and certainly not at the same time like the above-mentioned freaks of athletic nature.

Well, kudos to Literary Hub (@lithub) for putting us word nerds in our place and singling out some titans of literature that have indeed been cross-publishing all-stars, switch hitters, if you will, who played for both teams at one time in their careers.

In a piece titled “7 Writers Who Were Also Editors (And the Books They Edited),” LitHub associate editor Emily Temple (@knownemily) put together a list to make your head spin. Talk about a group of people who wear a cornucopia of hats!

Aside from their individual success as writers, you’ve got to take a look at the complete list of authors these people have edited in the past and ask yourself how they could have pulled this off.

On a personal note, my favourite person on this list (again, slightly biased) is David Ebershoff, a man who 1) is not only a brilliant novelist; 2) not only a remarkably gifted editor in fiction but non-fiction as well; 3) not only edited some of David Mitchell’s best work (Cloud Atlas, Thousand Autumns…WTF?); but 4) is arguably as intelligent and gracious as Mitchell himself, making the two of them – to use the above analogy – kind of like having Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid on the same hockey team (2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, anybody?).

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Quote of the Day

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“It’s true, reading too many novels makes you go blind.”

Well, that explains why I wear bifocals that resemble the Hubble Space Telescope. Problem solved!

This quote comes from the insanely mind-bending novel Cloud Atlas, which many literati consider David Mitchell’s opus – for now. A brilliant multi-century set of six recurring stories that take place around the world, Cloud Atlas is without question a tour de force.

Although you might initially laugh at the sentence (how can anyone read too many novels?), I think there’s more truth to it than you might have considered. Authors like Dan Brown dance around the subject of pursuing the facts (or the truth) at the potential cost of death in a FUN! way, but I think someone like Umberto Eco does a better job of capturing the lesson here. The Name of the Rose is a phenomenal story about the thirst for knowledge and the danger this can entail. Now, you might think that learning, reading and bettering yourself mentally have no limits, but I think that’s what Cloud Atlas and Eco’s opus teach us – even with the great achievements in life, sometimes you can go too far and there are necessary consequences to these pursuits.

On a personal note, I had the extreme good fortune to get to know David Mitchell before his meteoric rise to worldwide fame. I even spent time with he and his family in Ireland before Cloud Atlas turned DM into a literary rock star and the Wachowskis picked up the rights to turn the novel into a major Hollywood film (though it pales in comparison to the book sadly). I’ve also had the good fortune to meet many other authors over the years and can say unequivocally that David is not the only the most gracious of writers I’ve gotten to know, but has a mind and a sense of creativity unlike anyone else I know of writing today.

So, if you haven’t read Cloud Atlas yet, do yourself a favour and go get it. Once you’re done that, you can start from the beginning of his oeuvre and pick up Ghostwritten, another kick-ass novel that will make your head spin with its originality.

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Quote of the Day

Image result for graham greene, the quiet american

Not only does Vietnam rank among my favourite places in the world, but one of my most enduring memories of the country is how you can purchase a photocopied version of Graham Green’s The Quiet American (1955) anywhere you go, though truth be told The End of the Affair will always remain his true masterpiece in my mind. From Hanoi all the way down to Saigon (HCMC), you’re bound to find a copy of this “quiet” classic in its plastic casing and impossible-to-find-on-the-Internet green cover that is unique only (to my knowledge) to Vietnamese photocopiers.

Considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, Greene was the author of more than 25 novels during his lifetime. He was also one of the rare cases of someone who could mesmerize you as much with his prose as with his storyline. Case in point, this shot-to-the-heart, poignant sentence from The Quiet American, which I’m convinced was the impetus behind Dame A.S. Byatt’s beautiful (and Booker Prize-winning) novel, Possession(1990), the same woman who would then go on to help propel the career of a young man named David Mitchell after reading the ARC for number9dream (2003) on a transatlantic flight more than a decade ago. But back to Mr. Greene and The Quiet American

“The hurt is in the act of possession: we are too small in mind and body to possess another person without pride or to be possessed without humiliation.”

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On Love & Quotes

I like quotes. And, really, who doesn’t ? Bound by a cute pair of rabbit ears, a great quote can serve as a life mantra, a conversation starter, an impetus to change your life, a reason to learn more about a subject…the list is endless!

My friend and old ex-curler buddy, Stephen B., just tagged me in a Facebook Memory (didn’t even know they existed before this) and reminded me of a quote from Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, a novel we read in our book club aeons ago. Wilder was in his own league when it came to English prose. I mean, here was a guy who really knew how to string together words in a way that hits you hard, not like a nudge on the shoulder, but more a hammer to the cerebral cortex that induces a shot of heaven-borne adrenalin to your organ of fire.

Check out this doozy from The Bridge of San Luis Rey:

Soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

(ed. note: If you like Wilder, especially The Bridge of San Luis Rey, I strongly encourage you to read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Aside from The Bridge of San Luis Rey being one of Mitchell’s favourite books, he infused a lot from Wilder’s novel in his own epic, ranging from the character of Luisa Rey to the almost frequent mention of bridges at key moments in the story. )

While reading that Wilder quote again, I find it hauntingly similar to a passage I read years ago that was written by yet another literary giant more than 60 years before Wilder penned his ethereal prose on love. To quote Prince Andrei from War and Peace:

Love hinders death. Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source.

Now that I’m on the subject, though, I can’t but recall two of my all-time-forever-like-totally-can’t-forget-about-them quotes on this subject.

First, I present Lawrence Durrell from the first book in the Alexandria Quartet novels, Justine:

The loved object is simply one that has shared an experience at the same moment of time, narcissistically; and the desire to be near the beloved object is at first not due to the idea of possessing it, but simply to let the two experiences compare themselves, like reflections in different mirrors. All this may precede the first look, kiss, or touch; precede ambition, pride, or envy; precede the first declarations which mark the turning point—for from here love degenerates into habit, possession, and back to loneliness.

And I end with the man himself, Michael Ondaatje, and his swan song from The English Patient:

We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on by body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography – to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.

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Does Alcohol + Writing = Genius x Calamity ÷ The X Factor?

What do Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Hunter S. Thompson, Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Tennessee Williams, Raymond Chandler, and O. Henry all share in common?

They were all alcoholics at one time, many of them for life, some of whom actually died as a direct result of their affliction.

Frighteningly enough, the above list only represents some of the greatest names in English literature over the past 150 years. This raises another alarming question: Is a grossly unhealthy dependence on alcohol necessary to become a great and prolific writer? Should writers follow Hemingway’s advice when he once mused, “Write drunk; edit sober”? While a humorous, pithy, and catchy suggestion, was Papa onto something?

Fortunately, the answer is a resounding NO!

Just ask Stephen King, who since quitting drugs and drinking has produced arguably his best work; David Mitchell, who’s an insanely responsible person and health nut; Murakami Haruki, who quit smoking and left his heavy whiskey-drinking days behind long ago at his former Tokyo bar and now takes solace in jogging, not the bottle. I’m pretty sure Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje are on the straight and narrow, too. Then there’s Isaac Asimov, Anne Rice, and Stephenie Meyer, each famous as a writer for different reasons, but all of whom are teetotalers (abstinent from alcohol).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been binge-watching Intervention Canada, an intense documentary that spends a few days following drug and/or alcohol addicts (and by “addict” I mean so far gone in most cases that it’s actually difficult to watch sometimes) before facilitating an intervention and offering treatment at many of Canada’s top treatment facilities. (Sidebar here: is it just me or are all the best rehab centres in Canada located in British Columbia?)

While watching an episode of IC a few days ago, I was struck by the courage one young woman summoned up when coming to grips with her demons, so I decided to write it down:

“I do not know what it is to be brave. And I do not know what the word bravery means to other people. What I do know is that strength is brought about by confidence. What I do know is that hardship fosters understanding. I believe kindness and thoughtfulness are the keys to ensuring a successful life. As I move forward, and embark on a new life, a life free of alcohol, free of pain, a life free of poison, I take to heart what the word bravery might actually mean.”

Scientists and philosophers have long tried to determine what exactly leads to genius. I think the only thing people can agree upon is that there is most definitely a biological factor; some people are simply blessed with a formidable brain. But it’s not all nature, I think. There is most certainly a nurture component – hard work, dedication, and a passion for a particular field of knowledge. At the same time, I feel equally confident saying that crutches like OxyCoton, meth, heroin, crack, whiskey, gin, beer, etc. (ad infinitum) will get a person nowhere, especially an artist like a writer, who already spends enough time alone and possibly dredging up memories and emotions that could sink even the strongest person if not handled with extreme cerebral care.

So if you’re interested in getting started on that story you know you have in you, or perhaps you’re brash enough to want to become a professional writer (ha ha ha ha ha…that’s just dumb and dumbly), do so with a cup of Joe or a mug of herbal tea, preferably in the hours before the sun rises, and you (and your liver) will be grateful for the decision in the years to come.

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Genre Snobbery

In an interview with David Barr Kirtley, host of the podcast “Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy,” David Mitchell opened up about a few subjects, including – but not limited to – Ursula K. Le Guin, Dungeons & Dragons, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, and that very crystalline subject otherwise known as “the future.” As always, Mr. Mitchell has some insightful nuggets of barbecue sauce-laden wisdom to pass on, one of which has to do with the idea of literary genrefication.

I think it fair to say that we as people like to classify, organize, break down, label and basically separate anything and everything into smaller and smaller groups. We do it in the humanities, the arts, and the sciences. It’s meant to help us understand and categorize larger units of information and make it more readily accessible, whether as bits of memory or as books at a library.

Yet David Mitchell takes exception to using labels in the literary world to strictly isolate one branch of writing from another. As the author of little-known works such as Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks puts it:

It’s convenient to have a science fiction and fantasy section, it’s convenient to have a mainstream literary fiction section, but these should only be guides, they shouldn’t be demarcated territories where one type of reader belongs and another type of reader does not belong…It’s a bizarre act of self-mutilation to say that ‘I don’t get on with science fiction and fantasy, therefore I’m never going to read any. What a shame. All those great books that you’re cutting yourself off from.

So true. Click here to read the full article on wired.com, entitled, “Genre Snobbery Is a ‘Bizarre Act of Self-Mutilation’.”

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