On September 9, 2016, Newsnight viewers saw the inside of Front National founder Jean-Marie Le Pen’s apartment. Crammed with knickknacks and artifacts, it also boasted an enormous oil painting of the retired politician. Dressed up like a buccaneer, with a telescope in his hand and a white ferret perched on his shoulder, the unusual painting could also be seen reproduced on Le Pen’s coffee table, in the foreground of the painting of Jesus Christ and the statue of Joan of Arc.
I can remember when Tina Brown was in charge of The New Yorker and a writer named Mark Singer interviewed me for a profile. He was depressed. I was thinking, O.K., expect the worst. Not only was Tina Brown dragging The New Yorker to a new low, this writer was drowning in his own misery, which could only put me in a skeptical mood regarding the outcome of their combined interest in me. Misery begs misery, and they were a perfect example of this credo.
Jeff MacGregor, the reviewer of Character Studies, a collection of Singer’s New Yorker profiles, including the one about me, writes poorly… Maybe he and Mark Singer belong together. Some people cast shadows, and other people choose to live in those shadows. To each his own. They are entitled to their choices.
Most writers want to be successful. Some writers even want to be good writers. I’ve read John Updike, I’ve read Orhan Pamuk, I’ve read Philip Roth. When Mark Singer enters their league, maybe I’ll read one of his books. But it will be a long time– he was not born with great writing ability… Maybe he should… try to develop himself into a world-class writer, as futile as that may be, instead of having to write about remarkable people who are clearly outside of his realm.
I’ve been a best-selling author for close to 20 years. Whether you like it or not, facts are facts. The highly respected Joe Queenan mentioned in his article ‘Ghosts and the Machine’ (March 20) that I had produced ‘a steady stream of classics’ with ‘stylistic seamlessness’ and that the ‘voice’ of my books remained noticeably constant to the point of being an ‘astonishing achievement.’
This was high praise coming from an accomplished writer. From losers like Jeff MacGregor, whom I have never met, or Mark Singer, I do not do nearly as well. But I’ll gladly take Joe Queenan over Singer and MacGregor any day of the week–it’s simple thing called talent!
I have no doubt that Singer’s and MacGregor’s books will do badly– they just don’t have what it takes. Maybe someday they’ll astonish us by writing something of consequence.
September 11, 2005, The New York Times.
-Single quotation marks around dialogue & titles, with double q.m.’s inside–reversal of normal order.
-Such capitalized common nouns and verb phrases as Substance, Disease, Come In, Inner Infant, etc.
-Neologisms, catachreses, solecisms, and non-standard syntax in sectons concerning the characters Minty, Marathe, Antitoi, Krause, Pemulis, Steeply, Lezn, Orin Incandenza, Mario Incandenza, Fortier, Foltz, J.O. Incandenza Sr., Schtitt, Gompert.
-Multiple conjuctions at the start of independent clauses.
-Commas before prepositions at the end of sentences.
-Hyphens to form compound nouns.
-Sentence-fragments following exceptionally long sentences.
-Inconsistent paragraphing, with some extremely long paragraphs.”
Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, D.T. Max, Granta Books, 2012.
“I had glimpsed Rasputin once before. In a train. He must have been on his way east, to visit his home village in Siberia. He was in a first class compartment. With his entourage: a little man who was something like a secretary to him, a woman of a certain age with her daughter, and Madame Vyrubova, a lady-in-waiting to the Tsarita.
It was very hot and the compartment doors were wide open. Rasputin was presiding over tea–with a tin teapot, dried bread rings, and lumps of sugar on the side. He was wearing a pink calico smock over his trousers, wiping his forehead and neck with an embroidered towel and talking rather peevishly, with a broad Siberian accent.
‘Dearie! Go and fetch us some more hot water! Hot water, I said, go and get us some. The tea’s right stewed but they didn’t even give us any hot water. And where is the strainer? Annushka, where’ve you gone and hidden the strainer? Annushka! The strainer– where is it? Oh, what a muddler you are!'”
Rasputin and Other Ironies, Teffi, translated by Anne Marie Jackson, Pushkin Press, 2016.