Mike and Kate Talk Books Again
Another installment of the fiction editor and assistant editor talking about books, whether social media changes some of the pleasures of reading, emergency yoga, and what, in Rick Moody's opinion, is the only true experimental book of the last thousand years.
Michael Sarinsky - 5:08 PM
Kate Doyle - 5:08 PM
Looks like we still know each other
Michael Sarinsky - 5:09 PM
That must be such a relief for our audience, that we haven't fallen out of touch. I know we left a real cliffhanger re: that in our last chat
Kate Doyle - 5:09 PM
We were going to establish where we're writing from
Where are you, Mike?
Michael Sarinsky - 5:09 PM
Yes, where are you?
Kate Doyle - 5:10 PM
He asked himself
Michael Sarinsky - 5:10 PM
Ok fine, I'll go first. I'm facing my kitchen, listening to the "Hit List" channel on my tv
Kate Doyle - 5:11 PM
I'm at the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, thank you for asking
The temperature is unbearable
Michael Sarinsky - 5:12 PM
How is it there today? Thursdays are my days off from the House
Kate Doyle - 5:13 PM
I answered your question before you even asked it
Michael Sarinsky - 5:13 PM
We need to stop sending messages at the exact same time. We're making me look like an idiot
I can't even say that with a straight face, sorry. Like I need your help making me "look" like an idiot. Please.
Kate Doyle - 5:14 PM
Michael Sarinsky - 5:14 PM
Let's talk about books
Kate Doyle - 5:14 PM
Okay, I'll ask first
I started to ask you recently about fiction
I feel so inarticulate today
I'm trying to find the right words
About the little window on a life you get when you read a book
Do you think the internet, and facebook, and all that stuff, has made this little thrill of reading a little less exciting? Or at least changed what we're after when we write and read?
Michael Sarinsky - 5:24 PM
There's a line in The Golden Notebook, which we read for class yesterday, that says: "we read novels for information about areas of life we don't know," and I think your point, which makes some intuitive sense, is that there's just less we don't know now, right?
Kate Doyle - 5:25 PM
About people's lives, particularly
Michael Sarinsky - 5:27 PM
The problem is I don't really agree with the quote. We can read for so many other pleasures. Great language. The successful articulation of things we feel but can't say. Fantasy. That Doris Lessing quote makes fiction sound journalistic, but I usually read to learn about the human condition, which I don't think Facebook is opening any doors into.
Kate Doyle - 5:28 PM
Coincidentally, [OnSqu Managing Editor] Alisa is in the room with me, and just said to someone else "Michael Sarinsky says nothing is interesting"
She's referring to AWP, but I didn't know that
Michael Sarinsky - 5:29 PM
Yes, everyone come to the NYU table at AWP, where I will be uninterested in your thoughts. We're also hosting a reception that Friday night
Kate Doyle - 5:30 PM
You're right that we read for other things, but I don't think that makes Lessing's quote less true. We do read for the areas of life we don't know. We just don't only read for that.
Michael Sarinsky - 5:30 PM
That's surely fair
Kate Doyle - 5:31 PM
If facebook was a platform for everyone to use language in great inventive ways, annoyingly much (?), that might similarly take away from fiction's appeal, a little
Michael Sarinsky - 5:32 PM
I guess I think the internet is kinda anti-novelistic in that it trades in basically unfiltered minutia. The notion that your every thought, pictures of your dinner, are ripe for consumption, has to be an awful way to conceive of a novel. So I don't see Facebook competing for space with literature. But of course that doesn't answer your question
Kate Doyle - 5:32 PM
Right, I don't mean will it actually replace the novel
It's something about the quotidian, right? Which facebook trades in, and so does writing (often). I'm remembering this feeling, as a child, reading Little House on the Prairie, and being so delighted to be swept up in the details of an unfamiliar daily life.
I don't get quite the same thrill anymore
Michael Sarinsky - 5:38 PM
Part of the irony here is that the internet seems more often to sweep you up in a familiar daily life, rather than an unfamiliar one. Rarely is anyone posting something so different, so out there, as to actually surprise you
Do you think losing that feeling is just a function of, like, aging? Is that the non-judgy term for growing up?
Kate Doyle - 5:39 PM
Right, I was just about to say that.
About growing up.
My adolescence aligns too neatly with the advent of facebook to be a good example. But I do think maybe we take less joy in ...
I don't know, I just wonder if we take something for granted that we didn't used to
About the privilege of intimacy with someone's life.
Michael Sarinsky - 5:44 PM
That feels so true, yes. I just worry that it's a false intimacy. You curate your Facebook in opposition to how a good novel should feel totally exposing, like the main character wouldn't want you to read it.
Kate Doyle - 5:44 PM
It's certainly false
On the whole
But then, there is something there that isn't false, too. There is something we take pleasure in there, that's real -- I don't know, it's occasionally sort of sweet or compelling to see someone's breakfast on facebook, if you have some curiosity about that person, whether that curiosity comes from liking them or not liking them or knowing them or not knowing them.
Michael Sarinsky - 5:47 PM
Yeah, I don't know. "Nothing is interesting" - me.
Kate Doyle - 5:47 PM
And pre-internet, there was no way you'd ever see that breakfast.
And so you might be able to write about someone making breakfast? But now maybe you can't?
Though that's not a nuanced way of getting at it.
Joyce Carol Oates, in workshop last semester, always surprised me with how much she would talk about "material"
Here in the MFA we mostly talk about how a story is told, how it is constructed, how it's working, right?
But she would say "What fascinating material for a story" which is somewhere close to saying this story is giving me access to something, a world, a life, and I value that in itself
That feels like a rare thing to hear... But that might also just be grad school.
Do you think it's always true that in a good novel, the main character wouldn't want you to read it?
Michael Sarinsky - 5:53 PM
Well, I wonder though if every book opens you up to a new world, sort of by definition. The way you were saying that someone's breakfast is new information. The "world" of a book should probably be the narrator's interior, rather than the setting or the plot. If that makes any sense. And then I don't know how much weight to accord JCO's point. I think I basically believe that anything can be written well. Maybe that's the MFA talking.
Kate Doyle - 5:53 PM
Ah! But you just said "The notion that your every thought, pictures of your dinner, are ripe for consumption, has to be an awful way to conceive of a novel."
Which I was preparing to quarrel with
Michael Sarinsky - 5:54 PM
Yes, I think for a book to be really good, it has to trade in the embarrassing, the difficult to talk about. I suppose the character could be ok with you hearing it, but shamelessness would have to be a character trait.
Just, you know, so we can have two different conversations at once.
Kate Doyle - 5:54 PM
Yeah we're all over the place
We'll publish this formatted as a word-web, choose-your-own-adventure
Michael Sarinsky - 5:56 PM
Yeah, click on any word for Kate and Mike's full unedited digression on that topic
Let me respond to your last point? I think it's a good one.
Kate Doyle - 5:56 PM
Go for it.
My point that I was going to argue with you? One of my favorite points.
Michael Sarinsky - 6:02 PM
Sorry, [Web & PR Editor] Laura called
I think no doubt your breakfast could make for a good book if it's written well. I just haven't seen a livestream of thoughts about someone's day that's interesting enough to really keep reading. It's not quite the subject matter, so much as the form? The book has to be somehow intentional, has to be about something. Mere access can't be enough, can it?
Kate Doyle - 6:05 PM
Have you just challenged me to write a facebook account?
If I did with intention, could I make it literary?
Michael Sarinsky - 6:08 PM
Like a story structured as a Facebook newsfeed? Yes, do it. But the fact that you have to write it, rather than just pull it from the zillions of Facebook accounts that already exist, kinda proves that Facebook isn't doing a lot of literary work. Not as in writing good books - as in even affecting the literary status quo. Any more than letters did, or the telephone.
Kate Doyle - 6:09 PM
No, I actually meant to start a facebook account and write in it/with it.
Michael Sarinsky - 6:09 PM
Sure, go for it
Rick Moody said in class yesterday that the only truly experimental book of the last thousand years is Selected Tweets by Tao Lin and Mira Gonzalez, so, you know.
Kate Doyle - 6:10 PM
But everything is affecting the literary status quo, no?
I can't believe that the internet, changing everything that it has, has left reading alone
Michael Sarinsky - 6:14 PM
But like, what has the internet done that can't be seen in fiction from a hundred years ago? Fiction for people with short attention spans, that changes voices, deals in minutia, and knows seemingly everything - that's not new. I'm honestly asking, because you have to basically be right but I don't know how.
Kate Doyle - 6:15 PM
Again, coincidentally, everyone in this room is talking about facebook
"I'm hiding everyone I don't care about."
"Oh really? I want to know everyone's business"
"The downside is, now that I've hidden everyone I don't like, facebook is really interesting all the time."
Michael Sarinsky - 6:16 PM
This is truly the seventh circle
Kate Doyle - 6:16 PM
I can't prove it to you, perhaps
I more mean, the internet has changed us so it has to have changed writing and reading
Much as any event or development in history has to have done
And then we all get to theorize about how
Michael Sarinsky - 6:17 PM
Yeah, that always feels tautological. Doesn't "the internet has changed us so it has to have changed how much I love my mother" have the same logical integrity?
Kate Doyle - 6:18 PM
Not how much, but how.
It might have. It's interesting to think about. It's weird, because I was just writing to you an example involving texting one's parents.
"I just find myself wondering if I still lived in a world where I couldn't text my parents and immediately hear what they're doing, would I spend more imaginative energy on that? Wouldn't that change how I write, the things that concern me? Just an example."
I'm saying everything affects everything. But you had other questions for us. I didn't mean to monopolize this thing.
Michael Sarinsky - 6:21 PM
Here's a question I'd written down last time. Maybe it has a quicker response. What book are you most embarrassed to have not yet read?
Kate Doyle - 6:22 PM
Unexpectedly, I have to go. Can I think on this and write back to you in a bit?
Michael Sarinsky - 6:23 PM
I will allow that
Kate Doyle - 9:47 AM
THE NEXT MORNING
I'm embarrassed that I only read half of Anna Karenina
Recently in office hours I was lightly shamed for not having read Grace Paley
Michael Sarinsky - 9:53 AM
Considering the mode I like to affiliate myself with, I'm ashamed never to've read Ulysses. But then there's also, like, I've never picked up Toni Morrison, which seems like high literary treason
Michael Sarinsky - 2:22 PM
I just found out that you cut short our chat last night because you were invited to an emergency yoga session, and so you've left me no choice but to say: you're fired.
Nico belongs to Angelo Nikolopoulos, program administrator at the NYU Creative Writing Program.