Monday, August 11, 2014

TCR Great Essays (#2): "How I Lost My Pen-Pal; or, Toward a Luddite Manifesto" by John Crutchfield

Writer and theater artist John Crutchfield
"In the age of e-mail and text-messaging, of Twitter and Facebook and their spin-offs, and of whatever has already come next that I don’t yet know about, hand-written letters have become a bit like dropping in on your neighbors unannounced: the idea sounds wholesome and warm and humane in a Leave It To Beaver kind of way, but the reality freaks people out," writes John Crutchfield in "How I Lost My Pen-Pal: or, Toward a Luddite Manifesto."

In this superb essay, Crutchfield recalls how his correspondence with a young woman he met at a theater festival abruptly ended after he shifted his side of the exchanges from e-mail to paper and pen. He uses this experience as a starting point from which he examines, with great insight and a generous amount of wit, the vast differences between communicating electronically and sending a letter.

"[I]f scary old Marshall McLuhan is right,and the medium really is the message, then writing someone a letter, regardless of its content, carries the meta-communicative meaning of: 'I am a real person, and you are a real person to me.' An email or text-message, by contrast, because of its digital and hence abstract form, says only, 'I am language,'" writes Crutchfield.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

TCR Story of the Month for July: "Readers and Writers" by Ryan Boudinot

Ryan Boudinot
The Committee Room proudly offers "Readers and Writers" by Ryan Boudinot as TCR Story of the Month for July. In this superb work of magic realism, a man reading on his daily bus commute strikes up a conversation with another man, a stranger, who happens to be reading the same book. Ensuing events raise fascinating questions of identity and life's purpose.

TCR Story of the Month highlights an outstanding work of short fiction published online within the preceding twelve months.

Ryan Boudinot is Executive Director of Seattle City of Literature. He's the author of the novels Blueprints of the Afterlife and Misconception and the story collection The Littlest Hitler.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Short Fiction Thrives in Magazines That Aren't Literary Journals: Hothouse Magazine, Queen's Quarterly, and Tikkun

"Oral story telling is a deeply human tradition, but it was only with the blitzkrieg of  nineteenth century mass publishing that the written short story became a specific art form. Magazines served up stories as snacks for readers, and did so with relish," wrote Paul Vidich, co-founder of Storyville, in The Millions.

Fiction was an essential part of American general interest magazines such as McClure's, Liberty, Collier's, and the Saturday Evening Post. These popular magazines published fiction (by writers from Mark Twain and Edith Wharton to J.D. Salinger and Ray Bradbury) alongside articles on social issues, politics, fashion, and sports.

Over the course of the twentieth century, the introduction of movies, radio, and, television, led to a decline in magazine reading as a form of entertainment. By the 1960s, general interest magazines had mostly disappeared and short fiction publishing shifted into the domain of small circulation literary journals most of which are based in academia.

Queen's Quarterly, Tikkun, and Hothouse are contemporary publications that break with the prevailing model. None of these publications is primarily a literary journal yet they all consider publishing short fiction an important part of their mission.

Founded in 1893 and based at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Queen's Quarterly, is Canada's oldest scholarly publication. In the 1930s, in order to expand its cultural influence and readership, Queen's Quarterly began publishing fiction. The work of top Canadian writers including Mavis Gallant, W.P. Kinsella, and Carol Shields has appeared in its pages.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

TCR Recommends: "The New Biographical Dictionary of Film" (Sixth Edition) by David Thomson

David Thomson has been writing and publishing books, essays, and reviews on film for nearly half a century. His quirky, highly subjective style can infuriate but he is so deeply knowledgeable that he never fails to hold one's attention.

"Witty, expansive, convincing, honest, more than a little mischievous and, so often, absolutely on the money, Thomson’s voice is one of the most distinctive and enjoyable in film criticism," says Benjamin Secher in The Telegraph.

A sixth edition of Thomson's best known work, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, was recently released by Knopf. In the introduction to the sixth edition, Thomson writes -- "Opinion can be emphatic, self-indulgent, cruel, tasteless -- and at times this book has suffered in those ways. But it can be creative, provocative, the start of a conversation." Thomson has mellowed and says that he no longer believes (as he did when writing the first edition of the Biographical Dictionary, published in 1975) that "not only must one like the right films but one must also like them for the right reasons" but the book remains a "mechanism for alerting you to films you have not seen and may never have heard of."

Dana Stevens of Slate calls The New Biographical Dictionary of Film the "book every movie lover should own" but warns that it is "the most idiosyncratic and deeply personal of a filmgoer’s journals masquerading as a reference work."

Thursday, June 26, 2014

TCR Spotlight on Theater: Most Produced Plays in American Theaters, 2013-2014

Playbill from Venus in Fur,
Goodman Theatre, Chicago, March 2014
(Image/Seth Saith).
The most produced play in America during the now ending 2013-2014 theater season was Venus in Fur by David Ives.

In this two-character black comedy, which runs for an intermission-less ninety minutes, a theater director is having trouble finding the right actress to play the lead in his stage version of Venus in Furs (note the plural), the 1870 novella of female sexual domination and male submission by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (and the origin of the word masochist). When a disheveled and seemingly lame-brained actress shows up late for her audition, she and the director's interaction strangely begins to blend with the themes of Sacher-Masoch's racy novella.

David Ives is a veteran playwright whose work has been produced professionally since the 1970s. His collection of one-act comedies, All in the Timing, was the most produced play of the 1995-1996 season.

film version of Venus in Fur, directed by Roman Polanski, with a screenplay by Ives and Polanski, was released in June 2014.

According to Theater Communications Group, an organization of American regional theaters, Venus in Fur was produced by twenty-two of its member theaters, during the 2013-2014 season.

Reese Madigan and Greta Wohlrabe in Venus
in Fur
, Milwaukee Rep, September 2013
(photo/Milwaukee Rep).
Misha Berson in the Seattle Times, reviewing the Seattle Repertory Theatre production, calls Venus in Fur, "an explosive, erotic and cerebral dialectic" that is "a banquet for actors."

In her review of San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater's production of Venus in Fur, Karen D'Souza of the San Jose Mercury News calls the play "a metatheatrical game of cat and mouse laced with titillation and plot twists" but adds that the "primary flaw in this play within a play is how easily you see into the heart of the matter. Loud echoes of everything from Genet's The Balcony to 50 Shades of Grey ensure that you see where this is going from the first kiss to the last slap."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

TCR Story of the Month for June: "The Fortunate" by C. Dale Young

C. Dale Young
The Committee Room Story of the Month for June is "The Fortunate" by C. Dale Young.

TCR Story of the Month highlights an outstanding work of short fiction published online within the preceding twelve months.

"The Fortunate," an intense, suspenseful story of woman who lives in dread of learning all of a fortune teller's prophecy, was published in Blackbird (Spring 2014).

C. Dale Young practices medicine full-time, edits poetry for New England Review, and teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, he is the author of four books of poetry. He recently completed the collection of stories The Affliction, which includes "The Fortunate." He lives in San Francisco.

"Some are good at digging up the past, and some are gifted with the ability to divine the future. Most people live squarely in the present without even the slightest knowledge that all of time coexists, that each era is simply a thin rind circling the current moment. Rosa Blanco was one of those people who lived in the present, but she was always obsessing about the past. In her small kitchen, she would, sometimes for hours, replay a moment in the past ten, maybe fifteen, times. Each time, she checked and rechecked what she had said, how she had said it, what she had done. But the old woman who lived a few doors away was a different type of woman. She lived in the present, but she lived for the future..."  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

TCR Great Essays (#1): "Nature Walk" by Stephen Dau

Stephen Dau
The Committee Room inaugurates its TCR Great Essays series, which highlights outstanding works of non-fiction recently published online, with "Nature Walk" by Stephen Dau.

"Nature Walk" was published in Ploughshares (Spring 2014).

Dau, who worked in post-war reconstruction in the Balkans, recalls with masterful detail and a wry sense of humor the absurdities and dangers of everyday life in Sarajevo in the aftermath of war.

"'Nature Walk' is an excerpt from a longer work based around a period of time I spent in Bosnia in the 1990s," Dau explained to The Committee Room. "The excerpt consists of several early sections which have been reworked to make one stand-alone essay. In the book, however, these sections act a little differently, more as scene setting pieces than as a self-contained, free standing story. It comes directly from my experience, and as much as anything it is an effort to make sense of what I was doing there, and by extension what America and the West were doing there after the fall of communism and the Yugoslav wars, and by further extension what America and the West tend to do in lots of places around the world."