As I near completion of the novel I’ve been working on, I’ve been thinking about endings (and spending a lot more time working on this website, clearly a sign I’m desperate for distraction and reluctant to put the adjective “final” on my manuscript.) In this week’s edition of Your Weekend Reads, I start with an essay on completing the work you start:
In Northwest Review, Lauren Alwan offers thoughts on the difficulty of finishing a piece of writing. Contemplating her own work style, she reminds us of Colm Tóibín’s advice to “finish what you start,” examines George Eliot’s process for writing Middlemarch, and Zadie Smith’s ecstasy upon completing a book. Getting to the end, Alwan has come to realize, requires an acceptance of doubt and uncertainty:
I didn’t understand that being convinced you’re an utter flop is an essential step of the creative process.
In a fascinating feature in the New York Times Magazine, Gideon Lewis-Kraus profiles the 34-year-old sociologist Alice Goffman, who’s embroiled in a controversy that questions the basic premises of her field. Her book On the Run, a first-person account of gangs and poverty in West Philadelphia, has stirred debate: when does a field researcher get too close to her subject? Does quality writing and a focus on lurid details detract from objectivity? Can a wealthy young white woman truly speak for the experience of black men living on the margins? This piece asks more questions than it answers.
The removal of the Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha River in Washington state was the largest dam removal project in US history. In a blog post full of lovely details, Brendan McGarry writes about how the ecosystem of the of the Elwha is returning to normal, and sometimes in surprising ways:
It was remarkable how much it had changed. Here was the beginnings of an estuary, an estuary everyone expected but not nearly so soon. Even I was able to see a significant change based on my briefest of impressions; this was not change brought merely by storms and tides. Here was a new beach, according to the reports, 80-100 acres not there before, built of silt trapped behind the dams.
. . . No fires should beunattended. Especially when wind. Eachreceives a free swiss army knife.The first few tongues are clearlypreparatory. The impressionmade by yours I carry to my grave. It isjust so sad so creepy so beautiful.Bless it. We have so little timeto learn, so much. . .
And finally, this is a cool video from Evan Puschak (AKA The Nerdwriter) about how a whole new field of Internet art is emerging. These artists use algorithms and social media in ways that help to jolt our thinking into new realms, which is what art should always do: surprise us with something we knew, but never knew we knew…
Top photo by Laura von Schnarendorf, courtesy New York Public Library.