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Christian

A Week Ago, I Met Junot Diaz

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Last Friday, I met an author whose work I first encountered more than a decade ago.

When I was single and still fancied myself a regular reader, I tried to keep up with the latest literary sensations. The name Junot Diaz was one I encountered in, of all places, the pages of the Quality Paperback Bookclub

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I don't plan to link to many stories related to Diaz's latest book, but I came across this interview, which is littered with profanity but has some movie- and literature-related commentary that may be of interest to A&Fers. An excerpt:

But there was a bunch of nerdy stuff I had to go back into. I had to actually watch some of the movies that the narrator and the protagonist were obsessed with, so I found myself watching a lot of crazy movies.

What were some of the movies?

Oh man, things like Zardoz, which is like one of John Boorman's early films. I found myself watching Virus, which is this really crazy American-Japanese production. You know, I found myself reading The Lord of the Rings three times back-to-back. I would finish it and start it again and finish it and start it again. It's so I would have it f--king locked in my head in the way the narrator and protagonist would have it locked in their heads, you know? There's a lot of crazy stuff. I went back and had to read all this H.P. Lovecraft and all the E.E. "Doc" Smith Lensman books. I found myself really just doing a lot of f--king nerdy reading. Again I can't stress how easy the history stuff was. I have a good memory for historical marginalia.

It's interesting, though, a lot of the historical research, especially the mythologies involved in the story, just goes hand-in-hand with the nerdy stuff.

Fanboys will go out of their way, they'll bend over backwards to swear to God that J.R.R. Tolkien has no racist elements, which is hilarious. In some ways I'm equally committed to both cultures, but I'm an artist, so try to avoid being too much of a partisan. And the same thing, you watch a movie like 300, and it's f--king hilarious. If you talk to fanboys that are into this, they swear to God that the fact that all the villains are black is not a problem. And yet those of us who exist in the real see how problematic that is, so in some ways it's not as if I have a sense that one side or the other is superior. I think each of them have an extremely strong blind spot and that neither proved entirely satisfactory to me as an author or to me as a human being. I feel like I had to lay down ten or eleven or twelve different sheets of acetate for the little hole in my eye; the blind spot became less and less and less.

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I promised not to link to every story about this guy, but when you open up your morning paper and stare at a major feature on the writer, you're under some sort of obligation, right?

Read all about Diaz's "inner nerd."

Edited by Christian

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Have you read his new book yet? I keep seeing rave reviews for it-- as well as his earlier short story collection.

What a great story about meeting him. Thanks for sharing it!

Peter

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PETER WALLACE

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Work: http://Day1.org

Book: http://www.churchpublishing.org/index.cfm?...p;ProductID=746

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Myspace: http://myspace.com/petermwallace

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Last Friday, I met an author whose work I first encountered more than a decade ago.

When I was single and still fancied myself a regular reader, I tried to keep up with the latest literary sensations. The name Junot Diaz was one I encountered in, of all places, the pages of the Quality Paperback Bookclub's monthly mailing.

The promotion worked. I bought Diaz's short-story collection, Drown, and soon had a coworker tell me that Diaz's stories had appeared in the New Yorker, and that Drown collected some or all of those works. Diaz's star was on the rise, and reading Drown, it was easy to see why. These days, I can't remember the details of the stories, but I remember their impact. This guy was great, and he gave me a perspective

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Have you read his new book yet? I keep seeing rave reviews for it-- as well as his earlier short story collection.

It's waiting for me at the library. I'll pick it up tomorrow, and I plan to dive right in.

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Good heavens, People! No one has read this book yet?

I checked out the audio. Came across it at a new library and was delighted to discover that the audio of Diaz's short story collection, Drown, is also on the Oscar Wao audiobook. I hadn't planned to listen to Wao again -- I was going to go straight to Drown -- but I stuck in Disc 1 and, after adjusting to the reader, got hooked again.

If anyone has read it and wants to discuss it, I'm game.

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Dan Kois' story, "Why Do Writers Abandon Novels?" in the New York Times Sunday Book Review sheds some light on what Diaz was up to during those years between Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Junot Diaz:

Junot Díaz wrote “a whole lot” of “Dark America,” a science-fiction novel about mutants, before abandoning it 10 years ago because, he said, “it was hopelessly stupid and convoluted.”

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Thanks for that link, Christian. A chapter of my Master's thesis is about Michael Chabon's first collection of stories. I interviewed him at the time (late'97, early-98), which was a full decade after The Mysteries of Pittsburgh had made him a sensation and two or three years after he'd published Wonder Boys. In the interview he made veiled references to a big sprawling project he was hoping to finish soon (Kavalier & Clay), but he also told me a bit about the book he'd had to abandon after years and years of work. In fact, he wrote Wonder Boys as a distraction from this other book, which was slowly breaking his spirit as a writer. I'm fascinated by stories like that and have a deep sympathy for people in that position (maybe because I abandoned a dissertation after a similar amount of frustrating work).

Edited by Darren H

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Don't forget. Diaz's third book, This Is How You Lose Her, is released on the 11th next month.

From Vulture -

... Yunior, which is what friends and family call Díaz, is also the name he’s given to the very Díaz-like lead character in both Drown and This Is How You Lose Her. A Dominican immigrant with an absent father and a fluency in both Spanglish and nerdspeak, he also has some serious issues with what Díaz casually calls “masculinist subjectivities.” The contract Díaz signed here seventeen years ago called for Drown and then a second book, about “the rise and fall of a young cheater.” Its working title, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” now belongs to the new book’s propulsive closing piece. Along with two other stories, it employs the second-person present: “You,” Yunior, a writer teaching in Cambridge, destroy a long-term relationship, cycle rapidly through physical transformations (weight gain, weight loss, yoga, back problems), and finally determine to turn all that pain into a manuscript.

... Díaz still keeps a place in Harlem but lives about half the time in Cambridge, teaching courses at MIT on everything from “bildungsromans of color” to media studies and postapocalyptic fiction. (He calls his facility with theory his “best-kept secret.”) Those ideas are refracted through the ids of Díaz’s lost-boy characters, as are the earth-shattering events—dictatorship, colonialism, cancer—that fill out his fiction. It’s literature masquerading as autobiography, a technique Díaz attributes to an unlikely influence, Philip Roth. “There is a game he played with readers that is wondrous, man”—those hall-of-mirror characters, sometimes called Philip Roth, who blur the line between writer and narrator ...

Edited by Persiflage

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Don't forget. Diaz's third book, This Is How You Lose Her, is released on the 11th next month.

From Vulture -

... Yunior, which is what friends and family call Díaz, is also the name he’s given to the very Díaz-like lead character in both Drown and This Is How You Lose Her. A Dominican immigrant with an absent father and a fluency in both Spanglish and nerdspeak, he also has some serious issues with what Díaz casually calls “masculinist subjectivities.” The contract Díaz signed here seventeen years ago called for Drown and then a second book, about “the rise and fall of a young cheater.” Its working title, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” now belongs to the new book’s propulsive closing piece. Along with two other stories, it employs the second-person present: “You,” Yunior, a writer teaching in Cambridge, destroy a long-term relationship, cycle rapidly through physical transformations (weight gain, weight loss, yoga, back problems), and finally determine to turn all that pain into a manuscript.

... Díaz still keeps a place in Harlem but lives about half the time in Cambridge, teaching courses at MIT on everything from “bildungsromans of color” to media studies and postapocalyptic fiction. (He calls his facility with theory his “best-kept secret.”) Those ideas are refracted through the ids of Díaz’s lost-boy characters, as are the earth-shattering events—dictatorship, colonialism, cancer—that fill out his fiction. It’s literature masquerading as autobiography, a technique Díaz attributes to an unlikely influence, Philip Roth. “There is a game he played with readers that is wondrous, man”—those hall-of-mirror characters, sometimes called Philip Roth, who blur the line between writer and narrator ...

Thanks for this. I've been reading the Diaz stories in the New Yorker, and have been talking with a friend who's read only "Brief Wondrous Life...," noting how similar the stories in tone to both Drown and Wondrous Life. Now I see that the connection to Drown is deliberate, although as I told my friend, I think Diaz has done this sort of thing -- this style of writing -- for too long. I realize many people are still getting used to Diaz's "voice," but to me the latest batch of stories has a more-of-the-same quality. It's all very well written, but it's so raw and so sexual and so ... repetitive when compared against his other work, that I'm not planning on purchasing the book, even though I've read (and mostly enjoyed) the New Yorker installments.

Also, I recently received this, from GoodReads:

subject: Ask Junot Díaz a Question message: Hi Christian,

We are interviewing author Junot Díaz for the Goodreads monthly newsletter. I am asking his readers to submit questions about his upcoming book, This Is How You Lose Her, his past work, and anything you're curious about in general. If you send me a question, we may be able to include it!

* You received this message because you gave 5 stars to a book by Junot Díaz. To participate, please respond to this message with your question by Thursday, August 9.

* Look for the interview in September in the Goodreads Newsletter and online:

http://www.goodreads.com/voice

Cheers,

Jessica Donaghy

Goodreads Features Editor

By the time I got around to sending in my question, I had missed the deadline! But I sent it anyway. Here's what I asked:

I'm submitting late, in hopes you might still be able to use my question. Here it is.

Mr. Diaz: I've loved your earlier work but have had a hard time with the explicit language, particularly the sexual stuff, which is pervasive.

Have you ever challenged yourself to write a story without characters expressiving lascivious male-libido-driven thoughts? You've captured that perspective quite well, as has been proven time and again. But have you considered doing something without any of that sort of thing?

I can imagine Diaz rolling his eyes at the question, but it's an honest question. It's not just the content of the stories, but the feeling that I'm reading more of the same that bugs me. Even if "more of the same" is pretty dang great.

Edited by Christian

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I saw the book at the bookstore the other day. Hadn't realized how short it is. I think I read all of the stories in the New Yorker, although I'm not positive.

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More still. Junot Diaz Hates Writing Short Stories.

What follows is a condensed version of our conversation, edited lightly for clarity and with all of Díaz’s frequent swearwords removed.

Yeah, that sounds like Diaz. It sounds like Yunior, the character from so many of his stories.

If it sounds like I've been going back and forth on Diaz lately, that's because I have been. Part of me enjoys his stories, enjoys Yunior, even identifies with him to some extent. I'd just like to see Diaz go in a different direction, at least for one book.

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Diaz receives the MacArthur award.

Junot Díaz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and “This Is How You Lose Her,” has joined literary heavyweights like Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace in winning the MacArthur Foundation’s Genius Grant, also known as the MacArthur Fellowship.

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TheMillions has an interview with Diaz:

TM: A number of high-brow literary writers have dipped into science fiction: Colson Whitehead, Kazuo Ishiguro, and even, arguably, Philip Roth in his alternate history The Plot Against America. Do you see any mistakes these writers have made that you fear repeating [in his much-talked-about-but-currently-unwritten s.f. novel]?

JD: I guess my interest in the genre is actually in the genre. I don’t want to write literary fiction’s take on genre. I actually like the genre. I think that nobody who reads science fiction, no one who reads apocalyptic literature or reads alternate earth literature is confusing Philip Roth’s book for one of the classic texts in the genre. So I do think that there’s stories that are so squarely within the genre that there’s no possibility that they can be slipstreamed, that there’s no possibility for anyone to say, “Oh well this might be fantasy but it’s fantasy for the high brow set,” like someone might say about Lev Grossman’s wonderful novel, The Magicians. “It’s fantasy, but it’s not that kind of fantasy.” And I guess I’m just interested in that kind of fantasy.

There's also lots of stuff about Yunior.

Edited by NBooth

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Went to the library and saw "This is How You Lose Her" on the new release shelf and figured, what the heck. I started Brief Wondrous Life a few years ago and it just wasn't the right time for that book then so I didn't get far, but I've been reading This is How... for less than 24 hours and I'm almost finished with it (it's a short book, but still). It's a heartbreaker of a book and just terrific.

I'm not particularly crazy for how much sex stuff he throws in there, but I absolutely love Diaz's sentences. He writes in this clear prose that's peppered with Spanish words and geek cultural references and slang and profanity, but it's just beautiful. Not Jane Austen beautiful, but more like street talk in "The Wire" beautiful. There's a flow and a rhythm to his prose that just has me spellbound right now. I guess this is just the moment where I'm understanding all the fuss about Junot Diaz. I can still imagine lots of folks not liking his style but I'm really digging it right now.

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I'm not particularly crazy for how much sex stuff he throws in there, but I absolutely love Diaz's sentences. He writes in this clear prose that's peppered with Spanish words and geek cultural references and slang and profanity, but it's just beautiful. Not Jane Austen beautiful, but more like street talk in "The Wire" beautiful. There's a flow and a rhythm to his prose that just has me spellbound right now. I guess this is just the moment where I'm understanding all the fuss about Junot Diaz. I can still imagine lots of folks not liking his style but I'm really digging it right now.

Nailed it.

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Bill Moyers interviews Díaz

EDIT: I posted the link before I watched the video. Now I've watched it and I'm impressed. Díaz has a lot of interesting things to say on politics and American culture, and he says them very well.

EDIT EDIT: About 45 m in, Díaz leaves politics and moves to literature (apparently the first book he checked out from a library was The Sign of Four--which, I approve)--and particularly Moby-Dick.

Edited by NBooth

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I met Diaz again last night after he spoke as part of the "All Arlington Reads" program, which had selected Diaz's Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as a community read.

Diaz was fiery at times during his talk (a link should be posted sometime in the next day or two). I don't always agree with Diaz on political/social issues, but I admire his passion and especially his views on "work" vs. "art." When the talk is posted, I'll point to his comments on that subject.

I wasn't supposed to be able to see Diaz's talk last night -- family obligations -- but when plans changed, Sarah gave me the green light to go. "Just don't spend a lot of money," she said. She was referring to dinner, which I hadn't packed. I spent less than $5 on a McDonald's salad.

As Diaz wound down his talk, which I was watching from the lobby (I arrived late, couldn't get a seat), I told myself, "Don't buy the book. Sarah will be pissed if you do!" But as the crowd flowed out of the auditorium, I moved toward the madness, into the auditorium, and got in line. "I won't buy the book, just say 'hi,'," I told myself. But then a woman came down the long line waving paperback copies of Wao, saying she was "about to leave" and offering a last opportunity to purchase a book to have Diaz sign.

I bit.

Then I stood in line, thinking of how my wife would react. When I finally got to the front of the line and approached the author, I briefly reminded him of meeting him earlier, not being able to buy the book at that time, and said I couldn't let that happen again but was worried about my how my wife would react.

So he asked my name, then signed the book, "For Christian, who is kind and deserves compassion."

Sarah rolled her eyes when I told her I'd bought the book, but she smiled when she saw Diaz's note.

Then she stared daggers at me and said, "Don't do that again." wink.png

Edited by Christian

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is named the best novel of the 21st C.

 

The poll, of “several dozen” US critics, was carried out by BBC Culture, the arts section of the international BBC site.

[snip]

Critics from publications including the New York TimesTimeNewsday, Kirkus Reviews and more picked a total of 156 novels, reported the Guardian.

Second in the list was Edward P Jones’ The Known World, released by HarperCollins’ Amistad Press in 2003, with Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate) coming in third.

 

Link to the original article.

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