Monday, January 25, 2010

Book: The Writing Class, by Jincy Willett (2008)

Amy Gallup is a middle-aged loner who hates being alone, a once-promising novelist who now teaches adult extension creative writing courses. She’s been at it for so long she can instantly size up each new group during the first session, knowing at once which students are wasting their time and hers. Then someone in the class begins sending odd notes. Biting parodies, obscene drawings, critiques that cut too close to the bone. The notes turn into pranks, then the pranks become deadly. And nobody really wants to the read the surgeon’s medical thriller.

Jincy Willett’s darkly funny novel is ruthless when it comes to the teaching of fiction. The samples of each student’s work are priceless. But every barb contains useful writing advice. The book is also an affectionate portrait of a prickly character in Amy, and a sly treatise about what motives people to read, to write, to connect. I missed this book when it was published initially. Thanks to my friend Chad Jones for the recommendation.

Miscellaneous: Elsewhere

What I Learned on Twitter. I’ve spoken before about The Three Investigators books, which got me hooked on crime fiction as a tyke. Turns out the boys are so popular in Germany that there’s a movie. Here’s the trailer.

I’d Link If I Could. The article on the cryonics movement in the January 25 issue of the New Yorker (not online unless you’re a subscriber) is fascinating reading. Jill Lepore analyzes several of the Amazing Stories yarns that inspired Robert Ettinger to start freezing people. Ettinger is the kind of crackpot utopian visionary – briefly famous in the 1960s and 70s, interviewed by Johnny Carson, David Frost and others – that we don’t see enough of any more. A taste of Lepore’s article:

In ‘Man Into Superman,’ Ettinger throws around a lot of Nietzsche and George Bernard Shaw, but shows more evidence of having whiled away the hours reading Penthouse, which began publication in 1965. The world of tomorrow will be unimaginably better than the world of today. How? There will be transsex and supersex! Scientists will invent “a sexual superwoman ... with cleverly designed orifices of various kinds, something like a wriggly Swiss cheese, but shapelier and more fragrant.” Animals will be bred as sex slaves; even incest might be allowed. Also, scientists will likely equip men with wings, built-in biological weapons, body armor made of hair, and “telescoping, fully adjustable” sexual organs. (Hold on. That last one. Doesn’t the existing model already come with that?)