Ballad of a Thin Man: David Denby Doesn’t Get It

The best books start here.

Category: Inspiration

DenbyJonesAt the New Yorker, tetchy old fogey and mediocre former film critic David Denby has published a lament about how few teens are reading books these days. He has one great overheard line—a student saying “Books smell like old people”; and a few careful caveats (“It’s very likely that teen-agers, attached to screens of one sort or another, read more words than they ever have in the past”); but mostly he is describing a decline of western civilization via smartphone. “If teachers can make books important to kids … those kids may turn off the screens,” he wraps up, making clear his real issue here: a favored primacy of one form of technology (ink on paper) over another (e-ink or pixels on screens).… [more]

I read a lot of queries this week–about one hundred. I sent a lot of rejections this week–about ninety-something (I requested four manuscripts).

Getting rejections is never easy (remember: I get them, too!). Sending rejections isn’t easy, either. But when I pass on your project and tell you to keep writing, I mean it. The passage below explains why. So even if you think I’m a jerk with no taste for passing on your project, you should listen to Ira Glass, because he’s a really smart guy.

Keep writing.

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[Dear All— Reposting this note from last December because, well, it says it all. Why remake the wheel? Enjoy your holidays and we’ll see you back here in January. —MS & CR & DC & TM]

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I am a huge fan of good design, and also a great fan of pithy expression. So it probably makes sense that Stefan Sagmeister would be a hero of mine. He has a firm in New York that has designed packaging for many things you’ve likely seen but not known came from his team, and he is also a creator of winningly temporary public art installations. For a few years now, he’s been orchestrating a series of strange and stunning artworks that deliver aphoristic bits of wisdom (such as “Assuming is stifling,” or “Helping other people helps me,” … [more]

BannedBooksAs many of you clever writers out there already know, it’s ALA’s Banned Books Week, a yearly celebration in support of reading in general and the First Amendment.

As you also probably know, the four of us here at Upstart Crow are huge readers and have been heavily influenced by a great number of titles on the banned list over the years. And then I discovered, by way of a lovely blog post by my client Josephine Cameron about her struggles with banned books as a child, that young adult writer Jo Knowles has started a fun meme on her blog as a way of celebrating Banned Books Week.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Go find your favorite banned book. 
  2. Take a picture of yourself with said book.
  3. Give that book some love by
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As we zoom into another week, I thought it might be fun to start out with a light post, a little game of sorts, to see what you’re reading these days.

old-stack-of-books

As a devoted lover of books, it’s not unusual for me to have many books and magazines stacked haphazardly on my bedside table, some of which I’m in the process of reading, some of which I’m hoping I’ll be in the mood to read soon, and some I’ve already read (multiple times) and love so much that I just can’t stand to put them back on the bookshelf just yet.

The books on my bedside stand are a reflection of my mood, of inspiration, and my goals. Books are my greatest pleasure, my stolen moments, and my meditation. I simply cannot fall asleep without … [more]

As we zoom into another week, I thought it might be fun to start out with a light post, a little game of sorts, to see what you’re reading these days.

old-stack-of-books

As a devoted lover of books, it’s not unusual for me to have many books and magazines stacked haphazardly on my bedside table, some of which I’m in the process of reading, some of which I’m hoping I’ll be in the mood to read soon, and some I’ve already read (multiple times) and love so much that I just can’t stand to put them back on the bookshelf just yet.

The books on my bedside stand are a reflection of my mood, of inspiration, and my goals. Books are my greatest pleasure, my stolen moments, and my meditation. I simply cannot fall asleep without … [more]

Kurt Cyrus‘s fabulous Big Rig Bugs was published this past spring. It’s a near-perfect model of how to do a lot with a little: In seventy-six words, it tells the story of a bunch of bugs clearing away some litter from a construction site. And, because that’s not near enough, it also a slew of great parallels between how some construction devices mimic what bugs do in the natural world. Kurt is a poet and an artist, and he excels in both realms here—this book is a crackerjack read-aloud that should please the youngest fans of big rigs or bugs.

But that’s not what this post is about. No, this post is merely to present this nifty book trailer Kurt made for the picture book, just as a side project while he finishes up … [more]

7-habits-of-highly-effective-people-habit-oneSeptember—ah, September! The hot haze of summer has blown away, and along with it our laid-back summer ways. The publishing industry, which has been snoozing away these last few weeks, is back from its vacation, and editors are at their desks and ever-anxious to discover that One. Perfect. Novel.

There’s something so energizing about back to school time. It always makes me think of getting organized, setting new goals, and accomplishing them. And is there a better time than back-to-school to refresh your commitment to your craft, your creativity, and your goals as a writer? I think not.

With that in mind, I’ve cobbled together a list of advice about the act of writing. You’ve heard some of it before, no doubt, but if you try doing just one of the things on this list,  … [more]

Well, Labor Day is past and so we here at the Crow hope you all are settling down to some serious work. We certainly are.

mametAmong the many helps we’ve found during our off time is this memo from the mighty David Mamet—the profane, too-often-too-thinky, shamelessly wordy (and so close to my heart) playwright, director, and essayist. His sage advice keeps us focused, our eyes on the prize and our noses to the grindstone and our shoulders to every cliché within shouting distance.

On the off chance his admonitions might help you, you can find them here. This is a note he sent to the writers of the now-defunct television show The Unit, which, despite its unfortunate name, has at least given us this kick in the ass.

Okay, summer’s over! Now put … [more]

marginaliaThere are two sorts of people in the world: Those who write in and mark up books; and those who view those of us who do write in books as sacrilegious pigs.

Okay, okay—maybe there are a few other sorts of people. (I’ve never been a fan of that whole “There are two kinds of people” routine, except where it is inarguable: women/men; living/dead; rational people/fans of Glenn Beck.)

Myself, I’ve gone from treating every book as a sancrosanct object (as a boy) to routinely scribbling in books (as an adult). Some I so love that I want to puzzle out how they work, and I buy multiple copies and mark them up (Moore, Munro, Cheever, Konigsburg, others). Some books I find so maddening that I have to immediately vent my hooting disdain (among them … [more]