Anyone who knows me for than five years, whether online or off, can tell you that I used to be absolutely obsessed with becoming a professional writer I even had some modest success nine of my short stories were published and I spent four years as a copywriter for Rabbi Wein s Destiny Foundation About two years ago, all that changed I began working full time at a law office in Manhattan, and though I suppose my commute time could have become writing time, I used it for reading instead Except for the reviews I write here on GoodReads, I hardly write anything any I just can t seem to get myself motivated And I feel really bad about it.So when I heard Tom Bissell, author of this book and creative writing professor, in an NPR interview, I thought his book was just the thing to give me a kick in the pants In the interview, he spoke about Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson three giants in American literature who weren t all that successful in their lifetimes Heck, Dickinson was a complete unknown in her lifetime And though Melville had been a successful writer before the publication of Moby Dick, his masterpiece was panned by the reviewers, and that was basically the end of his career From then on, he shared his writings only with family and friends He died believing himself a failure How many unknown or midlist writers are in exactly that predicament today asked Tom Bissell The next generation s literary genius could well be struggling right now, undiscovered My husband and I looked at each other, wondering if it could be either of us or perhaps even both No doubt, any aspirant writer who heard that interview wondered the same.So naturally, I hurried to get the book on special inter library loan At first I was told it was so new, the other library wouldn t allow it Then, a third library came through as a complete surprise So when I got hold of it, I dropped what I d been reading till then and launched right in My eagerness had a practical side, too Renewals aren t allowed with inter library loans.With all that excitement, I guess it was inevitable that I d be disappointed It was a good book, but not the life changer I d been hoping for It s actually a collection of essays about a variety of creative artists not just writers, but filmmakers, an actress who does voice over for video games, and a polemical historian The essays on writing were definitely my favorite, especially Writing about Writing about Writing, which reviews some of the writing books I ve read myself, notably Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott and On Writing by Stephen King Bissell names John Gardner s On Becoming a Novelist as his personal favorite It was a life changer for him, much in the way that Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande was for me I expect the books are similar John Gardner wrote the introduction to my copy of Becoming a Writer.When I was unfamiliar with the artist Bissell was discussing, my interest varied The voice over actress was interesting, but I couldn t wait to get through the polemical historian s chapter If there s one thing Tom Bissell proves with this book, it s that he can rake someone over the coals when he wants to.And that brings me to the essay called Grief and the Outsider, which is about a group called the United Literary Alliance According to Bissell, they re basically a bunch of bitter aspirants railing against the publishing industry that has repeatedly rejected them And yet one of those aspirant writers whose work Bissell thinks is such junk came up with what pretty much defines my life as a writer at this point To be a good parent to your family won t make you a better writer But it ll make you a better person. In Magic Hours, Award Winning Essayist Tom Bissell Explores The Highs And Lows Of The Creative Process He Takes Us From The Set Of The Big Bang Theory To The First Novel Of Ernest Hemingway To The Final Work Of David Foster Wallace From The Films Of Werner Herzog To The Film Of Tommy Wiseau To The Editorial Meeting In Which Paula Fox S Work Was Relaunched Into The World Originally Published In Magazines Such As The Believer, The New Yorker, And Harper S, These Essays Represent Ten Years Of Bissell S Best Writing On Every Aspect Of Creation Be It Iraq War Documentaries Or Video Game Character Voices And Will Provoke As Much Thought As They Do LaughterWhat Are Sitcoms For Exactly Can Art Be Both Bad And Genius Why Do Some Books Survive And Others Vanish Bissell S Exploration Of These Questions Make For Gripping, Unforgettable Reading It s a difficult thing for me to evaluate this Scratch that It s a difficult thing for me to evaluate ANY book, not just this Even bad books, ones I carry deep, dark hatreds for, require a vigorous and focused back and forth I will always be awed by the spirit it takes for a person to create I think it is remarkably courageous even if, for many writers, this is unfounded and block headed courage, it is courage nonetheless I imagine many war heroes were not exactly rocket scientists, which is why they tried to fight 40 Germans with a spoon in the first place and somehow succeeded There s a point to all of this somewhere I think it has to do with liking very much parts of a book and disliking very much other parts and making peace with this.I ve read a few things by Tom Bissell now, and I even attended a reading of his He was magnanimous enough to invite us all back to his apartment afterward, which I for reasons completely unknown, declined It s probably the single largest mistake of my life, which means I ve been very fortunate, because he is a wonderfully introspective and hilarious writer However, I think his struggle as a writer is one of the things I connect with and enjoy most It s one of the things I appreciate about Magic Hours, that sense of wandering, bewildered exploration.See, Bissell has a wonderful voice and here s the important part when he can access it I m not sure what the disconnect is subject matter, motivation, state of mind at the time it s hard to tell The point is very much that some of the pieces herein fall, by my subjective and arbitrary standards, very flat It isn t that they are poorly written it s simply that they are uninspiring.In Extra Lives, Bissell was there he was present I was following him into the depths of his mind and into his tripping, electronic, cognitive dissonance When he is there, that is what it is like When he is not, it is like reading the reviews of every reluctant and flaccid critic Too often reviewers are vitriolic or soporific and rarely ever anything else.Bissell s works on The Room, I still need to get Bissell s The Disaster Artist on it are amazing They are amazing because he managed to pour out exactly what his passion and experience with that film was like and I was able to drink from it and see all the vivid and horrible colors But I think it was because he cared.Other pieces simply felt like something he was charged with writing Whether he was charged by some unknown entity or himself I don t know, but there isn t much of a difference in the end, so I don t care Many times, cracking the whip on oneself to write is just as laborious and unproductive as having someone else do it And I ll admit, because of this, I may have not finished two pieces which I found a little too academic, and a little too pallid in tone The point is, I think, at least right now before I change my mind at some later date, that how I feel after just finishing it is how I d like to think I feel about the entire book which is pretty great Despite the few times Bissell seemed lost, times I opted not to be lost with him, the rest of the journey was exactly what I was looking for His honesty, too, is something I can t help but love There are too few genuine human beings in this world It s nice to know he is one of them and that he too thinks that some of things published in McSweeney s aren t meant to be read or at least enjoyed. a new imprint of mcsweeney s, believer books 2 gripes, the font is terrible, and there is no index, come on, we need an index mcsweeneys , has this collection from bissell, collecting about 12 years of essays taken mostly from mainstream mags harpers, new yorker, new york times book review, believer, outside etc and many of these are about tv shows and movies, which i skipped for the most part, though the overview of herzog is pretty fantastic and the thoughts about david foster wallace and his kenyon graduation speech almost made me cry bho hho i like bissell though, he is wide eyed country type, but brave, and fresh ish in his interpretations of art, politics, travel, and literature i first read his books about aral sea, and father of all things about vietnam vets his dad mainly and that war in general and liked them alot, so these magazine articles were interesting to me to see his immediate style of reporting all in all he does a good job of balancing fact and feeling, philosophy and physical description, but falls far short in some goofs which he admits, so there is that like not knowing what a crab apple tree is, or what a pheasant looks like i like this quote he pulls from kapuscinski, the polish world conflict reporter and public library shout out A nonfiction writer s style provides the first corresponding clue as to how we are to approach the facts at hand The style of the plainspoken, rigorously invisible journalist semaphores one kind of approach, that of the poetical, allusive, and interactive journalist another These are not competitive styles One is contentedly earthbound while the other mingles in a Milky Way where morality is not a matter of proper dates and chronology but of representational accuracy, context, language Its mode of communication is not discursive, or even necessarily informative, but visionary It is called poetic license for a reason one has to earn it As Kapuscinski once said, the subtle tyranny of what happened is exactly what I avoid He continued, If those are the questions you want answered, you can visit your local library. I enjoyed some of these essays than others, but what all of them had in common was that I really liked Bissell s writing style That combined with the theme of creativity and creators really inspired me to want to begin writing again I ve been craving writing time for days now I probably most appreciated A Simple Medium and Invisible Girl, but many others had interesting thoughts to contemplate It took me a while, but I m glad I finished it. Boy, do I love Tom Bissell s writing There is just no other way to say it And I m a sucker for his subject artistic process and artistic reputation The opening essay, Unflowered Aloes, is a sobering account of just how easily the work of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Herman Melville might have failed to come down to us today in each case there were quite lucky circumstances There s an amusing and insightful piece on how to write guides, and a remarkable article about a remarkable group calling itself the Underground Literary Alliance The ULA seems to be made up of members most of them with noms de guerrewho seem to believe that anyone who manages to publish a book today is by definition a mediocrity with connections The piece is really about the concept sometimes fantasy of literary insiders and outsiders, and Bissell offers the clearly crankish and fairly talentless sounding ULA ers far respect than you might anticipate He seems, in fact, to be fascinated by the artistically unsuccessful another piece is a profile of a filmmaker who is famous only for how bad one of his movies is as are perhaps most of us who write or paint or perform, given that on many days we imagine that we are about to be exposed as just that Bissell is brave to really think about what it means to fail publicly and repeatedly and worst of all without realizing it After other forays into the fields of TV and film, the collection rounds off with an appealing profile of the writer Jim Harrison Lots of riches here, lots of superlative, energetic, intelligent writing. A bit of an inconsistent collection, if only because all the pieces were written over 12 years for different magazines and different audiences The piece about Jeff Daniels s opus Escanaba in da Moonlight has a predictable kick your hometown in the nuts sort of feel but Bissell can turn a phrase masterfully and keeps it interesting My favorite chapter is the one called Writing About Writing About Writing where he takes various self help authors to the woodshed in a masterfully bitchy way There are other outstanding long essays involving people like Jim Harrison and Robert Kaplan, who Bissell fairly convincingly prosecutes for being both a shitty writer and a cold hearted warmonger Even the bits of literary criticism are worthy, although after a re read I still can t figure out whether he thinks The Sun Also Rises is a good book or not He obviously takes writing seriously but isn t humorless about its rewards and depressions as either a career or a hobby or a passion or an art form open to interpretation.There were a couple misfires for me Reading about Tommy Wiseau did not interest me enough to bother to learn anything else about Tommy Wiseau And Chuck Lorre is just another Hollywood workaholic I still could care less about But on balance this is a fine collection with many strong pages I wish I had written. Interesting idea for a book, but the author kind of lost me when I got to the passage where trees perimetered a field Can t they just line the perimeter I am not a fan of noun verbs I know English is a constantly evolving language, but that s a trend I just don t care for It just strikes me as being sort of twee somehow, with an air of Look, Ma, I m making up words and being creative Also, there was a section of the book in which the author is talking about the ineptitude of a filmmaker, and trying to pass it off as the new creativity I just couldn t buy it It s one thing to understand the language of film and use it in a surprising or unexpected way as was done in the film The Sixth Sense , but not understanding it, and consequently making an inexplicable mess of a movie, is just incompetence. Reading Tom Bissell s Magic Hours Essays on Creators and Creation was a similar experience to watching the Darjeeling Limited for the first time on a Jet Blue flight to Boston from Tampa without any turbulence If David Foster Wallace s magnificent writing were an opioid, this book functioned as literary methadone to help wean me from the withdrawal symptoms of not having any big scores left to consume after completing The Pale King.This collection included discourse on the struggles of one s writing being discovered and deemed famous and culturally relevant, Jeff Daniels creating a film in Escanaba, Michigan, Werner Herzog s unique filmmaking career including rescuing Joaquin Phoenix from a car crash , Tommy Wiseau as a savant, Chuck Lorre s rounds in the American sitcom circuit, as well as albeit brief discussions on Wallace Bissell s personal essays range from age twenty five to thirty seven.The main reason I was so drawn to Bissell s words is that he doesn t hold back on his opinions, especially John Kennedy Toole s A Confederacy of Dunces The suicide John Kennedy Toole is probably the most famous True Outsider, though it pains me to admit that I regard A Confederacy of Dunces as one of the most overrated novels ever published I am glad, all the same, that it was published, if only for the moments of reflection it caused those who rejected it to suffer 69 I couldn t agree.The ULA Underground Literary Alliance reads like a PG version of Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents, led by the likes of writers such as Jack Saunders In personal exchange with Saunders via USPS, Bissell concludes, I enjoyed what I read, but since I regarded and regard Saunder s work roughly as salable as a Hefty bag filled with hypos, I was too depressed to even write him back I also suspected that, if I did, I was going to get an extremely loquacious pen pal and perhaps even increasingly nude photos 90 Those who maintain that writing cannot be taught are in effect promoting the Priesthood Theory of Writing In short, a few are called, most are not, and nothing anyone does can alter that process 100 Tommy Wiseau is living The American Dream Americanness is also the central, and centrally unexamined theme of The Room Wiseau cast himself within the film as a hunk of Johnny Americana, with not corresponding recognition of how absurdly ill fitting this role actually is 222 I think Wiseau could be Lyle, the fitness guru incarnate, but replaces pubescent boy sweat with Red Bull.Pausing to enjoy nature and keeping dogs alive could be part of the secret formula to enjoying life. .
Tom Bissell born 1974 is a journalist, critic, and fiction writer Librarian Note There is than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.
- 301 pages
- Magic Hours
- Tom Bissell
- 07 October 2017 Tom Bissell