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 laughter.
What 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.
About Tom Bissell
Tom Bissell is the author of Extra Lives, Chasing the Sea, God Lives in St. Petersburg, and The Father of All Things. A recipient of the Rome Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Bay de Noc Community College Alumnus of the Year Award. He teaches fiction writing at Portland State University and lives in Portland, Oregon.
In recent years Bissell (Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, 2010, etc.) has built a reputation as an expert on video games, culminating with the scattershot Extra Lives. Here he covers a wider swath but provides more coherence, in part because a more consistent theme emerges: the necessity of calling shenanigans on the artificiality of much of mass culture, and the difficult search for glimmers of integrity. In “Escanaba’s Magic Hour,” Bissell follows the filming of an indie movie in his hardscrabble Upper Peninsula hometown and cannily reveals subtle parrying between the townsfolk and the visiting filmmakers. In “Writing about Writing about Writing,” he demolishes the rhetoric of how-to writing guides, slapping the genre for its disingenuously upbeat declarations. In “Cinema Crudité,” he investigates the anti-genius of Tommy Wiseau, director of the contemporary camp classic, The Room. Bissell can tear into his subjects with a ferocity and brutal wit that recalls Dwight Macdonald, as when he writes about the would-be literary provocateurs of the Underground Literary Alliance or celebrated historian Robert Kaplan, whom he damns as an “incompetent thinker and a miserable writer.” Bissell’s more common tone, though, is that of the exasperated critic weary of conventional thinking, and he bookends the collection with pieces that drive that point home: “Unflowered Aloes” debunks the idea that literary greatness will always be discovered, and the closing interview with Jim Harrison is a lament for a dying working-class literary culture. Even the book’s weak spots are strong: A pair of New Yorker profiles on TV and video-game professionals feel relatively voiceless—a problem with the magazine’s house style that, ironically enough, Bissell calls out in an earlier essay. – Kirkus Reviews
Dawn of Creation: ‘Magic Hours,’ Essays by Tom Bissell
The New York Times Book Review – May 4, 2012 (Excerpt)
For a decade now, new-media Cassandras have been warning about the Death of Journalism as We Know It, and it may yet come to pass. Certainly, attention spans seem shorter these days, and the line between actual thinking and mere aggregation grows ever blurrier. Yet when I look at journals like The Point and n+1 and Triple Canopy; at The Believer and Granta and The New Yorker; at the Kindle Singles and longreads.com and even at what gets passed around on Twitter, I see a robust demand for, and supply of, long-form “magazine writing.” And in just the last few years, a cohort of younger writers including Elif Batuman, Wells Tower, Sam Anderson and John Jeremiah Sullivan has emerged to put its distinctive stamp on the genre. I’m tempted to call the result — with apologies to Tom Wolfe, Robert Boynton and anti-taxonomists everywhere — the New New New Journalism.
What defines the N3J is a certain generational voice: a mash-up of slacker insouciance and hermeneutic vigor. It’s the old Bellovian high-low, but with reliable connections for both Wi-Fi and pot. You sense cultural omnivorousness in these writers’ choice of subject matter, too: Tolstoy and traffic school; reality TV and cave painting; ChatRoulette and Derrida. Their godparents are not so much Joan Didion and Gay Talese as Nicholson Baker (Updike, Wikipedia), Geoff Dyer (Rodin, doughnuts) and David Foster Wallace (tennis, infinity). [Read the full article...]
THE LONDONDERRY AIR
Testament of an Ulster Gunman A Novel by Garrad Gawler
It all changed for Charles Cunningham, a Physics teacher at the local College of Technology in the County Derry town of Maddenstown, on a June afternoon in 1973 when a bomb exploded in his neighborhood. He answers an advertisement by the UDR, the Ulster Defence Regiment, but, in the time to come, he will experience the consequences of his decisions, and how his involvement complicates matters with family and friends, Protestants and Catholics alike, to an unexpected degree.
With “The Londonderry Air – Testament of an Ulster Gunman” Garrad Gawler describes in minute detail and with an astonishing level of authenticity not only the inner workings of the Ulster Defence Regiment, but also the activities of underground paramilitary groups of regular citizens who planned and carried out the assassination of suspected Republican terrorists in their neighborhood.
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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