The Brooklyn Rail is serializing a new novel by Jonathan Baumbach, which thrills me! When was the last time a newspaper (or a blog, even) did anything that cool? Well, they’re doing it now.



St. Albans


On Tuesday I spoke to a class of seniors studying “very recent fiction” under the expert tutelage of Gene Campbell at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. I definitely was not reading sophisticated lit crit when I was that age! We talked about The New You Project and YOU or The Invention of Memory and Jonathan Baumbach as a gateway into a larger conversation about publishing as both an industry and a culture and books and literature and access and technology and the pace of change and life in general. It was really, really fun. I was very impressed by the quality of the questions that the students asked, such as, Have I worked on poetry, and what are the relevant implications for that form? Indeed I have (Supermodel by David Breskin, and I am working on another poetry book this fall, Terese Svoboda’s Weapons Grade, which is all Sex & Death and I’m working with the publisher to create a digital galley so that it can reach as many people as possible). I also talked about the importance of making fiction of-the-moment and creating the perception of urgency which is a challenge when the narrative of storytelling exists beyond the news cycle which dominates our daily lives, and also how so much of what’s changed the world, and changing it, starts out in a novel, where the most dangerous ideas can first appear and subvert the status quo, e.g. Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Native Son, To Kill a Mockingbird. And how it was not so very long ago that books were censored and Henry Miller and Allen Ginsberg and their publishers were on trial to assert their right to express what they felt needed to be said. That’s living as an art form, and its truly powerful. And how publishing is not a meritocracy and the best voices might — indeed, are most likely to — be found outside the mainstream. And just all kinds of cool things and ideas and then they asked me what they should read next and I said I could tell them what I liked, sure, I do it all day, but the best books, the ones that will transform you, you have to go and seek them out yourself, so be curious, be bold, it will serve you well in life.


Rambles is a very cool (and pioneering, c. 1999) online  journal of culture and arts journalism and criticism. Michael Scott Cain reviews YOU or The Invention of Memory and discusses “one of America’s most overlooked novelists” in a terrific review here. Definitely do linger there and take a look around at all that’s on offer.


In Good Company


YOU or The Invention of Memory is now in stock at Vroman’s. Patrick Brown, who is a serious TASTEMAKER (earlier today, he posted on Twitter, “OK, I basically psychotically loved Last Night in Montreal from Unbridled Books. Such an amazing structure, ” and I thought to myself, Psychotically, you say? I WILL BUY IT), recommends YOU thusly:

“This is a love story unlike any you’ve ever read. Baumbach twists the story inside-out, shifting perspectives and even narrators along the way. The result is a sort of Italo-Calvino –meets-Jean-Luc-Godard experience. Perfect for fans of Kafka, Barthelme, and Borges. Truly adventurous literature.”


As I mentioned, I’m going to be speaking at a school about The New You Project next week. In honor of the occasion, I interviewed Jonathan Baumbach about writing, in the style of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, which I have always loved.

The New You Project: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Did anyone memorably encourage or discourage you?

Jonathan Baumbach: 10…11…12. My father was a visual artist–we called them painters in those days–and I knew the most important thing in life was to do something creative. Since he owned the franchise on visual art–he also wrote poems–I started writing imaginatively at an early age. He was my major influence. By turns, he discouraged and encouraged me.

The New You Project: Who were some of the writers who inspired you when you were just starting out?

Jonathan Baumbach: I don’t remember anyone inspiring me (except Kafka and Dostoyevsky in my teens), but I remember reading at an inappropriate age, “Studs Lonigan” by James T. Farrell, a 3-volume novel about a tough Irish kid growing up on
the streets of Chicago. My father had a large ecclectic library and I remember sneaking illicit books like Boccacio’s “Decameron” and Balzac’s “Droll Tales,” which probably seem very tame by today’s standards.

The New You Project: Is there any book that you were forced to read in school that you were only able to fully appreciate many years later?

Jonathan Baumbach: I hated George Eliot’s “Silas Marner,” which was required in my Brooklyn high school, but I came around to liking George Eliot after (much later) reading “Middlemarch” and “The Mill on the Floss.” It’s always hard to like books that you’re compelled to read. The worst thing for the soul is to pretend to like something because older and wiser heads tell you you should.

The New You Project: If you could write the teenage version of yourself a letter, what three books would you tell him to read?

Jonathan Baumbach: The Trial by Franz Kafka, Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts by Donald Barthelme, Don Quixote by Cervantes, A Child Again by Robert Coover.


Readerville accords The New You Project its coveted “Blog of the Week” status!

“Dzanc Books is proud to announce that it will publish a novel by Jonathan Baumbach in early 2011, entitled Dreams of Molly… Steve Gillis said, ‘We at Dzanc are very excited to publish this newest work from a true American original.'” More.