1. A profile of intriguing writer Nell Zink by Kathryn Schulz in the New Yorker. Some extracts:
For the next four years, Zink worked as a bricklayer in the Tidewater region of Virginia. “That job was more valuable for my intellectual life than my entire college career,” she says. “In college, they allow you to be entertained and let your mind wander, which is not good training to do anything difficult.” Bricklaying, by contrast, cultivated discipline. When she started, she was teaching herself French by reading Sartre’s memoirs, “Les Mots,” with a dictionary in hand. The longer she worked in construction, she found, the longer she could stick with Sartre.
In 1997, not long after Zink moved to Israel, Eitan took her to Haifa to introduce her to a friend of his, a writer named Avner Shats. By the end of the evening, Shats and Zink had launched an extraordinary friendship. The two lived some sixty miles apart and did not see each other often, but they began corresponding nearly every day. Zink also set about trying to read his first book, “Sailing Toward the Sunset,” but Shats regarded that as “an impossible task”: it was a difficult postmodern novel written in Hebrew, a language that Zink had barely begun learning. Either in defiance or in accord, Zink gave up trying to read it and started rewriting it in English instead.
Zink wrote “Sailing Toward the Sunset by Avner Shats” in three weeks. The novel has, Shats clarifies, “absolutely no similarities to my story”—or, for that matter, to any other story ever written. In addition to the seal-woman (a figure from Celtic mythology called a silkie) and the Mossad agent with the preposterous mission, the book features Zink herself, Eitan, and a mysterious submarine powered by a slip of paper on which is written the name of Moshe Dayan. Toward the end of the novel, that paper is transferred to and animates, with arresting results, the agent’s childhood Teddy bear.
Plenty weird, and plenty plenty, but that is not the sixteenth of it. “Sailing Toward the Sunset” also contains, among other things, an inquiry into the nature of translation; a translation proper, by Zink, of Robert Walser’s “The Job Application”; a lovely, controlled short story based on a diary entry by Kafka; a lot of incisive, off-the-cuff literary criticism (of Proust, Richardson, Faulkner, Eliot, Melville, Sterne, Solzhenitsyn); and a short work of science fiction, set in Long Island City, in a future where the global population has shrunk radically and those who remain in the planet’s skeletal, sky-high cities are “doomed, like the great whales: so few were left, in so large a space.” Avner Shats, the first and for many years the only reader of “Sailing Toward the Sunset by Avner Shats,” was, he says, “overwhelmed by her ability to write such excellent stuff so fast.” He liked it so much that he translated it into Hebrew.
“Sailing Toward the Sunset” is representative: until last year, all of Zink’s work was written for a tiny audience—generally as tiny as one or zero. While working as a bricklayer, she wrote a series of stories about a construction worker, then threw them all away. In Germany, she made friends with a Russian composer, and wrote, for his amusement only, a libretto for an operetta—in rhymed couplets, in German. In 2005, she wrote another novel for Shats, “European Story.” Set at an artists’ retreat in Florence, it is slightly less madcap than “Sunset,” but no less funny and smart. I know that only because Shats held onto his copy; Zink deleted hers. Later, she wrote another novel, “The Baron of Orschel-Hagen,” about a patron of the arts obsessed with commissioning a very particular work. Afterward, Zink decided she didn’t like it, and erased the original and all the backups.
2. A really funny story of a Michigan drug bust in the form of a wedding.
3. A brief introduction to experimental writer Kathy Acker.
4. Why not more poetry audiobooks?
5. An essay suggesting that those who welcome and those who fear the effects of Artificial Intelligence in the near future may both be exaggerating the power of A.I.
6. Advice from Colin Mochrie in an interview with the AVClub:
CM: … my very first Whose Line appearance. I psyched myself out, and I was very tentative, very nervous, and I’d go back now, just not caring and, you know, I‘d just do it. The older you get, you just don’t care anymore.
AVC: Is that the key to success? Not caring?
CM: Oh, absolutely. When you really care, stuff doesn’t come to you. When you don’t care, that’s when you start getting free coffees and people thinking you’re Colin Farrell.