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Another essay published! Plus niblets

Issue of Gastronomica with my essay in it

My essay “Chow” is in the fall issue of Gastronomica, pictured here.

Gastronomica‘s website doesn’t show it yet, but I’m bursting with pride so here you are. Yes, that is Freud holding a weenie. Sometimes a Hebrew National is just a Hebrew National.

That makes three essays this year: “David, Just as he was,” in White Crane, an elegant venue that deserves wider readership; “Range of Desire,” in Nerve; and now “Chow.” Sometime this week I am going to go to Fresh Market up on Timberlane Drive just to see if they have this issue, and if they do, I’m going to loudly announce to everyone within earshot (about 300 feet if I can manage) that my essay is in that magazine.

On other fronts:

I keep meaning to point you to Alison Head’s great essay In Appreciation of Measures that Tell Stories in Boxes and Arrows, a usability journal many of us should be reading anyway. Not only is her essay readable and fascinating and important, but in nearly five years of knowing Alison — at times talking to her every day, if not more often, during big projects — this is the first time I’ve seen what she looks like. It feels different in a good way to be able to visualize the person advising me, “No matter the size of your project, look for the emblematic measures. They will allow you to tell stories that hit clients right between the eyes and move them to action.”

Jodi Schneider (no relation) and Walt Underwood (we’re both into search, so we must share some DNA) both pointed me to Mark Pilgrim’s sine qua non of posts about the Kindle, The Future of Reading in Six Acts. Bravo!

I’m doing some market research on what we librarians call “virtual reference” — a baffling phrase that means answering questions through chat, like what I do on Land’s End when I can’t figure out why I can’t find clogs in size 5. (Because Satan told Land’s End to stop carrying shoes smaller than size 6, that’s why. That wasn’t the company answer, but I could read between the lines.) Anyhoo, if you have well-thunk observations about the future of virtual reference for consortial and statewide systems, do give a holler.

Arizona and Florida are doing something very cool with LOCKSS — more on that later.

Finally, for a couple of months I’ve been brooding over Stephen King’s essay about short stories. Everyone else wrote about it and moved on, but I’ll take a weak stab so I can get over it. King writes:

[W]riters write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn’t real reading, the kind where you just can’t wait to find out what happens next (think “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad, or “Big Blonde,” by Dorothy Parker). It’s more like copping-a-feel reading. There’s something yucky about it.

You know, I write essays, not stories, but I read a lot of “lit mags” myself. King has taken something very pleasant and even necessary — finding out what gets published, learning from other writers, and reading with an eye cocked to the question, “What can I learn from this?” — and made it tawdry and sad.

I didn’t know it was a bad thing to turn green reading an Aimee Bender story and vow I would write something at least that good someday. Nor was I aware it was so awful to figure out where my work fits. Is it better to blindly send out essays without asking the question, what is the aboutness of this journal? What about pondering the aboutness of my work?

Sometimes other writers ask me about my “audience,” or suggest I could change an essay to suit a particular publication. For better or worse, I go by what I was once told by a wise writer: a good piece of nonfiction will always find a home. I have decided, if a piece can’t find a home, either I’m not looking hard enough, or it isn’t good enough. Meanwhile, I have yet to find a literary magazine that I don’t like on one level or another, whether or not it is a place for my work.

I’ll take Stephen King’s advice on stories — it’s been a long time since I looked at “Big Blonde,” and I bet I can learn something new — but with all due respect, I’m going to ignore his comments about why or how I read. If a little lust and envy are stirred in with my “entertainment,” I don’t think I’m the worse for it.

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