2.06.2013

Riff






A couple of Sundays ago.

 :: :: ::

It has been nearly two years since the redesign of The New York Times Magazine, but I still think of the current incarnation as "new." My favorite part, the page that I flip first to each week, is the critics' column, Riff. The column debuted in March of 2011 with Sam Anderson's essay on the art and (for him, near obsessive) practice of marginalia. It's sharp, thoughtful, funny, the perfect inaugural piece for a column serving up first-rate criticism that's relevant to the digital age. (See also the accompanying images of Anderson's marginalia from 2011 and 2012.) I hope you'll read the entire essay - it's wonderful. Here are some excerpts:
Today I rarely read anything - book, magazine, newspaper - without a writing instrument in hand. Books have become my journals, my critical notebooks, my creative outlets. Writing in them is the closest I come to regular meditation...
According to the marginalia scholar H. J. Jackson, the golden age of marginalia lasted from roughly 1700 to 1820. The practice, back then, was surprisingly social - people would mark up books for one another as gifts, or give pointedly annotated novels to potential lovers. Old-school marginalia was - to put it into contemporary cultural terms - a kind of slow-motion, long-form Twitter, or a statusless, meaning-soaked Facebook, or an analog, object-based G-chat...
Marginalia - with its social thrill of shared immersion - is what the culture is moving toward, not away from. We are living increasingly in a culture of response. Twitter is basically electronic marginalia on everything in the world: jokes, sports, revolutions...
I've long been frustrated with the "distance" between criticism and reading itself. Most critical energy is expended in big-picture work - situating texts in history, talking about broad themes - all of which is useful but hardly touches the excitement of actual reading, a process of discovery that happens in time, moment by moment, line by line. What I really want is someone rolling around in the text. I want noticing. I want, in short, marginalia, everywhere, all the time. Suddenly that seems deliriously possible.
I love the energy of this essay. I love how gracefully the author pivots from the theoretical to the applied, how the writing is both intellectually rigorous and deeply personal. I can say the same things about the majority of the Riff columns (which almost, almost, makes up for that maddening One-Page and the departure of Virginia Heffernan), and I often find myself going back to some of my favorites. I want to list them here so that I have them all in one place, and because I think you'll enjoy them, too.

:: Steve Almond on the effective narrator. 

:: Sam Anderson again on information overload.

:: And again on the "meta-memoir" by Luca Spaghetti, a character in Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. (A piece that, while quite funny, includes some serious and important observations about memoir that I still think about all the time.)

:: Hugo Lindgren, the editor of The New York Times Magazine, on his creative process. You'll forgive the nerd in me for pointing out a probable error: Mr. Lindgren attributes the wise words "Be wrong as fast as you can," to Pixar founder John Lasseter but, according to Tad Friend's 2011 New Yorker article (an incredibly inspiring read, by the way), these are actually Andrew Stanton's words. I know this because when I was getting bogged down in my book proposal, and now when I'm having a slow writing day, I return to this paragraph from the piece:
Stanton's precepts are often invoked at the studio, particularly "Be wrong fast" or "Fail early." He explains, "It's like every movie is a kid, and no kid avoids puberty. Just dive through it - get that outline that should take three months done in one, so you get the inevitable bad stuff out of the way and have more time to plus the good stuff."
(How's that to light a fire under you?)

Anyway, thanks for letting me deposit all of this here today. I'm happy to get it all down. I don't have a recipe for you at the moment, but I will tell you that we've been eating loads of this soup lately, with no plans to slow down. (Except for Mia, who's not so into soups these days. She'd rather chew.)

14 comments:

alexandria said...

I'm so glad you shared all these article links. I am printing the whole bundle and plan to curl up on the couch later today to read. Thank you!

Summer said...

Yes! Thank you for these links! Such interesting, fun stuff!

Hannah said...

What a wonderful selection of pieces Jess. Thanks for sharing. And your Mia is scrumptious - that look!

racheleats said...

I've read the Steve Almod piece before. I've just read it again - thanks. Food fonr thought, notes taken.

Kim said...

I read Anderson's essay and loved it. Thanks for these links, it's just what I needed today!

foodlovefood said...

Thank you for sharing these articles, I loved the piece by Steve Almond. I have just finished a course on the creative process and each of these links resonates with me in some way. Interesting reading, thank you.

Christine said...

I love your energizing prose. I love the Times magazine. More than either of those things, though, I love those stylish stackable wooden boxes that you're using for books and wine. Where, oh, where did you find those? I am seeking to achieve a similarly chic look in my new kitchen.

Sara said...

I'll be back to read each link. I am a typophile, but that's not right either: an info-phile, from all time periods. the combining and changing and mashing and swapping: reiterative process.
and not surprisingly I've been juicing an entire red grapefruit and adding the juice of an entire lime and drinking it.. speaking of combos. it does not taste sour! I also combine clementines (2 small) with one lemon (the juice of each) and that is also stupendous. Thank you for sharing so much!

Sara said...

I came back to thank you for these links, such an interesting collections on thoughts on writing. It also took me a while to recall why I was mesmerized by the word 'marginalia' (besides the obvious connection.) Daphne, a character in the show "Frazier" repeats the word "Orangina" quietly in one episode. Funny how those connections sneak in.

Rachael said...

I loved this too. I love almost everything Sam Anderson writes for them. I wish he had a true-him Twitter account, not just quoting his favorite sentence of the week (though it does entice me to hunt down the source).

Sally said...

Thanks for the soup rec - I made it tonight and LOVED it. You have impeccable taste! And yeah, my 6 year old said it was disgusting, and I forgot to give it to my 13 mth old, but she's totally into self-feeding, one tooth and all, so I'll (gladly) save it for myself and my husband...

Lisa Johnson said...

So glad I stopped by here today! Awesome post! I love the idea of electronic marginalia. It's true. Reminds of a cartoon that I recently shared on Facebook called Early Facebook. It shows two cavemen by a huge rock wall. One caveman says, Great Hunt! Let's go eat!" The other caveman is drawing animals on the rock wall and says, Hang on! I gotta post this on my wall..." : )

Becca said...

Hi Jess,

I loved the ideas so much in this post. I riffed off it myself for a recent post on my blog and I thought you might be interested in it. Thanks for posting your ideas!

http://leschouquettes.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/marginalia-in-cookbooks/

phyllis nobles said...

I'm happy to find your beautiful blog & cannot wait to read through it!