Displaying articles for: January 2012

The Slow and Mindful Reader

"[The Slow Movement] ... emphasizes slowness in the creation and consumption of products as a corrective to the frenetic pace of 21st-century life."--The New York Times

Don’t rush into it, but we hope you’ll join us at The Snail's Page, the literary program at the carefully-paced vanguard of the Slow Reading Movement. We believe that as with every other activity these days, reading has become rushed and frantic--wedged into the five minutes of the subway from 96th Street to 72nd, or in ten-minute audiobook snatches on the morning commute to downtown Austin or in the short time your grouchy husband or wife allows you to leave the light on in bed at night.


We believe the time has come to slow down the very act of reading, to stop tearing through books as if they were time bombs or a Milky Way.  As a guide to the practice of Slow Reading, we offer the following suggestions about how to read the first sentence of Charles Dickens'  A Tale of Two Cities:


"It"--OK, this is a good place to pause. Close the book and look at it, pick it up and inhale the odor of your basement room in the freshman dorm where you first read it. Remember the lovely visit from Tawnee, the yogic freshman cheerleader. Oh, Tawnee! Take some deep, calming breaths, and consider the incredible utility of pronouns. Do we thank "it" and "he" and "which" and so on? Not nearly often enough. Thank them all now. See? We just used "them." And then "We." Thank all pronouns. Appreciate the brevity of  "it" and sympathize with this word for all the antecedental burdens that it must bear--including, in this sentence, itself.  Try saying something  of any length without using it, or other pronouns. It's very difficult.  Just try it. We can wait. You just go ahead and give it a whirl.  Then wonder who first used the word. Imagine some Angle or Saxon in the Midlands of England in the Sixth Century yelling at his  son, who is trying to set the thatched roof of his hovel afire, "Cut it out!"  Where did that come from, he wonders, and you wonder too.... Where did "it" come from?  


For that matter, how can it be that words in any language actually work to represent things and actions and ideas? How did that sentence about the Angle delinquent manage to conjure in your  brain a picture of a snotty-nosed Angle eight-year-old with filthy hair and a demonic grin already featuring a few rotten teeth, dressed in burlap or whatever they wore back then, in the mud just over a sty reaching up toward the low-hanging thatch roof with a torch made of a small sheaf of reeds he lit from the pathetic peat fire in the fireplace of that one-room hovel with his mother hunched over trying to patch burlap garments with dried scrub from a fen? For that matter, when you say, "I'm eating some cake," how does that work? Why don't you have to actually eat some actual cake in order to let someone else know that you're eating some cake?


It's a mystery. Just like "it." Say "it" over and over again--itititititititititititititititititit--until you achieve what Buddhist monks call samprajnata. It is not merely empty-mindedness but a  vast stillness that is indescribable to the typical level of waking state--in other words, in .... other .... wordzzz zzzz. 


Tomorrow--or maybe the next day: "was"


Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin & Tonic.


How to Write


Writing is not easy. A good writer approaches the job with the utmost sincerity, knowing that it's rarely as simple as putting pen to paper, finger to keyboard, or chalk to sidewalk. If you're a first-time writer, or a veteran looking for help, here are the seven steps every writer must take in order to capture his Muse.


Step One: Free your mind.


The journey begins with a single step. Relax and focus your mind only on today's work -- not necessarily the first word, but even the first letter of the first word, or even just any old letter you're fond of -- instead of tackling the entire project.


Step Two: Seltzer.


Doesn't a tall class of icy cold seltzer sound delicious right now? Maybe with a slice of lime? Your lack of seltzer is no doubt what's holding you back from greatness. If only you had seltzer, then the words would pour out of you…like seltzer out of a seltzer bottle and maybe just as bubbly. Check the fridge. Maybe there's still some club soda from the New Year 's Eve party. Is club soda the same as seltzer? What club served it first? That's a pretty boring club. Am I right? Hahaha…yeah.


If you're out of seltzer and/or limes, consider taking a trip to the store and procuring some. You should buy a few bottles in case your writing hits a hot streak. It's strange that the store is never out of seltzer. Does seltzer go bad? It's probably a recession-proof industry. Talk to your financial manager about this. If a runner is one who runs and a camper is one who camps, is a seltzer one who seltzes? Look this up when you get back home; it may be just the thing your first paragraph needs.


It seems silly to have driven all the way to store just for some bottles of seltzer and a lime. Don't let the trip go to waste. Buy two or three limes and some other items you need. You know what goes great with seltzer? Everything. Go ahead and pick out some snacks, but nothing with cheese powder. Get some of those pickles you like, too. It's OK if they're not on sale. Treat yourself. A good writer will buy the lesser pickle; a great writer will demand to be satisfied. Which are you?


The pickles can be your reward for all the writing you're about to accomplish. And the pudding. Get some pudding. Reward yourself with a six-pack of pudding cups -- the packages that look like they have only three and then -- surprise! They have six, three of them upside down. Ingenious! But the pudding-cup treat is ONLY if you finish writing 2,000 words today. Well, OK -- if it's past 3 o'clock, go ahead and adjust your word-count goals accordingly. Any deficit can be made up this weekend, or over President's Day.


Seltzer should only cost about 79 cents a liter. Ever notice that the number 79 appears, like, everywhere? You will now. There should be magazines at the checkout. Buy some. A great writer must stay relevant. There is nothing sadder than an out-of-touch author unaware of trends in movies and in Sudoku puzzles.


Make the checkout line move faster by shifting your weight from one foot to the other and sighing impatiently. (This is what a lot of writers do.)  


While waiting to check out, you can also use the time to formulate ideas and characters. The people in line with you could be the inspiration for you fiction. It's OK to stare. This is how Fitzgerald would develop his characters, maybe. There's this old lady fumbling in her purse for her Club Card. She has on sunglasses! Come on -- a character bonanza wrapped up in an outsize winter coat that smells of mothballs. Figure out a mnemonic so that you won't forget to put her in Chapter 2. How about "What a card! She probably doesn't even like club soda. Or seltzer. The only way to figure out how big a moth's balls are is to examine them in the sun…"?


When you get to the cashier, you and your seltzer, buy some batteries too, because you never know. Keep the receipt because you feel in your heart that you can adequately explain to any IRS agent that if ever there was a business expense, this is one. But be prepared to retreat to only the seltzer as a deductible.


Return home and move on to step three.


Step Three: Pudding cup.


Go ahead and eat a pudding cup. The sugar rush will inspire. There are five left, don't forget -- not just two, as a less observant individual might surmise.


Step Four: Check your email.


You may have missed something while you were out preparing to be a writer. Who knows -- maybe Groupon is offering 50% off on a literary agent's commission. 


Step Five: Become aware of your surroundings.


You'll want to pay careful attention to any noises in and around your work area. In particular, keep your ears open for clicks or hums and spend the required time first investigating the sound and then abolishing it by turning something off or going back out to the store to buy earplugs. It will no doubt be a different store, more than a mile away.


Step Six: Pudding cup (part 2).


Eat a celebratory pudding cup. If you didn't write anything today, you should still enjoy the pudding. Simply deduct one pudding cup from tomorrow's reward.


Step Seven:


Invite some friends over -- fellow-writers. They will all be as ready as you are to watch the NFL League Championship games, even if they are a few days away. You will almost certainly get some great insight into human psychology and innovative cursing. 


This one took Dan Bergstein three pudding cups to write.


The Social Networke


It has long been known that, during their political careers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were bitter rivals, frequently dueling with competing ideas, slashing verbal attacks, and, on one occasion, butter churns. But toward the end of their lives, the two became the closest of friends, who bonded over their love of both Enlightenment philosophy and designer shoe-buckles. Through the efforts of our tireless historical research team, Grin & Tonic has obtained some of the hard-to-find letters that these two fathers of our country wrote to each other in the autumn of their lives.


My Dear Thomas,

Greetings from Massachusetts! Weather here is pleasant enough, and the family is in excellent health. It is still most tremendous to think of the tireless work we committed to the building of this great nation. What young men we were, and what lofty dreams did we capture. On a separate note, I have enclosed several random Renderings. Many are of dogs. Some are of infant newborns. Yet more are of these very same infants dressed to resemble dogs in costume. And still others depict small children dressed in dogs' apparel.


I have the Honor to be &c

J. Adams



My Good Friend,

I bid you salutations from Virginia. Upon glancing at your excellent likenesses of babies, dogs, and babies dressed as dogs, et seq., I was compelled to Laugh aloud. In fact I am doing so at this very moment. I have enclosed to you a humorous list that you may find of interest: The Paramount Ten Ways To Know if Your Neighbor Is a Federalist. I think you will find it illuminating. I particularly commend Number 5, which reads "Every other sentence they utter contains the phrase 'concurring testimony of experience.'" Too true!


I hope I may call you a close friend in perpetuity,
T. Jefferson



My Good Fellow T.J.,

Touché, old friend! Your wit is ageless. To pass the time, I have begun a new project -- one wherein I establish a new and bountiful Farm, bursting at the seams with produce fresh from the Earth and livestock healthy as the day is long. Virtually the best part of this new Plantation is that it exists purely as a conjecture! I believe that I will name my new estate Farm Towne.

May peace win out,


Dearest Adams,

A cheery shout of  "What's afoot with you?,"  kind Sir! For my own part, I have included a Survey that I recently took part in, entitled: Which Delegate of the Continental Congress Are You? I filled it out and it said I was Alexander Hamilton! What the flummery is that, I ask you?

Wishing you a beneficent day,

T. Jefferson


Jefferson, my man,

A most exalted greeting to you. Truth be told, there is no actual reason for this Missive. I have sent this foot messenger through rain, sleet, and snow, from Virginia to Massachusetts, in order to "give you a Poke," so to speak. So poke me back!



Dear Jefferson,

Poke! There is something about our correspondence that appears to have led us both into a kind of lax frivolity, but there is no denying the easy Gratifications thereof. 



After this point, the two men began simply exchanging engravings  of  Canadian tourists in humorous situations, minute descriptions of how they spent each day, ( "swept the hearth clean -- twice!" and "At the Olde Inne, purchased two tankards of ale at supper @25 cents each!") and complaints about the courier service's "villainously convoluted Policy of  Confidentiality." In even the most subtle ways, our forefathers remain an inspiration for "TLOTF and the THOTB" to this very day. 


Josh Perilo has written extensively for print and television. His credits include stints at The Fine Living Network, FX, and MTV. He also writes a weekly column on wine called "The Penniless Epicure" for the Manhattan-based Our Town and Westside Spirit newspapers.


July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.


What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.