paper trail

Javier Marías on novelists and success; How a book on bear attacks helped John Wray write

Javier Marias

For PEN International’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer, Arundhati Roy has written a letter to photographer Shahidul Alam, who was arrested for criticizing the Bangladeshi government. “How is it possible for people to defend themselves against laws like these?” Roy writes of the charges. “It’s like having to prove one’s innocence before a panel of certified paranoiacs. Every argument only serves to magnify their paranoia and heighten their delusions.” Alam was released on bail shortly after the letter was published.

“One of the problems with novelists is that we never learn the job,” Javier Marías tells Garth Risk Hallberg at The Millions. “A professor goes to give his lesson after 40 years . . . and the teacher knows he will give a good lesson, or at least a decent one. And he will do it with ease. And the carpenter who’s been making tables for 40 years or whatever knows he will succeed with the next table. But a novelist doesn’t know that at all!”

Hamilton Cain reviews Tommy Orange’s There There, which is under consideration for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize.

Columbia Journalism Review’s Karen K. Ho talks to Sunny Dhillon, a former Globe and Mail reporter who resigned from the paper after his bureau chief discouraged him from writing about the lack of diversity on Vancouver’s city council. “You fight and you fight to raise these other perspectives, to draw attention to blind spots, but how many times are you prepared to do it, and lose, and feel like you’re not being taken seriously? How many times do you want to flag something of concern for an editor or an reporter and not see it changed? Dhillon said of the struggles of being a journalist of color. “How many battles do you have in you?”

Godsend author John Wray tells The Atlantic that he couldn’t have finished his book “if he hadn’t stumbled across a technical manual on bear attacks, abandoned on a Brooklyn street.” In Stephen Herrero’s Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, one hunter’s description of grizzlies— “he is man’s food and he makes food of man”—helped Wray find perspective on his writing. “For a novelist, writing is the one reliable source of creative nourishment, not to mention our financial bread and butter,” he explains. “Yet there’s a sense, at times, that the work is somehow pursuing you—and it’s a quarry dangerous enough to disfigure you forever, or pick you clean, down to the bones.”