Jun. 7, 2010

Death of a Lawn Mower

by David Ignatow

It died in its sleep,
dreaming of grass,
its knives silent and still,
dreaming too, its handlebars
a stern, abbreviated cross
in tall weeds. Where is he
whom it served so well?
Its work has come to nothing,
the dead keep to themselves.

"Death of a Lawn Mower" by David Ignatow, from Against the Evidence: Selected and New Poems 1934 1994. © Wesleyan University Press, 1993. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Harry Crews, (books by this author) born in Cordele, Georgia (1935). He's the author of 15 novels, including, most recently, An American Family (2006).

It's the birthday of the novelist Louise Erdrich, (books by this author) born in Little Falls, Minnesota (1954). She grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, the eldest of seven children. Her father came from a family of German immigrants and her mother was French Ojibwe, and both her parents taught in the school run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She said: "My father used to give me a nickel for every story I wrote, and my mother wove strips of construction paper together and stapled them into book covers. So at an early age I felt myself to be a published author earning substantial royalties." Louise's grandfather had been the tribal chairman of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, and he was a storyteller who encouraged his smart granddaughter to learn and then tell the stories of her Native heritage.

She went on to Dartmouth, admitted into the first class that accepted women, the first year where there was a Native American Studies Department there. Her first novel, Love Medicine (1984), was a best-seller, and it got great reviews and won a National Book Critics Circle Award. Love Medicine was made up of many different stories told by all kinds of people living in and around a fictional reservation outside the town of Argus, North Dakota. Her second novel, The Beet Queen (1986), was set in the town of Argus and focused on the German-American population there. Since then, she has set most of her novels in this same fictional place, novels like The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (2001), The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003), and The Plague of Doves (2008).

Erdrich's newest novel, her 13th, is Shadow Tag (2010), published earlier this year. It's different than much of her earlier fiction, with just a few characters, set in Minneapolis. It's the story of a trapped marriage — Gil and Irene are miserable and completely dependent on each other. When Irene realizes that her husband has been reading her diary, she starts using her diary entries as a way to torment him.

It's the birthday of the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, (books by this author) born in Istanbul (1952). He grew up in a wealthy family in a nice house. He wanted to be a painter but it wasn't quite respectable enough, so he went to Istanbul Technical University to study architecture. It had a radical, Marxist political climate. Pamuk said: "Although I was reading the literature of all these little Marxist factions, I never joined any, and I would go home and read Virginia Woolf. Although I had my sympathies, I saved my spirits by reading Woolf and Faulkner and Mann and Proust." He decided to leave school, but to be a writer, not a painter.

His first novel, Cevdet Bey and His Sons (1982), sold 2,000 copies its first year. But his second novel sold 8,000 copies in its first year; his third, 16,000; his fourth, 32,000; and his fifth, 164,000. His sixth novel, My Name is Red (1998), had the largest print run of any novel in Turkey's history.

In 2005, he said in an interview with a Swiss newspaper, talking about Turkey: "One million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares talk about it." He was arrested and charged with "publicly denigrating Turkish identity." The trial got full media coverage, and important people from all over the world showed up for it. The case was dropped on a legal technicality, but it got him a lot of publicity, good and bad. Internationally, Pamuk's book sales were skyrocketing, and he was winning awards and getting rave reviews. But at home in Turkey, he was selling less and the critics complained about everything he wrote. In 2004, he published the novel Snow, and in 2005, a memoir, Istanbul. The next year, he won the Nobel Prize in literature.

Last year, his most recent novel, The Museum of Innocence (2008), was translated into English. Many of his novels are political, but this one is mostly about unrequited love, set in 1970s Istanbul. The main character, Kemal, becomes obsessed with a lover, Füsun, when she refuses to become his mistress. So he gives up his well-connected fiancée and all his friends and devotes himself exclusively to ingratiating himself with Füsun in every way. The Museum of Innocence did as well in Turkey as everywhere else. Pamuk said, "It washed — whoosh — all my political problems away, at least for the time being."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show