Your Brain on Nonfiction Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

IMG 0187(Richard Gilbert's Blog March 27, 2012)

In a recent New York Times essay, “Your Brain on Fiction,” Annie Murphy Paul argues that “Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica” to “construct a map of other people’s intentions.” Research suggests that “individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.”

Narratives make us better people. I’m open to that. I do agree reading fiction is a pleasure as well as socially instructive. And, it seems, neuroscience confirms it. But why only study novel-reading and then moralize it, like eating your spinach, into preferential behavior?

Disenthralled: An End to My Heart Disease Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

RT 13.2(River Teeth Volume 13.2 Spring 2012)

[Note: This 2012 publication carries some of the initial material for what became The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease. This essay explores areas I didn't follow up on, with the book, and, thus, is quite different from the memoir.]

You Were Dying

You have to love this line from the Abbott Labs pamphlet on coronary artery disease, one of the parting gifts the charge nurse presents to you after you’ve had a heart attack: “The first symptom of heart disease is sudden death.” It’s among a flurry of statements about your condition, which, even though it’s only now materialized, you realize you’ve always had. Had you died, you would have had none of the secondary symptoms like agonizing chest pain and claustrophobic fear. But thanks to the cath lab and the cardiologists and your good fortune to be only a mile from the hospital, you didn’t die. You’re still kicking, albeit pinned between “it’s here” and “what do I do next?” One thing’s certain: you’ve been returned to your sense of wonder, now more sharply teleological than ever. The unanswerable questions start to queue. Is it possible to move before the bullet’s impact? Halfway from the bridge to the water, will your regret reverse the plunge? (Shouldn’t it be the first symptom of suicide is sudden death?) These indirections, which you haven’t had the luxury of contending with until now, initiate you into a new drama, the comedy of blood. You awake to the patient’s lot, which is to face (or not) this conundrum: as the language of treatment and recovery, of advice and afterthought, of lyric and lament claims to embody the disease, the disease, living on in you, articulates something else entirely.

Tased and Subdued, Throttled and Killed Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20120222(San Diego Reader February 22, 2012)

It was March 2009 when the British-born siblings Gillian Ison and John Graham Watson met at Zermatt, a resort in the shadow of Switzerland’s Matterhorn. There, with family members, they indulged a passion for skiing: Watson, an alpine expert, loved running the fall line, the steepest and fastest route down the slope. A traveler, an adventurer, the 64-year-old relished high-performance sports as much as he did his career with pharmaceutical and biotech firms. Balancing business and play had made his life storybook-successful. The self-made Watson had just retired, a multimillionaire.

The odd thing his sister Gillian Ison recalled about the trip to Zermatt was her brother’s “friend.” The man, a financial planner named Kent Thomas Keigwin, showed up with his daughter Parisa, surprising John. It was true the two had met in San Diego. And, according to Keigwin, Watson had invited him skiing. No, he hadn’t, Watson told his sister. Keigwin had invited himself. “He was,” she remembered, “nothing like he made himself out to be.”

Review: Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life by Ann Beattie Print E-mail

Ann-Beattie-imagines-Mrs-Nixon(The Rumpus January 30, 2012)

Write What You Don't Know

Had you not read much of Ann Beattie’s fiction—which is the case with me, just a few of The New Yorker stories—and Mrs. Nixon was your introduction to this writer, you’d think, How astonishing: she’s a collagist, an experimenter, formally fearless, analytically daring, animating with this book the most notoriously prudish of all the presidents’ wives, Thelma Catherine Pat Ryan Nixon (1912-1993), wife to Richard, vice-president under Eisenhower in the 1950s and president from 1969 until his ordering the Watergate break-in forced him to resign in 1974. “I am very happy to find myself paired with Mrs. Nixon,” Beattie announces, “a person I would have done anything to avoid—to the extent she was even part of my consciousness. As a writer, though, she interests me. My curiosity is based on how little we share in terms of personality, or upbringing, or what fate has dealt us.” Write what you don’t know.

Describing Darkness: Scott B. Davis Night Photography Print E-mail

29_palms_california(The Summerset Review Winter 2012)

About eight p.m. under a fading turquoise sky and clouds with watercolor-grey outlines, the night photographer Scott B. Davis angles his black Toyota truck with camper hull into a strangely beautiful but noisy promontory in San Diego's Balboa Park. It's nothing more than an empty parking lot off Golf Course Drive—where I feel commanded by the wide-armed view of the city skyline and the red-lighted Naval Medical Center and where Davis, a nocturnalist, sees something else entirely. The something he sees is not there or barely there or quickly receding from whatever thereness it had.

Awash in Celebrity Authors Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Yue-Minjun---Postmodern-Garden(Ontologica: A Journal of Art and Thought Winter 2011)

The most fun I’ve had on the Internet of late has been watching YouTube broadcasts, uploaded from Subtitled “We Couldn’t Make This Stuff Up!” the site archives and advertises performances of some eighty-four live “readings,” among them Kristin Wiig doing a selection from The Early Poems of Suzanne Somers, whose sexed-up spiritual poetry includes—“If anyone has any extra love/ Even a heartbeat/ Or a touch or two/ I wish they wouldn’t waste it on dogs”—and Mario Cantone’s raucous rendition of Prairie Tale: A Memoir by Melissa Gilbert, whose opening has Gilbert spotting Rob Lowe one day in Hollywood circa 1984, falling “totally” in love with him, starting a “relationship” which is buoyed by “profound” sex, then confronting him weeks later when she discovers his affair with Natasha Kinski: “I walked up to Rob, put my finger in his face, and said very calmly and slowly, ‘You don’t fuck with America’s sweetheart.’”

The rest of this essay is available at Amazon Kindle, "Awash in Celebrity Authors," for $0.99.

Review: A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers by Michael Holroyd Print E-mail

violet__vita(Contrary Magazine Winter 2012)

The Self-Avoidant Biographer

English biographer Sir Michael Holroyd has been bit bad by the Bloomsbury bug—that clique of authors who spawned literary modernism in England during and after the Edwardian Age and whose high priesthood included Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Roger Fry. Holroyd is obsessed with this group as his two continent-sized biographies, Lytton Strachey and the multi-volume Bernard Shaw, attest. Since Bloomsbury history is evidentially fat with letters, novels, diaries, and memoirs, such a record lures sleuths like Holroyd to remix the group’s labyrinth of motives. It’s the hunt he loves, chasing down their unrequited affairs, their aristocratic snuggling, and their benighted books—all writ prodigious—to tell again their scandalous loves and psychological woes.

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