We’re thrilled to announce that FSG Originals (and Weidenfeld & Nicolson in the UK) will be publishing Brian Phillips’s debut essay collection, Impossible Owls, in Fall 2018. A vivid, intellectual, witty, and singular voice in contemporary journalism, Brian is a former staff writer for Grantland and was recently a senior writer for MTV News. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, Slate, and Poetry, among other publications, and he’s written about everything from sumo wrestlers to Russia’s greatest living animator. A collection of both new and previously published work, Impossible Owls is an ambitious and genre-defying portrait of our surreal contemporary moment, from the British royal family to The X-Files, from man-eating tigers in the Himalayas to the gates of Area 51. Brian is exactly what we look for in a writer, and we couldn’t be more excited to bring this collection to life. Stay tuned for more updates!
On June 8th at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, Eugene Lim launched his novel Dear Cyborgs, about which the New Yorker raved, “[Lim’s] writing is confident and tranquil; he has a knack for making everyday life seem strange . . . There’s an intoxicating, whimsical energy on every page.” Eugene spoke with author (and FSG editor) Jeremy Davies about hopelessness, capitalism, Asian-American lit and more. Check out an edited version of their conversation below.
Jeremy Davies: So, as one bag of anxiety talks to another, the book is full of, as everyone’s heard, a lot of funny stuff, a lot of comic book-y stuff. But one of the things that stood out to me, especially on the second go through, was how well you delineate the anxieties that a lot of us are feeling at this point in time, and perhaps always should be feeling, at this juncture in our culture, politically, as well as in other ways. And the book doesn’t feel angry; it’s more like describing a cage that we’re in and can’t get out, and those are the bars, and that’s the situation. And there’s a line later in the book after a description of what sounds like a Jonas Mekas performance, where one of the characters says just apropos of the performance: “This is what true death would say: not ‘I’m coming for you,’ but ‘You always dwell within me.” So—instead of talking about fun comic book-y stuff, let’s talk about hopelessness and despair.
EL: Well, you know, it’s funny, I was surprised that I was writing a somewhat political book, but that particular line is—
JD: It’s more existential, I know, but it’s part and parcel with the character of the book, which is sort of a deadpan acceptance of hopelessness.
EL: Well, acceptance is tougher, but on the very first page of the book there’s this hidden quote from Gramsci, though I am not a well-read leftist, on the leftist theory, but Gramsci, who many of you know, had these prison notebooks, and he wrote this famous quote: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” I don’t think that’s his original quote, I actually think he was somebody who made that famous. But that idea of this duality where, you know, he wrote in prison, it wasn’t the best times, and he was a realist, so he was accepting of the despair and the hopelessness, and yet he recognized that he had to be hopeful. And so it’s that contradiction that we live with. A lot of times the left will say, “don’t admit to despair, don’t admit to hopelessness,” because there’s some kind of fear there that the troops will give up and not show up or something. But what I don’t see so often is just an admission of this really hopeless feeling that is in the air, has been in the air. So I think in politics or when you’re actually debating things, you may not be able to admit your despair. But I think in fiction it’s important to confront it; so that’s one accept of it.
Mary Mann is far from bored. Not only was her first book, Yawn: Adventures in Boredom, published May 16, she’s also been writing and schmoozing like a madwoman.
In New York Magazine’s The Cut, Mary wrote about boredom, marriage, monogamy, and forcing her boyfriend to accompany her to a sex store trivia night. In the piece, she touched on a huge anxiety for many couples:
To call a person boring is hurtful and demeaning. To call a relationship boring, or even to say that you’re experiencing boredom within a relationship, is often seen as the kiss of death. The magazines and books advising you to avoid being boring in bed or in conversation at all costs, the shows and movies that perpetuate this idea that love is a flame that’s either lit or out — all conspire to create a belief that boredom is a kind of pox, and you’re just not as good of a couple once it touches you.
But just because we experience boredom in a relationship, Mary explains, doesn’t mean it’s the end. In fact, it’s pretty normal.
Writing for Slate, Mary tackled a huge question: Can technology solve the 2,500-year-old problem of boredom in the classroom? The reality is, well, a double-edged sword. As Mary writes,
Archer (a professor) was addressing a common conundrum of educational technology: that it can end up contributing to the problem it was created to fix—an “endless feedback loop,” as a frustrated professor I know put it. Classroom distraction doesn’t just come from the phones in students’ pockets; it can also result from the very gadgets invented for the classroom, gamified educational tools that often aid and abet short attention spans by catering to the most restless.
And yes, Mary admits she got bored listening to the professor explaining the very theories she needed to write her own article.
Mary also write a piece for Outside titled “How to Turn Boredom into a Performance Enhancer.” If only it were that easy… Still, as Mary explains, the world’s best endurance athletes get bored, too. But instead of giving up, like us, they push through boredom to find flow, the coveted state of “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake”:
It sounds fantastic, but there is a downside: boredom and flow both tend to flourish under the same conditions—an extended period of time devoted to a single activity. Thus, by trying to squash boredom with, say, a good podcast, you’re decreasing the chances of achieving flow.
. . .
But [the sports psychologist] went on to explain that if runners who feel occasional boredom “can make it through those lethal first minutes to the other side,” they might find their mind starting to follow new and unexpected routes. This tracks with recent research finding that boredom actually helps us develop certain positive skills, like creativity and associative thinking. As Black Girls Run co-founder Toni Carey told me, “Running can be a spiritual experience, but I notice that those times when I can feel everything flowing together, every movement connected with my breath, they happen when I’m not running with music.”
Eh, we’ll stick to leisurely walking the treadmill while reading.
And if you still aren’t bored (no, we’re not done making bored jokes yet), Mary published two excerpts of the book online. The first, in Electric Literature, is an essay about how boredom and an enterprising Brit (Thomas Cook) gave birth to the modern tourism industry. And the second excerpt, published in Literary Hub, breaks down boredom in the office place. Finally, Mary did two fantastic interviews with The Atlantic and The Culture Trip.
Check it out, and get a copy of Yawn now!
It’s been a rough year, 2016. So at the beginning of this last full month before the official onset of the apocalypse, we’re grateful at least that everything’s coming up normal. As in Normal, by Warren Ellis. Which is, perhaps, appropriate—Ellis is after all the man now being credited for having predicted Trump, etc, twenty years ago in Transmetropolitan.
But Normal is actually a book of right now. And while we can’t promise that the future now looks incredibly rosy for us humans (and others), there are few bright spots for us to point out: The book made the Indie Next List for December (it’s “1984 meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” says Randy Schiller of Left Bank Books in St Louis—see, rosy!) and one of Amazon’s Best Books of December (“a mind-blowing morsel of paranoia…or prescience” according to Amazon’s Adrian Liang)—and, in fact, one of Amazon’s Top 100 Best Books of the Year!
But for all you internet nerds actually visiting our website, the brightest spot of all is the news that the one and only John Hodgman agreed to lend his dulcet tones to the audiobook edition of Normal.
In 2016, one of FSG Originals’ most ambitious and rewarding challenges was the publication of all four volumes of Lian Hearn’s Tale of Shikanoko across the course of the year. With the publication of Tengu’s Game of Go, the set is now complete. And—just to toot our own horn for a moment, excuse us—it is glorious to behold, utterly gorgeous and deeply satisfying, inside and out.
The first book of The Tale of Shikanoko arrives on US shores today, and Emperor of the Eight Islands comes on waves of praise. During its Australian publication a few weeks ago, it was hailed in the mainstream press—The Sydney Morning Herald wrote, “It is easy to let the book sweep the reader away, to engage with strange events, but very compelling characters…there is huge imaginative vitality.”—and the, um, geek media, too—here’s The Geek of Oz: “Emperor of the Eight Islands is masterstroke for Lian Hearn…you’ll want the next book in front of you right now.”
For the record, we’re doing our very best to get the next book in front of you right now. The first book comes out today; the second, Autumn Princess, Dragon Child, will be out the first week of June; and the whole series—all four books—will be available by the end of September. (Yes, in true FSG Originals fashion, it’s not just the books themselves that are an adventure, it’s the publications, too.)
In the meantime, we have more waves or praise to share with you.
In what reads like a missing chapter from his just-published A Burglar’s Guide to the City, Geoff Manaugh details the (maybe-true) story of a convicted bank robber hired to steal al Qaeda’s liquid assets. The article, published just last week in The Daily Beast, was optioned by Studio 8.