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Literary Mailbag: Books Reading Writing Literature Fiction Poetry Dogs Horses Money Gossip Arby's Don DeLillo

I asked folks on Facebook if they had any questions about literature. They did.

I asked folks on Facebook if they had any questions about literature. They did.

Barry G. asks: Publishing: what is the point?
I don’t know, what’s the point in eating dinner? I get so hungry every night I just want to get up and drive to the nearest Wendy’s and order one of everything and eat there in my car in the dark around the side where the guys used to try to sell you drugs while you get your food. I don’t know why I never bought the drugs. I don’t know why I’m typing this. I try not to think of what the point of anything is or I’d just be sitting here and then I’d be like, What’s the point of sitting here?

Tim S. asks: Is there anything more stupid than wasting a day on describing a cowboy eating beans?
Hell yeah. Getting your hair cut while eating a lollipop is stupid, but that’s how I kicked off my Tuesday morning. I hardly ever go outside in the daylight and when I do I never see any birds. There are these things I do see at night though that circle the two brick smokestacks by my apartment, and I always thought they were bats but no one else seems to agree. Bats don’t fly like that, they say. They’re just up there flying in circles. During the day sometimes I feel like I’m at a desk job with all my friends who have desk jobs because I look at Facebook too. I don’t know when everyone started hating on living life like you're constantly masturbating. 

Alec N. asks: Do you have any advice for writers of children's fiction?
My gut reaction was, Yeah, don’t do it, but that’s not very true. Seems like children’s fiction got a bad rap when all those mid-career novelists who weren’t quite affording the Porsche yet decided it was time to put down trying to become the next Pynchon or even the next Carver and tried their hand at writing shitty stabs at kids' books that only adults who still act like kids aesthetically would ever want to read. Most kids' books I remember loving seem more fucked up than a lot of the adult books that do well now. I’d like to tie down Jonathan Franzen in a white room with a 300-hour stream of Teletubbies and sugar candy bloodfeed and a notepad and some crayons.

Kate D. asks: Why does Arby's cheese taste so good when it's clearly poisonous?
Because all humans are rats and it tastes good to eat rat food especially when it’s the color of the eyes of all the children of our future.

Jordan S. asks: How long do you have to be a writer before it's OK to talk about flowers?
The same amount of time before it’s OK to talk about sex or drugs or money or forgiveness or suicide or emotional abuse or rape or pudding or horses or water parks or trees or talking animals or quiet animals or music or numbers or beef or tickling or tits or babies or washing machines or thoughts about writing or death or dying or pyramids or dust: Old enough that you’re dumb enough to get away with it.

Ben H. asks: What is the secret to telling a good joke?
Posture.

Jon C. asks: How do you feel about Emerson's remark, "Books are for the scholar's idle time"?
I feel like anyone who considers the concept of the “scholar” and said scholar’s “idle time” in the same sentence, whether living in the 19th century or not, is kind of a fuckface. I get it, bro wants everybody to know that books are for when you are exhausted on the sofa after a daylong quest into the fold of the earth fondling tree branches and staring into the sun until you think that the black blobs on your vision are the fingerprints of god. I don’t know, seems like an excuse. Seems like if you resurrected Emerson into July 2012 in Atlanta where the heat is sopping wet and over 100 and the nature is paved and stuffed with dicks in machines that with one slip of the arm could plow into your face, and take him inside to the A/C and give him a MacBook Pro and wi-fi and a bag of MegaFaceFlood Doritos and some beer or Mountain Dew, he’d still say the exact same thing about saving books for later, just like all those other online bros who never read because they’re too busy wakeboarding. All time is idle time.

Amber S. asks: Do American literature and American fast food come from the same hole and is that good or bad and where does it go when our bodies are done processing it?
I guess I don’t know what you mean anymore by “American literature”? Is that like the tapestry of text on all the billboards you drive by from day to day all chained together, collaged with some footnotes from Wikipedia and dialogue from text messages on your phone? American literature seems like saying "transexual anthill." Whatever it is, I don’t think it comes from the same hole as where I go at 3 AM for the Cheesy Gordita Crunch where the bodies talk to me through the machine and then hand me rotting objects wrapped in paper through a tiny window. I guess I wish it were. I wish when I was reading it felt like the way that food, once it gets inside you, seems to be eating you from the inside and coursing through your bloodstream in a way like you’ll never be able to have sex again because you’re too huge and made of plastic. It does all seem to end up in the same place, though, yes, though the kind of shit my brain is made of never seems to come out of my ass, it just keeps getting older and more impacted.

Greg M. asks: Why can foreign writers like Sebald or Bolaño or Marai or Nadas get mainstream recognition in the American media, yet for examples of American writers the same media chooses people like Franzen?
Those authors you mentioned all seem like the “token” authors publishers pick out to represent an entire foreign culture that they feel they can fetishize into money. For every Bolaño there are surely hundreds or thousands of lesser-known authors, well-known or lesser-known in their countries, that most American publishers wouldn’t bother to fuck with because it doesn’t come with a Tupac-like legacy that can riddle that press into riddling Americans to buy. A few places in the small press arena like Action Books and New Directions and Les Figues and Dalkey Archive try to make up the difference, but it’s a hell of a world.

Kory C. asks: Are some things not worth reading?
This question seems like a setup for the preternatural “Yeah, this article” comment that seems to appear in almost every online forum. But I don’t know if I’m the right person to ask. I grew up reading the backs of cereal boxes and trying to make sense out of the gibberish my family’s printer would gush out when there was an error in the signal all like: ëÈ’S∂}íß≥’…ıl≤ºÀæÃ∫óù÷9¡Ã‚e†Ì2~ìx\óMc31. One time I made a girl storm out of a party when I insisted that my mom’s grocery list was literature the same way that her MFA work was (sick party, bro, I know). But yeah, some things aren’t worth reading. You pick out what yours are and then just don’t.

Heather C. asks: "What is the language using us for?"
I went to get a cyst taken off my neck the other day. It had been there for a long time and become familiar to me but then got infected and turned red and colored up my whole neck and made it hard to turn my head. I went to the doctor and a woman had me take my shirt off and lay down on my back and she stuck me with a needle in the cyst’s center to numb the area while I turned my head the other way. Then she cut into the cyst and squeezed the junk out onto a white napkin that she threw away. I kept waiting to be able to smell the junk but I couldn’t smell it and she put a bandage on the spot and sent me on my way. It felt exactly the same as writing.

Grant M. asks: What makes a piece of writing "experimental?"
Even like last year I would have said something like, Getting out of bed, or something equally smarmy in the idea that anyone wrecked in the brain enough to try to sit down and communicate in language was by rout experimenting with the art. But I don’t think I believe that anymore. Some people are pussies, and they either are or they aren’t.

@blakebutler