Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Essential Role of Great Editors

At the close of Coates’ recent interview with Chris Hayes, the host asks him if he’s working on a new book. The dodge Coates gives, not wanting to discuss a project-in-process, ends up being a terrific toast to the necessity of sharp, tough early readers and editors:

I do, I do have a writing project and I love you people so much, let me tell you how much I love you. I was due on this writing project two weeks ago, it was like two weeks ago and yet I'm here with you. How much love is in my heart? Here I am. I do, man and I do and what I'll say is, I love it and it's the hardest thing ever. Writing is so ... I want to talk really, I don't know if they're people who want to be writers, who are writers in the building. But I just want to talk really quickly about that process. And about specifically working with [my editor] Chris [Jackson], who is magnificent. I give him shit all the time but he's actually magnificent, best editor and publisher, excuse me, make sure I get his title right.

I have a note that one day, we should have put it in "We Were Eight Years in Power," and the note is, I wrote "Between the World and Me" four times. And every time I would submit a draft to Chris and he'd be like, "Hmm, I don't know. I don't know, I don't know." Basically, I had to go and rewrite before we even got to the level of actual line by line editing. So he sent me a note after what must have been the second or third draft. And it's just like 2,000 words about why this does not work. And it was so depressing. I remember getting it at the time, I think you have to understand about "Between the World and Me" is, it's a book that came out of my head. I had artistic inspiration in the sense of James Baldwin, the fact that I had been working through the death of my friend for 14 years at that point.

I had the fact of a black president which was sort of swirling around but I didn't know what that was. Even the idea of a letter came at the very end of the actual process of us working together. And man, I got that note from Chris, 'cause every time you're like, "Okay, I think this is it, I think I got it, I think I got it." And it's go again, go again. And I feel like at that point, I was well-known enough and this is how the industry works. Somebody would have published that draft. It's an inferior draft, it's not the same book. And this is, I've been blessed because this is actually the relationship we have even on this book, man. I turned in a draft about this time last year. Oh, I'm done, we're gonna go to line edits. And Chris took forever to read it as is his way.

But when he did, he wrote, he did a little bit of line edit but he came over to the house and he talked to me about it and it was clear that I had to rewrite the whole thing. This is my third time, I've been writing this book for 10 years, this is my third time rewriting it. But he's not gonna let me embarrass myself. You understand? I think I'm good as a writer, but I actually have much more confidence in the people around me because the people around me, they just gonna tell me, "It's not time. It's not time, don't embarrass yourself." I think a lot of writers, listen, I think talent is really important but I think what I have been blessed with, from the time I was in my mom and my dad's house, you know what I mean? From the period of working for David Carr. From the period when James Bennett ran The Atlantic. I had hard people around me. You know who just pushed. Do it again, go again, go again, go again, go again.

So if you like what you see, and this is why I'm always a little uncomfortable with this, what you are seeing is not some innate thing. What you are seeing is, go again, go again, go again. And that's the spirit I think of certainly good writing and any writing that hopes to be great. The bleeding on the page. And then bleeding again and again. I just tell him this all the time, I'm thankful to have a reader like that who push you in that sort of way.

"American Curmudgeon: On Jeff Tweedy"

Fantastic piece at The Ringer by Lindsay Zoladz. Can’t wait to read his new book.

For reasons that should by now be apparent, Jeff Tweedy never struck me as the candid-memoir type. In fact, whatever the exact opposite of the candid-memoir type is? He struck me as that. Although I have been listening to his music for 20 years, he’s always felt like an enigma. And that has always sort of felt like the point—here was this ambling, mumbling, Sour Patch–voiced guy who’d much rather put his life into oblique lyrical metaphors than say anything about it outright. The closest he’d ever come to a statement of self was “I am an American aquarium drinker”—and as gorgeous a lyric it is, I am still not sure what the hell it means. Even in Jones’s documentary, which is generally considered (incorrectly, Tweedy would like you to know in his book) the most revealing document about Wilco, Tweedy comes off as a little prickly, withholding, and slyly deliberate in what he chooses to share. It might seem like a lot—infamously, he lets the cameras follow him into the bathroom to film him vomit from his habitual migraines—but the closer you watch the more he recedes. “There is no sunken treasure,” he insists in one of the songs he performs in the film, “rumored to be wrapped inside my ribs, in a sea black with ink.”

New Knausgaard Interview @ NewYorker.com

From a substantive new interview with Joshua Rothman:

I had felt for many, many years that the form of the novel, as I used it, created a distance from life. When I started to write about myself, that distance disappeared. If you write about your life, as it is to yourself, every mundane detail is somehow of interest—it doesn’t have to be motivated by plot or character. That was my only reason for writing about myself. It wasn’t because I found myself interesting, it wasn’t because I had experienced something I thought was important and worth sharing, it wasn’t because I couldn’t resist my narcissistic impulses. It was because it gave my writing a more direct access to the world around me. And then, at some point, I started to look at the main character—myself—as a kind of place where emotions, thoughts, and images passed through.

“A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”

Hadn’t seen this Camus quote before. (It appropriately closed a new profile on Sam Mendes in TNY.)

Jessie Greengrass: "Sight"

I’ve been knocked over by the beauty and control of Jessie Greengrass’s short debut novel, Sight, about becoming a parent and losing one. (I’d seen coverage in The Atlantic and The New Yorker.) I was impressed and absorbed by the very first page:

The start of another summer, the weather uncertain but no longer sharply edged, and I am pregnant again. In front of me is all the ordinary and useful disarrangement of my desk and beyond it the rain-smudged window with a view across our garden to where my daughter plays, watched over by Johannes. She has begun to lose, lately, the tumbling immediacy of toddlerhood. I notice it when we walk together, our strides separate, or when we sit face to face across a table—how she is taller now and straighter, and inflects her actions with intent. Once her thoughts broke like weather across her face, but that readable plasticity is gone and she is not so transparent: complexity has brought concealment. The weight of her body when I lift her takes me by surprise, its unfamiliarity a reiteration of the distance between us. She used to clamber over me, her legs, around my waist, her arms around my neck, as though I were furniture or an extension of herself, unthought-of or intimately known. Now she stands apart and I must reach for her, on each occasion a little further until it seems her progress towards adulthood is a kind of disappearing and that I know her less and less the more that she becomes herself. This is how things out to be, her going away while I remain, but still I think that if I could then I might reach across to where she stands, outlined against the violent yellow mass of a forsythia bush, and pull her back to me, to keep her always in my sight so that she might be nothing more than the sum of what I know of her.

Every 20 pages or so after that, reading at night in bed, I would tell my wife, This book is incredible — I’m stunned.

Don’t miss it.

Paul Ford on Microsoft Buying GitHub

That’s how code happens in 2018. The process used to be the sort of thing people did in slow and ad hoc ways, a few times a year, and only after a lot of infighting over email. Now the same process might happen 10 times a day, and the infighting is right there in the pull requests. Hundreds of people might be working on one code thing or 10 people on 100 code things. GitHub makes that doable. I can’t imagine life without it. I’d much rather tell a newbie to get a GitHub account than suggest she read the git manual. If all companies are becoming software companies, GitHub is a primary enabler.

A truly fun aspect of Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub is that it was announced before Apple Inc.’s Worldwide Developers Conference. This is like when Passover overlaps with Easter in New York City. The WWDC, sacred nerd summit of Appledom, is where they announce things like a new “night mode” for the operating system and try to convince programmers that Apple Watch matters. But GitHub is nerd infrastructure. Huge portions of modern culture—Google’s TensorFlow machine-learning software, for instance, and even other programming languages, such as Mozilla’s Rust—run on code managed there. For Microsoft to trot this out during WWDC is a real thunder-stealer. It’s nice to see global-platform capitalism played with a little verve.

Ford is one of the most consistently entertaining and informed writers on technology — from the inside out. A former Harper's staffer, he's also one of the few writers who can casually and believably drop a Borges reference in a deep-tech piece. (Note: I also dig his podcast.)