Thursday, March 29, 2012

Maud Newton

The photo, so blurry as to only do justice to her smile, looks like it was taken with Ms. Newton in motion. This pretty much sums up how I felt about her visit, that it went by too fast. Before her talk at Butler, we MFAers were all atwitter. We wondered what she would look like, this Maud Newton, this author of one of the longest-standing and most-respected literary blogs. Some of us expected an older, staid, bookish woman. Maud Newton was anything but -- a high-heeled, petite, stylish young woman with a heart-shaped face set off with a pair of parenthesis dimples and hipster black eyeglasses.

Newton began her blog,, over a decade ago, as a lark between projects. Back then, she commented, culture blogs were few. Blogging was a combination of performance and writing. (And yes, she said, contrary to rumors, blogging IS writing!) Back then blogs were just beginning to be discovered by newspapers, and there was always tension over the question of whether those in the literary world considered blog writing important. As print media began their own blogs, though, the criticism about blogging diminished.

Newton's advice for bloggers: "Have faith in yourself, your perspective, your voice. Express yourself completely." She went on to say, "Your point of view distinguishes you from everyone else. Only you can get your words on the page." And then a warning: "Once your words are in the world it's impossible to take them back."

Newton receives about sixty books a week. Between her day job and working on her first novel, she finds herself stretched, and has decided she doesn't want to review books she doesn't feel strongly about. If she feels a book won't be edifying or meaningful, she has no qualms about bailing. Her advice for reviewers is to reach into themselves and explain why they do or don't like a book. They have a duty to be honest and not bore the reader.

Now, here's something wild: the day after Newton spoke I was invited to a brunch with her, Mike Dahlie (author of "A Gentleman's Guide to Gracious Living"), Allison Lynn (author of "Now You See It"), and John Green (uber-popular author of too many YA novels to list.) CAN YOU IMAGINE?!

Actually, John Green was a no-show, his kid had strep throat. Green met with us MFAers last fall (see my post from November, 2011 and was genuine and earnest. His words stay with me still. I would have LOVED the chance to break bread with him again. But, to tell you the truth, I was almost hyperventilating with excitement with Newton, Dahlie and Lynn at my table. One more erudite author? I might have needed to breath into a brown paper lunch bag.

So, what did I ask Newton, the author who has published in Narrative, Granta and The New York Times, and about whom the Paris Review blog wrote is necessary reading? Mostly I was speechless, but when the nerves subsided enough for me to get my bearings, I asked, "What is your favorite book of all time?" Answer? "The End of the Affair," by Graham Greene. I asked Newton about the profile of author Emma Forrest she published in The Awl. Newton said she wanted to give readers an appreciation for Forrest's memoir, "Your Voice in My Head," so instead of a traditional interview, she put together a profile. Newton seemed especially -- and rightly -- proud of this piece. Check it out at (My review of Forrest's "Your Voice in My Head" can be found in my January 6, 2012 post,

Overall, the brunch went by so fast that it was over by the time I'd finished my yummy Patachou crepe. It was only as I drove away (after Maud hugged me goodbye!) that I realized all the great questions I wanted to ask her were still orbiting in my head. Here's what I walked away with: Maud Newton, Mike Dahlie and Allison Lynn are all extremely nice. They inhabit a six-degrees-of-separation literary world, and were able to chat about literati the way my crowd gossips about our kids' SAT scores. Also, I learned two things about myself: One, that I wish I had attended prep school instead of the alternative, Haight-Ashbury high school (where I spent a lot of time doing things you might expect a teenager to do in the Haight-Ashbury), and two, that I wish I was better-read.

Check out my pal Beth Bates's much more detailed recap of Newton's talk in her post: www.

None of these links are working, are they? I suppose you'll need to cut and paste the URLs. (Is that what they're called?) Have I ever claimed to have a clue about this technological mumbo-jumbo? Yeah, I know, you're not surprised. Me neither.

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