the universal becomes personal


Essays sneak up on us. They are — or often feel — accidental: the record of a writer wrestling with an idea, an observation, a slice of experience, of a writer figuring it out. They have a conditional quality, as if they could go in any direction, offering impressions more than conclusive points of view. As Tom Bissell notes at the beginning of “Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation”: “When I am asked … for advice on how to get started as a nonfiction writer, I tell them to start small and look around.” There it is, the idea exactly: Keep your eyes open and follow where the language leads. In “Magic Hours” (Believer Books: 304 pp., $14), Bissell introduces a video game actress and a collective of disgruntled writers called the Underground Literary Alliance. He considers the career of Werner Herzog and a Hollywood cult filmmaker named Tommy Wiseau. On some level, of course, he is always writing about himself. “The overwhelming majority of a writer’s time,” he points out, “is spent wondering why this world is not as vivid as he or she once — agonizingly, deludedly — believed. To write is to fail, more or less, constantly.”

more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.