AN OLD JOURNALISM PROFESSOR of mine who may have read too many Hemingway impersonators once solemnly informed me that short travel pieces—very short ones—were the truest test of fine writing. Real writers, he suggested, were the ones who could squeeze the essence of a place down into a tight little nub of a paragraph, a sentence, maybe only a clause. A word or two. This advice sounded at the time like the kind of considered wisdom that makes sense; but later of course I realized that it didn’t. Later I realized it was just wrong.
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Over two months later, this quiet event was recapitulated in a public way in Israel. I was speaking to a crowd of Israeli men at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Tel Aviv, when the subject became gays in Lebanon. “We’ve heard there is better nightlife there than here,” one man asked, wanting to know about the bars and clubs. The comment shocked some of those in the audience. Beirut was as forbidden to him as Tel Aviv was to Khaled. All the men in the room suddenly leaned forward in attention, wondering what the Lebanese capital, once the Middle East’s most cosmopolitan city, would be like.
IN THE OPENING essay of The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art, Eileen Myles neatly summarizes her career as a writer: “I’m a poet and a novelist, one-time college professor, among other things. Generally as many things as possible.” It is that spirit of openness-the willingness to consider what’s surrounding her at any moment, and its potential for being absorbed into her own writing-that shapes Myles’ visceral explorations of other artists’ works in this book of art criticism.
Reviews of the books Something to Declare : Good Lesbian Travel Writing, Interruptions: A Novel, The Resurrection of the Body: Pier Paolo Pasolini from Saint Paul to Sade, Sordid Truths: Selling My Innocence for a Taste of Stardom, and the film The Country Teacher.