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Magic Hours: Essays on...
Tom Bissell
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Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation

3.75  ·  Rating Details  ·  559 Ratings  ·  74 Reviews
In "Magic Hours," award-winning essayist Tom Bissell explores the highs and lows of the creative process. He takes us from the set of "The Big Bang Theory" to the first novel of Ernest Hemingway to the final work of David Foster Wallace; from the films of Werner Herzog to the film of Tommy Wiseau to the editorial meeting in which Paula Fox's work was relaunched into the wo ...more
ebook, 305 pages
Published April 1st 2012 by McSweeney's Books
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(showing 1-30 of 1,987)
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MJ Nicholls
Nov 27, 2014 MJ Nicholls rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, merkins
Bissell is a decent essayist with an eclectic outlook. ‘Unflowered Aloes’ is an intelligent discussion of literary immortality and the afterlife of books (I believe no book should fall out of print, unless espousing hateful ideologies), ‘Grief and the Outsider’ explores the dark hinterland of the unpublished writer, standing in their frustrated droves and flinging turds at the published and the publishers, with a look at the Underground Literary Alliance, a strange organisation that still seems ...more
May 29, 2012 Tuck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
a new imprint of mcsweeney's, believer books (2 gripes, the font is terrible, and there is no index, come on, we need an index mcsweeneys), has this collection from bissell, collecting about 12 years of essays taken mostly from mainstream mags (harpers, new yorker, new york times book review, believer, outside etc) and many of these are about tv shows and movies, which i skipped for the most part, though the overview of herzog is pretty fantastic. and the thoughts about david foster wallace and ...more
Apr 19, 2012 Manfred rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit of an inconsistent collection, if only because all the pieces were written over 12 years for different magazines and different audiences. The piece about Jeff Daniels's opus "Escanaba in da Moonlight" has a predictable "kick your hometown in the nuts" sort of feel but Bissell can turn a phrase masterfully and keeps it interesting. My favorite chapter is the one called "Writing About Writing About Writing" where he takes various self-help authors to the woodshed in a masterfully bitchy way. ...more
Kressel Housman
Anyone who knows me for more than five years, whether online or off, can tell you that I used to be absolutely obsessed with becoming a professional writer. I even had some modest success; nine of my short stories were published and I spent four years as a copywriter for Rabbi Wein’s Destiny Foundation.

About two years ago, all that changed. I began working full-time at a law office in Manhattan, and though I suppose my commute time could have become writing time, I used it for reading instead.
Jun 19, 2012 Pamela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Boy, do I love Tom Bissell's writing. There is just no other way to say it. And I'm a sucker for his subject: artistic process and artistic reputation. The opening essay, "Unflowered Aloes," is a sobering account of just how easily the work of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Herman Melville might have failed to come down to us today (in each case there were quite lucky circumstances). There's an amusing and insightful piece on how-to-write guides, and a remarkable article about a remarkable g ...more
Nicholas Armstrong
It's a difficult thing for me to evaluate this- Scratch that. It's a difficult thing for me to evaluate ANY book, not just this. Even bad books, ones I carry deep, dark hatreds for, require a vigorous and focused back and forth. I will always be awed by the spirit it takes for a person to create. I think it is remarkably courageous; even if, for many writers, this is unfounded and block-headed courage, it is courage nonetheless. I imagine many war heroes were not exactly rocket-scientists, which ...more
This is upsetting: I wrote a review here, about an hour ago. It's gone. I wrote the whole thing, clicked save down there at the bottom and ...

What have I learned from this? In future I will write reviews in a word processor or text editor and save them; then, I will cut and paste them here. This is a very frustrating experience: first, because I don't like writing reviews about collections--whether of essays or short stories or poems. My mind tries to go too many ways, even when, as in this coll
Lisa Eckstein
This book is a collection of a dozen-plus essays by Tom Bissell that were previously published in various magazines. All of them are about "people engaged in some aspect of creation." Several are about writers, several are on filmmakers, one focuses on video game voice actor Jennifer Hale, and one covers the career of sitcom creator Chuck Lorre. (These last two mentioned were among my favorites.)

Bissell is a good writer, and I enjoyed the sarcastic sense of humor that he inserts into most of the
Interesting idea for a book, but the author kind of lost me when I got to the passage where trees "perimetered" a field. Can't they just "line the perimeter"? I am not a fan of noun/verbs. I know English is a constantly evolving language, but that's a trend I just don't care for. It just strikes me as being sort of twee somehow, with an air of "Look, Ma, I'm making up words and being creative!" Also, there was a section of the book in which the author is talking about the ineptitude of a filmmak ...more
Aug 21, 2012 Amanda rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: left-unfinished
The tagline on this book says "Essays on creators and creation." No, this is not what the book is about at all. It is the author's critique of certain works (books and movies), and sometimes certain people (He really hates Robert Kaplan, and I mean really hates). Bissell can be extraordinarily harsh, cruel, and condescending. Also, his writing was boring. So very BORING. It was difficult to wade through this book, and when its library due date came up and I hadn't finished it, I gladly took it b ...more
Scott Woody
I liked Magic Hours, a book of essays by Tom Bissel. The essays are focused on literature and literary criticism and are, on the whole, fascinating reads. Below, I’ve summarized a couple stories that I particularly enjoyed. If you're interested in reading about the inner world of publishing or reading about authors critiquing other authors, this is a good one to read. It’s not life-changing, but I enjoyed it.

Unflowered Aloes: This essay is all about the arbitrary nature of America’s best nature.
Mar 06, 2014 Frances rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent old-school nonfiction on almost everything. How writing/acting/creative careers boil down to luck. How Melville, Whitman, and Dickinson were very nearly never "discovered". How a Chuck Lorre sitcom set runs. Going for a traditional writing MFA vs. going it solo. Influence and literary heroes. Video games and voice over actors.

I recommend Michelle Orange if (like me), you're into this sort of writing.

[Small PS: Author could stand to write in a less locker-room style - given more than a
Jun 12, 2012 Ami rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Via Brandon.

Really more of a 3.5 stars--I liked some essays better than others, especially the one on The Room.
Apr 07, 2013 Jason rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a collection of essays about artists and the creative process...
Most of them were previously published in magazines, and in the end I wound up treating this book like a magazine -- reading the stories that appealed to me and skipping over the rest. The essay on Werner Herzog was amazing, and so was the one where the author does an overview of the many books written about writing. I was most excited to read the opening essay about Melville, Dickinson, and Whitman, and how literary fame o
Colleen O'Neill Conlan
Aug 16, 2012 Colleen O'Neill Conlan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
An interesting collection of essays, profiles, and reviews about various creative figures in popular culture. Bissell turns his focus on those who make films, documentaries, video games, and especially literature. The subjects might be quite famous (David Foster Wallace and his commencement speech, Jim Harrison about the writing life in Montana, Chuck Lorre on the set of his various wildly successful sitcoms-before the implosion of Two-and-a-Half Men star Charlie Sheen). Or they may be famous on ...more
Ryan I
Sep 17, 2012 Ryan I rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really solid collection of profiles and criticism with the through-line of being about "Creators and Creation." There's a great mix of popcult figures; Werner Herzog, Tommy Wiseau ('The Room'), the creator of shitty, but hugely successful sitcoms, and Jennifer Hale, "the Queen of Video Game voice-over. Each profile adds depth to the person and their chosen medium. Even the subjects I didn't care about -- or knew nothing about -- the framing and context were set up so well, that it was still a go ...more
Mar 11, 2013 Bob rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bissell has that sophisticated but not too academic style that seems to epitomise Harper's which is where half of these first appeared. Though subtitled "Essays on Creators and Creation", film and TV creators get the most attention and the logistics of their work get more than the ineffable creative aspect. However, the very genre-specific essay on the workings of the sitcom world is one of the most entertaining; by contrast, the longest and ostensibly most scholarly piece, on Werner Herzog, see ...more
Fil Krynicki
May 09, 2013 Fil Krynicki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy Tom Bissell's writing. I think this has very little to do with his technical proficiency or beauty of prose and very much to do with the sympatico-ness of our world perspective. The essays in this collection that rang out most to me were those that I could empathize most with: Grief and the Outsider, Writing about Writing about Writing, Euphorias of Perrier, A Simple Medium. All have some spirit of "metacriticism", or making statements about making statements. This has been a hot topic f ...more
May 03, 2013 Nathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wins, made of wins. The essay appreciating Werner Herzog left me colder than cold, but every other one was a winner. His writing style is beautiful and his sense of humour sharp.

Standouts: Unflowered Aloes (about the contingency of literary success); "Grief and the Outsider" (deconstructing a poser literary collective's "manifesto"); "Euphorias of Perrier" (slashing the lazy travel writing of Robert D. Kaplan); and "Great and Terrible Truths" (about David Foster Wallace and suicide).

Nov 08, 2014 April rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read about half of this book and really enjoyed it. I didn't feel bad returning it to the library not fully read because I didn't need to read a book's worth of essays on writing at the moment. This definitely makes me want to seek out more of his writing addressing other topics. His style makes me happy like Ian Frazier's and early-2000s Hank Stuever make me happy. Definitely recommended.
Back to the cafe with some hours and some literary essays, I knew Bissell and I were going to have many disagreements from the opening line. Now I read literary essays to entertain thoughts I would not usually entertain, to view things I care about from a different angle, and to muse about subjects with an author. Mostly, this was a set of essays in which I was across the table, interested and often flabbergasted, and making notes to check to make sure I keep my humility pants on. For one of the ...more
Aug 04, 2012 Blyth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bissell's collection of reviews and profiles expose us to a wide variety of pop-culture art, from video store geekery and the self-help aisle to network sitcoms and video game voice-over. While his writing is solid, his voice is not terribly likable. He is best when defending great writers and the art of writing. His respect for writing is so thorough that one of his longer pieces is an elaborate analysis of the Underground Literary Alliance, a (by definition) marginalized group of unsuccessful ...more
Ryan Mishap
Grouping essays around the theme of creativity, the making of art by artists provides a wide range for Bissel to get on his high horse and explore. Sequenced by publication date, the writing in the earlier essays clearly show a young writer trying his damnedest to impress, overwhelm with language, and make bold statements. After we take a trip to his home town to hang out on a movie set it feels like we get a more relaxed story-teller.

At any rate, I'm not sure I gained any insight into the "cre
Mar 13, 2013 Elisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read only two of the essays: A Simple Medium, about Chuck Lorre, the guy who created Dharma & Greg (love that show!), and Invisible Girl, about a voice actress for video games. I've always wondered about Chuck Lorre because of those vanity cards that he writes that show up for a second at the end of each show -- I'm curious about his creativity, so it's great to read this essay on his process. Plus, I like The Big Bang Theory, which he also creates, and it's fun to read about the filming o ...more
Catherine Weller
One of my favorite books of 2012. Bissell is a brilliant essayist: incisive and insightful. When he loves one of the creators in this book, like Jim Harrison, his prose makes you want to immediately read or re-read everything by that person so you can develop a deeper appreciation for his works. When Bissell dislikes a writer... it's tempting to feel sorry for that person but Bissell's criticism is so well stated and supported you can't help but understand.

I loved Bisell's use of language in th
Sep 13, 2015 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A mostly interesting collection of articles/essays on a variety of subjects having to do with the creative. Bissell has a good creative non-fiction eye, and writes well. I skipped around quite a bit in it, and didn't quite finish it.
verdict? not too bad.

as is always the case with a collection of essays, half of whether i will enjoy the book entirely is whether i enjoy the subject matter at hand; this collection was no different. as this particular collection goes in chronological order of publication, i found i liked more of the essays towards the end, when both the insight and writing had improved. (not that tom bissell wasn't always a good writer, mind you. his writing has always been strong, but with age comes maturity
Jun 21, 2013 Katie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Have a dictionary handy.

MAJOR CONFESSION: I'm a huge Jessica Hische fan & I first heard about this book because she did the cover art. The title intrigued me, so I picked it up; I'd never heard of the writer.

I'm thrilled that MAGIC HOURS was my introduction. The breadth of his essay topics was fantastic and you forget that the common theme is of creators as how and where Bissell dives in is so different in every single one. His observations are wonderful, and his use of language can't be ign
Aug 09, 2012 Koz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started reading Tom Bissell by way of his video game reviews (here's a good example) which I found to be thoughtful and incisive and the kind of writing that likes to go beyond the reaches of its stated subject matter - all stuff I like. This collection is cast from that same mold, so if you're into that kind of thing, you could do worse than to pick it up. One weird thing: there seem to be way more typos than usual in this book. Not sure what that's all about, but it kind of got on my nerves. ...more
Tomas Ramanauskas
Some are stronger than others, but you never know what's lurking around the corner in terms of themes in this book. Nice read.
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Tom Bissell (born 1974) is a journalist, critic, and fiction writer.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
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“Of that time, there is still much we do not know.” 2 likes
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