Good short-story collections, like good record albums, are almost always hit-and-miss affairs - successful if they include three or four great tracks, wildly successful if they have five. And that's as it should be.

Horror and panic themselves are forms of violence, and diminishing them, restricting their dimensions, is itself a civilizing act.

There are two different forms of storytelling: Novels tend to come from the inside of a character, and movies tend to look at them from the outside in relation to others in their world.

Every generation looks at literature through the lens of their own experience, but with the Bible, everyone gets apprehensive and thinks it'll be too stuffy.

Stopping to think is fine for characters, but not for their creators. They have to work.

No matter how you cut them, paste them, rotate them, or distort them, lip syncing and air-guitar playing are fundamentally foolish activities, and anyone seen to be engaging in them with anything approaching a straight face is, by definition, taking herself or himself much too seriously.

In the age of networked everything, life moves sideways and covers lots of ground while barely touching the earth.

It's no accident that most self-help groups use 'anonymous' in their names; to Americans, the first step toward redemption is a ritual wiping out of the self, followed by the construction of a new one.

I've been around - having gone to Princeton, and I went to Oxford after that - some pretty fancy characters in my life. And they're just as nutty as the rest of us - sometimes worse.

Realize that the game of life is the game of, to some extent, being taken advantage of by people who make a science of it. Whether they are in government or personal life or in business, they're everywhere.

According to the perverse aesthetics of artistic guilty pleasure, certain books and movies are so bad - so crudely conceived, despicably motivated and atrociously executed - that they're actually rather good.

In a world that's smarter than it used to be and, in some ways, smarter than it ought to be, stupidity has a way of making us seem all the more human.

The strange anthropological lesson of social media is that human beings, if given a choice, often prefer to socialize alone.

Size has nothing to do with literature. All legs are long enough to touch the ground, and all books are big enough to fill their covers.

E-mails, phone calls, Web sites, videos. They're still all letters, basically, and they've come to outnumber old-fashioned conversations. They are the conversation now.

People can be so neglectful of each other and of their own heritage - then death intrudes. Conversations we wish that we'd had earlier are had too late.

I have very specific advice for aspiring writers: go to New York. And if you can't go to New York, go to the place that represents New York to you, where the standards for writing are high, there are other people who share your dreams, and where you can talk, talk, talk about your interests.

I read somewhere once that in the 1960s, fiction writers were troubled by the notion that life was becoming stranger and more sensational than made-up stories could ever hope to be. Our new problem - more profound, I think - is that life no longer resembles a story. Events intersect but don't progress. People interact but don't make contact.

My mother used to push 'Wuthering Heights' on me as a boy, and I sensed from her breathy description of the story that it would make me laugh. I have no plans to find out if this is true.

I think people get a sense of possibility when they're on a plane, even romantic possibility, wondering if the perfect person is going to sit down next to them or something.

The reason con artists get away with what they get away with is, their victims are ashamed of their own blindness and their own gullibility, and they tend to just quietly go away.

Yes, in the commercial world there's room for both McDonald's and Whole Foods, but in the realm of politics, we're told, it's either Filet-o-Fish or line-caught salmon: only one can prevail - and which is up to you.

The reason that last-ditch political maneuvering has become business as usual in Washington is that the actors involved are drunk on blame and are convinced that the voting public is, too. They count on outrage, thereby spreading numbness. They cherish the prospect of partisan fury, thereby inspiring nonpartisan disgust.

Once you realize just the sort of glut of books that exists out there, it does become incumbent on you not to add to it unless you have a damn good reason.

We're on Twitter with one side of our personality, and Facebook with another, and LinkedIn with another side of our personality, and we're toggling between them. That's just a version of what an impostor does: shifting from one side of their personality to another with lightning speed.

The room-service Caesar salads with soggy croutons, the distant relatives who show up at readings pitching weird, far-fetched investment schemes, the fans who have you sign a book to 'Cathy' and then tell you, 'No, it's Kathy with a K' - it gets challenging after a while. It tests your stamina.

A true nature is a gloomy monolith, sort of like that old black rotary phone that I had to sing 'Happy Birthday' to Grandpa on. But novelists, damn us, still need true natures - so we can give them to our protagonists. And so readers can vaguely predict how they'll behave when we trap them in 'situations' that they can't IM their way out of.

I remember the first time I went to Italy when I was eighteen, I was in Florence and there were all these eighteen, nineteen, twenty-year-olds gliding past on Vespas with crinkly, long, hair, and I thought I was on the set of a movie. I couldn't believe that this was going on and I hadn't known about it before. I was flabbergasted.

At college, I wanted to be a poet. I liked the extremely concentrated language, the atmosphere of otherworldliness.

Here's how adaptation works - almost everything in the movie is in the book in some form. But it's as though the deck has been completely reshuffled and some of the cards have been assigned different values, some of the fours have been made into jacks, and some of the jacks have been made into twos.

A loving mother-son relationship is always a plot or outwitting of some kind. 'Don't tell anyone, but...' my mother was always saying to me - when I wasn't saying it to her.

A president, like a college freshman, can't know in advance which questions he'll have to answer or what topics he'll have to master. He has to be flexible, supple, and responsive. He has to be comfortable with multiple-choice.

On the Web, we can be whoever we wish to be, editing the face we show to others in ways that aren't possible in physical space. We can also fine-tune the complexity and depth of our interactions and relationships.

I'm a novelist, a critic, an essayist - I tend to see politics as a subset of cultures rather than the other way around. It's a human enterprise, a tool or a technology revealing our collective inner self.

Nothing is less suspenseful than a threat that threatens the maker of the threat at least as much as the subject of the threat. Congress hasn't learned this yet, but America has learned it over and over.

Short stories are fiction's R & D department, and failed or less-than-conclusive experiments are not just to be expected but to be hoped for.

There are two sides to me. One is the writer. That's a savage person who looks at everything as a story and, you know, wants to use real life in his books. The other part is the Midwesterner, who, you know, wants to say nice things about people and be polite.

You have plausible deniability, as they say in politics, as an author with movies. Because if the movie is terrible, you simply say they failed to catch the genius of the book.

However old-fashioned and right-wing this may sound, the American genius for language lies in understatement, in saying things simply, pointedly and quickly, and in making new and clean and swift what otherwise might be ponderous, round and slow.

Statistics on the dangers guns pose to the health of their owners and those who live with them suggest that I'd be safer selling my guns than reserving them for 'Tombstone II.'

I say 'here's the thing' a lot, both to alert people that I'm about to say something important and to give myself a moment to figure out what that important thing might be, because my head is so often completely empty.

The fictionally correct have all the answers, and that's what's wrong with them. They're artistic technocrats. There's no dilemma so knotty, no question so baffling, that it can't be smoothly neutralized by dialing up the right attitude adjustment. Poor old Hemingway. If only he'd known.

When I was writing about the Republican primaries, it was as though the Bible was a black box that people reached into to pull out edicts and prejudices and rules and opinions, and I wish they had fact-checked it! Especially Rick Santorum.

I've noticed that the few times I've traveled first class myself, you've already got your drink, and your coat has been taken by the time the rest of the passengers file on, and it's hard not to feel sorry for them. They're sort of trooping past you like cows to slaughter and you're sitting there in your, you know, wide-body seat.

A sociopath doesn't warm up their environment, doesn't make it cozy. They don't have to; when they're not performing, when they're not manipulating, when they're all alone, there's nothing.

Guns can turn you into an insider even if you're an outsider by nature, recruiting you into a loose fraternity of people who feel embattled and defensive and are primally eager to win allies.

You're able to do things in novels: introduce subplots, other characters, thematic layers and so on, in a way that you simply can't in a movie. A movie really has to choose its battles.

The future of time, of how it's won or lost, endured or enjoyed, expanded or compressed, will depend on how it's valued, not how it's measured.

I like to think that I could praise the good book of someone I personally dislike. I try not to comment on the person, to be insulting, but I have no trouble being insulting to the work.