Ben Ehrlich is the author of The Dreams of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (Oxford University Press), a Salzburg Global Fellow, and co-creator of the website The Beautiful Brain. His work has appeared in New England Review, Nautilus, and The Paris Review Daily. Ben is at work on a new book—The Brain That Discovered Itself—to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
There are only three of us in-house every day, the NER machine is spread across the country—where are you coming to us from?
I’m in Brooklyn, Carroll Gardens. I’m subletting an apartment here for the month. Next door to me there’s a family with four children. Every day after school they play in the back of the house on a giant inflatable waterslide. They have the time of their lives. I can hear it!
Do you write/teach? How does reading for NER impact your work?
Reading for NER helps me stay connected to a magazine that I love. It also helps my writing, because I am able to study things that work and don’t work in other people’s writing, all of which I either do or don’t do in my own. It also feels good when I can find something from the submissions pile that maybe makes it into the magazine. That’s affirming.
What do you like to read on your own?
I’ve been moving around a lot and staying in other people’s spaces, either residencies or sublets. I like to pick up whatever is around. I didn’t read books for a while because I worried they were affecting my own writing. Then I went to the Brooklyn Book Festival and bought a bunch of great books, and now I’m grateful they’re affecting it. The last book I read was Spectacle by Susan Steinberg—brilliant. I’m almost done with Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium again—after many years I still feel confident saying he’s my favorite author. Now I’m in the midst of The Chandelier by Clarice Lispector—genius, unreal.
How did you come to read for us?
Carolyn asked me to join the team—maybe it was last year? I was honored and I accepted right away. NER gave me my first publication. I went to Middlebury. Stephen Donadio is my teacher, and I mean that in more than just the academic sense. I’m proud to be a part of this tradition.
What NER pieces do you still carry with you?
Matthew Olzmann (shout to you) wrote a poem called “Sir Isaac Newton’s First Law of Gravity” that has stayed with me for years and still comes to mind every once in a while. It was funny and brilliant and rang very true.
What other literary magazines are on your desk?
I would love to say that I read NER and only NER. I’m reading hard copies right now of Paris Review, Harvard Review, Tin House, also Book Festival purchases. I love Harper’s, but I gave up my subscription to a friend who seemed like he loved Harper’s more.
What do you do when you’re not reading for us?
I’m writing a book called The Brain That Discovered Itself. It’s about the life and work of the Nobel Prize-winning “father of modern neuroscience” Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934) and his discovery of the neuron. I’m somewhere in the middle of the manuscript.