Essays

November 27, 2014

Gestation of Ideas: On Vertical Writing and Living 10

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I am not a writer first. I have a family, and without them I would have little reason to want to write — or to do anything else. My desire to create is held in silence during the day, so that my literary moments can be focused and absolute.

November 26, 2014

The Impediments of Style: Advice from Steven Pinker and the CIA 1

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Pinker is on a mission to remove the heckling usage purists from the back of the linguistics classroom.

November 24, 2014

Marilynne Robinson’s Singular Vision 2

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In my experience, there are two types of Marilynne Robinson readers: ‘Housekeeping’ people and ‘Gilead’ people.

November 21, 2014

Pineapples in a Hothouse: Writing Culture in ‘Dear Committee Members’ and ‘Twilight of the Eastern Gods’ 3

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As a promising Albanian writer, Kadare was invited to Moscow, where he met the odd mix of Party sycophants and belles-lettrists that was the Soviet intelligentsia.

November 20, 2014

Sex and the Single Librarian 9

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One of the frustrations of being a librarian is the occupational stereotyping. Librarians tend to be depicted in books and movies as elderly spinsters, rigid and frigid. More recently, in a predictable attempt to subvert convention, the slutty librarian trope has emerged: young, hot-blooded, yet not exempt from the cats-eye glasses.

November 18, 2014

Magical Thinking: Talent and the Cult of Craft 47

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As creative writing education continues to expand from a narrow field pursued by a devoted few to a profitable industry employing thousands, perhaps we should pause a moment to reflect on precisely what is being sold and what assumptions underlie the transaction.

November 11, 2014

I Just Didn’t Like Her: Notes on Likeability in Fiction 28

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Lately, I’ve been thinking: If I were a fictional character, would readers hate me?

November 10, 2014

Reading Together Even While Reading Alone 12

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You cannot remove a book from the List until you’ve read it entirely—because until the last paragraph, anything can happen.

November 5, 2014

Infuriating, Possibly Illuminating: On ‘The List of Books’ 2

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What sets The List apart are the thirteen Michelin Guide-type symbols (a magnifying glass, an American flag, an armchair, etc.) that Raphael and McLeish used to flag titles as (for example) a “major masterpiece,” a “seminal work that changed our thinking,” and “a particular pleasure to read.”

November 4, 2014

The Boy Who Would Be Crichton 4

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That Crichton’s magnum opus involved dinosaurs – my other great childhood obsession – seemed to dictate that my own should, too. The rest, I assumed, would come naturally to a prodigious talent such as myself.