Essays

August 26, 2015

Seeing Myself: In Search of the Inciting Incident 6

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The agent said my birth mother had left me under a nearby bridge. I was found with a note that said, “Give him to someone rich.” A policeman gave me a name and took me to an orphanage, but the orphanage had recently burned down, so it, like my birth mother, was unrecoverable.

August 25, 2015

Summer Is Over: On John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” 2

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Allow the story to bring you back to the temporary innocence of July and August. Experience the deep melancholy of its final paragraph as you get ready for the cold months ahead, but don’t worry: there is always next summer.

August 21, 2015

The Purpose of Plot: An Argument with Myself 0

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I’ve begun to worry that my generally unthinking impulse to read plot summaries at the slightest provocation actually runs completely contrary to the purposes of books and film and television. I’m not helping my reading, I’m defeating it; I’m not becoming more well-versed in modern culture, I’m ensuring my separation from it.

August 19, 2015

We Dance On: On Reading Roethke 3

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I read Roethke during a rough time, in a dark time, during a disorder I couldn’t quite comprehend. I read Roethke when I doubted whether going on living was worthwhile. I read him when it seemed like my life could blink out, to no purpose.

August 17, 2015

Lessons From No: Writers on Their Most Formative Rejections 3

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It took me a long time to understand that every editor who has rejected my fiction has done me a favor.

August 13, 2015

We Know Less Than We Think We Do: Why David Brooks Is Not a Pariah But a Harbinger of Hope 19

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I am surprised to find myself rooting for — eagerly awaiting — something that many would consider highly improbable: a retraction and an apology by New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks for his July 17 opinion piece, “Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While White.”

August 12, 2015

Kafka’s Vanished World: On Reiner Stach’s ‘The Decisive Years’ and ‘The Years of Insight’ 1

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Kafka remains singular because his choices are not inevitable. There are no clear lines between his work and his aesthetics, history, biography, and philosophy. His literature is defiant, organic, and idiosyncratic.

July 30, 2015

Bold but Messy: On Eileen Myles and the Fugitive Form 1

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It is social media that, unsurprisingly, has helped to push this once avant-garde approach into the mainstream.

July 29, 2015

The Power of the Ordinary: On Lydia Davis and Twitter 4

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In placing the routine next to the tragic, the sarcastic next to the reportage, Davis recreates a phenomenon that occurs daily on social media. She is attempting to make a document of the ways in which we experience life, with the banal and the catastrophic all lined up next to each other. Much like the way we do, unassumingly, every time we hit “share” or “tweet” or “post.”

July 28, 2015

Beautiful Babies 3

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I want her to feel unencumbered by anyone’s opinion of her beauty or lack thereof. And yet I also want her to feel beautiful, to wear whatever she wants, to luxuriate in a sense that her chosen mate finds her irresistible, to never fear a dressing room or bathing suit or florescent light.