Essays

August 27, 2013

Racetrack Diary: On Luck 4

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It is easy, after the fact, to draw neat lines between events, to look for cause and effect in random acts of chance. But then you spend a while sitting behind the betting windows, watching assholes blithely cashing huge tickets, or informing sweet old ladies that they’ve lost a week’s savings.

August 22, 2013

Goodbye Old Friends: On Selling My Books 17

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But I must come clean. As fun as it is to get a sale, my currently listed volumes are moving at a pace which would take some 70 years to empty my e-store. Of course, that’s assuming people will continue to prize certain books: great out-of-print novels, first editions, volumes signed by the author. As e-books continue to take market share, paper books may be destined to become decorative objects, like cupboards built to hold commodes or vinyl album covers.

August 21, 2013

Everything I Know About America I Learned from Stephen King 12

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I never see a 7-Eleven Big Bite and don’t instinctively desire to eat it. I know that Heinz ketchup is unmistakable and precious. A new paperback purchased with crisp American dollars? That’s bliss. A Stephen King book? That’s Shangri-la.

August 19, 2013

The Death of the Ingénue 4

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Strong female characters now reign aplenty in literature without their necessary ingénue escorts, slowly eroding the role of that stock accompanying character. It’s not that these strong female characters newly exist, or that they suddenly gained mass appeal, but rather that they are surviving on their own.

August 16, 2013

Skylight Addicts and Private Wonderlands: On the Garret Novel 0

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The following garret novels introduce memorably reclusive protagonists, skylight addicts who, in their zealous guarding of their charmed rooms, stay true to the fortifying history of garrets.

August 14, 2013

The Artist and the Fly 5

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The performer’s recital is lovely, and the lilt and cadence of her voice are mesmerizing. But then halfway through, something happens that gets me thinking about artistry and solipsism and the fallout of one marrying up with the other. What happens is: A giant fly begins to circle the performer’s face.

August 13, 2013

The Map and the Territory: Infinite Boston 9

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What I lacked before coming to the U.S. was an appreciation of the rootedness of David Foster Wallace’s work in a specific geography. I had experienced only how the map could shape the territory. Living in Cambridge allowed me to see how the territory might conversely underpin the literary map.

August 8, 2013

The Asking is Both Graceful and Profound: On the Stories of Josephine Rowe 0

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In the absence of context, only the things that are truly important remain: someone was here, and freight trains broke their heart, and someone wanted them to stay but they didn’t.

August 2, 2013

Look. No, Don’t Look: My Book Cover, the Angel in the House, and Me 8

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If the cover accurately expressed the feel and content of the novel, and the cover embarrassed me, what did that say about my relationship to my work?

July 25, 2013

The Problem With Summer Reading 31

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Summer reading assignments and reading quizzes and book reports don’t teach our students how to be readers. They teach them that reading is a school-centered activity. That it is a chore. That they aren’t good at it if they can’t remember insignificant plot points. These assignments set students up to cheat, or to fail, and always to regard reading as a drag.