Essays

February 20, 2014

A Physics of the Heart: On Grief, M-Theory, and Skippy Dies 7

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Some branches of physics suggest that we live today in a multiverse. Within the multiverse, our universe is one of many. One variation of string theory holds that all possible outcomes of an event actually happen, across different universes. In this universe, my friends are dead, but in a parallel universe, they decided to sleep in, or to let the driver drive, or to return the suicide package when it came in the mail.

February 19, 2014

Bound and (Un)gagged: Why Orange Is the New Black Appeals to Us Outside 2

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Like much current prison literature, Orange is the New Black seeks strenuously – and tellingly – to reaffirm the triumph of the human spirit. Rather than dwell on her misfortune or become too accustomed to prison life, Piper Kerman stages a protest, Oprah-style: no one can keep her down.

February 19, 2014

Cooking with Hemingway 10

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I couldn’t question Hemingway’s mastery of prose. His pancake recipe inspired less confidence.

February 18, 2014

The Author Sends Her Regrets: J.K. Rowling and Other Writers with Second Thoughts 4

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Is a writer allowed to have regrets? Certainly. Is she allowed to air them publicly? I mean, yeah, it’s a free internet, why not? Do I want to hear a single additional word about the world of Harry Potter from J. K. Rowling that is not in the form of another book? No, not particularly.

February 14, 2014

Homo Sovieticus: Russians on Russianness 0

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But does a universal, mystical “Russian Soul” really exist? Did it ever? Is it the only explanation for what makes Russians Russian? For this crop of authors, the answer is nyet.

February 13, 2014

Wordsmith: The Beguiling Gifts of Ali Smith 4

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This kind of gymnastic use of a single word is Smith’s specialty, but instead of simply engaging in verbal pyrotechnics for their own sake, Smith wants to understand the dynamic between language and our inner lives.

February 12, 2014

Martin Gardner: The Most Interesting Man in the World 8

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You may think that the most interesting man in the world has a scraggly gray beard, drinks Mexican beer, and hangs out with women half his age. But you’re dead wrong. I discovered the real deal. His name was Martin Gardner.

February 10, 2014

The Immortal Gaviero: Alvaro Mutis’ Maqroll Adventures 2

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I can think of no better way to honor both the man and his singular hero possessed of an “incurable wanderlust” and a “vocation for defeat” than by quoting the latter’s bathroom graffiti, bits of wisdom written by the Gaviero in his seclusion.

February 6, 2014

On the Origin of Novels? Encountering Literary Darwinism 21

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Accusations of scientism and reductionism may or may not be warranted, but the fact remains: the most fundamental discovery in all of biological science remains more-or-less completely un-talked about in English seminars.

February 5, 2014

The Fictional Lives of High School Teachers 8

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In America, teachers are either seen as angelic or caustic, saviors or sycophants. These stereotypes enable politicians to convince the public to support the latest education fad or slash needed budgets. The reality is we teach because we love to help kids, and we think literature is a way to examine and understand our complex lives.