Essays

March 28, 2014

On Literary Cravings and Aftertastes 2

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I had a voracious appetite to consume certain books I’d read long ago, revisiting passages that had always been especially moving. Or — and this was fun and also eerie in its accuracy — I found myself submitting to cravings for books I had never before read but the combined language, plot, and characters of which turned out to produce the perfect meal of prose for this pregnant bibliophile.

March 21, 2014

The Dark Quotient: On Victoria Redel and Destructive Characters 0

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The issue of how adults in Redel’s fiction respond to children has reemerged following the recent publication of her short story collection Make Me Do Things. The compulsion suggested by the title reflects the tendency of her characters to lurch toward problematic, even dangerous choices.

March 14, 2014

Multiplicity of Me: On Race, Fatherhood, and James Baldwin 3

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I think that what makes Baldwin’s work resonate as it does is that what he describes in his writing are not necessarily historically contingent reflections on race, but moments of subjective epiphany; moments in which he realized that he was a subject upon whom the world placed certain ideas that may or may not have aligned with the person Baldwin saw himself to be.

March 13, 2014

The Writing on the Wall (Redux): The 2014 Whitney Biennial, Starring David Foster Wallace 1

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As the practice of writing on paper (everything from telegrams to letters to books to Post-It notes) is increasingly devoured by technology, words on paper are evolving from widespread tools of communication into the rarefied stuff of art. As things recede, they also expand. As a result, words are becoming as legitimate as the more traditional subject matter of painting, drawing, video and sculpture.

March 12, 2014

Can #TwitterFiction Transcend Gimmickry and Become Art? 6

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One afternoon in early January, I started to notice something curious happening on my Twitter feed. A series of seemingly — bafflingly! — connected retweets were popping up, a few of them from people I know but most of them from strangers, and they appeared to be telling a story.

March 7, 2014

A Closed World: On By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept 3

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By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is a staggering accomplishment, an exquisite and often ecstatic rendition of a tumultuous affair: “Jupiter has been with Leda, I thought, and now nothing can avert the Trojan wars. All legend will be broken, but who will escape alive?”

March 6, 2014

Baffling Dictums: On the Rules of Writing 11

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Ask any writer about the rules he’s heard throughout the years, and he will be able to recite a litany as deeply embedded as the Lord’s Prayer. Show, don’t tell. Write what you know. The first sentence is key. The last sentence is key. All writing is rewriting. No adverbs. No one aside from you finds your dreams interesting. You should never write in the second person.

March 4, 2014

On Reading Aloud 1

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There are precious few opportunities in life to read and be read to, and there is something utopian to me about the creation of a site like Librivox, which operates solely on people’s inexhaustible appetite for reading and listening.

March 4, 2014

Getting With the Program: On MFA vs. NYC 16

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What was clearly intended as a series of artsy-smartsy essays examining the state of play in literary America too often comes off as an extended moan of self-pity from a once-cosseted corner of Brownstone Brooklyn.

March 3, 2014

Free Rides: Writing and Reading on Trains 1

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I hope Amtrak develops these introductory residencies into a full program, and that these writers are inspired to create new work, breathe life into old drafts, and maybe even enjoy some good reading.