Essays

December 30, 2013

How Many Novelists are at Work in America? 15

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Writing a novel is like starting a small business and investing thousands of hours without knowing exactly what it is you’re going to end up selling. It’s a leap of faith every time, even for someone who is five novels into a career.

November 29, 2013

Science and Fiction: The Man with the Bandaged Head 0

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When I met him, he was sitting up in a hospital bed, his head and half his face encased in bandages. Young, handsome, unshaven, he looked like a veteran of a long-ago foreign war. He gesticulated frantically, wild with focused desire, his exposed eye imploring and bloodshot. I was as desperate to understand as he was to explain.

November 26, 2013

Particular Ways of Being Wrong 19

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All lazy book reviews are essentially the same: they reflect a reviewer’s inability, or perhaps refusal, to fully engage with the writer’s project on the book’s own terms. Lazier still is to not discuss the book but instead the author, to review not the project, but the reputation.

November 25, 2013

Painting a Body of Loss and Love in the Proximity of an Aesthetic 1

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I am not sure if my mother is crying from the beating, from loving him, or because of the broken oven that had survived a civil war but is now not likely to be replaced, and which, although we can’t know that yet, would never bake right again.

November 22, 2013

A Library of the Mind 7

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Even if I managed to keep my mental concentration long enough to maintain one section of this library-of-the-mind, the idea of trying to juggle multiple sections ended up being too much, and I was forced to give up the whole project, having only completed one of Borges’s hexagons.

November 22, 2013

The Writing of ‘Hand D’: On Shakespeare’s Collaborative Career 6

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Why would Shakespeare involve himself in trying to patch up a play already rejected by Tilney for containing dangerous material, and not only be involved, but agree to write one of the stickiest scenes in the play? It certainly challenges popular conceptions of Shakespeare.

November 21, 2013

Only Connect: A Young Playwright Finds His Audience 1

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The 200-odd Bronx high school students did not shut up for one single second once they entered the theater. Guys wolf-whistled at girls across the theater, and the girls hollered back, daring the boys to come down after them. Spitbombs flew. Paper airplanes sailed.

November 20, 2013

Act Two: A Young Playwright Grows Up 1

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Moss Hart had talent, an inhuman tolerance for work, and a pair of brass balls, but what set him apart from the thousands of other guys hanging around theater lobbies in the mid-1920s trying to catch a break was that the man was fucking relentless.

November 20, 2013

The Ragged Spawn of E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime 6

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Doctorow’s selective use of historical figures and events lends Ragtime its air of verisimilitude without robbing him of the freedom to imagine and distort and mythologize. It is, for a writer of fiction, the best of all possible worlds.

November 19, 2013

Time for Teen Fantasy Heroines to Grow Up 21

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Authors as influential as Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins have the opportunity to inspire their readers toward greatness, but they squander it miserably.