Essays

May 8, 2013

The Superhero Factory: An Unauthorized Corporate History of Marvel Comics 4

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Sean Howe covers the entire history of Marvel, from 1939 to Disney’s acquisition of the company 70 years later. The book has few heroes and villains, only figures who, with varying degrees of success and failure, negotiate the politics of a large enterprise for their own wants and needs. It’s a portrait of what capitalism can create and what it can’t create — and what it can destroy.

May 6, 2013

So That If I Died It Mattered 31

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When asked to explain my choices, I’ve said, “Art is how you explain what it feels like to be alive in the 21st century. I am an emotional historian.” But that’s really my answer to, “Why should we all make art?” My why is more personal.

May 2, 2013

On the Fall of the House of Orwell 16

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Orwell’s birth home has languished in dilapidation for decades. Damaged by an earthquake in 1934, it deteriorated into a derelict building that stray animals sheltered in at night or during inclement weather. The homeless also used it; it became a place for people to gather to drink and gamble.

May 2, 2013

James Salter’s All That Is: From Dream to Reality 3

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This is not George Saunders or Lorrie Moore making fun of the ineffectualness of romantic impulses; this is for real.

May 1, 2013

The Book That Didn’t Break Out and the Disease That Did 3

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While I’d been planning, pushing, and preparing for my book launch, mutated white blood cells in my daughter’s body had been stealthily multiplying, on a mission to crowd her healthy blood cells out of her marrow and her bloodstream completely. But their success, unlike my book’s, was inevitable.

April 29, 2013

Say Goodbye to the Play-by-Play Book Review 9

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In an increasingly digital world, literary critics need to become less like play-by-play announcer Joe Buck and more like color commentator Tim McCarver.

April 25, 2013

Rachel Kushner Is Well On Her Way to Huge 8

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It was only when Kushner started writing her book that she made a discovery that is vital to any novelist trying to spin fiction out of historical events: the great danger is emptying your notebook, becoming lulled by your research into forgetting that novels are, first and last, works of the imagination.

April 23, 2013

Less Mo Yan, More Ah Cheng 4

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Fans of Chinese literature all have their personal favorites, and none of them have ever resonated with me. I think I like Ah Cheng because he is crazy, and crazy people transcend the cultures that produce them.

April 23, 2013

The Wisdom of Crowds: Reddit, Twitter, and the Hunt for the Wrong Man 6

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Thursday night’s abhorrent online vigilantism — in which Reddit and Twitter users seized upon police radio chatter to accuse a missing (and completely innocent) Brown University student of bombing the Boston Marathon — reminded us of one of the most under-acknowledged facts of the internet: that beyond the sleek, profitable edifices of Web 2.0 there remains the humming, virtual presence of an online crowd that is restive, unpredictable, and hungry for a cause.

April 22, 2013

Losing Iain Banks 7

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Watching news of Iain Banks’s diagnosis spread was remarkable. He had meant a great deal to many discerning readers. A feeling of sudden urgency surprised me. The only response that seemed appropriate was to read his work.