Essays

May 22, 2013

Nothing Funnier Than Unhappiness: A Necessarily Ill-Informed Argument for Flann O’Brien’s The Poor Mouth as the Funniest Book Ever Written 9

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Here’s how funny it is: It’s funnier than A Confederacy of Dunces. It’s funnier than Money or Lucky Jim. It beats Shalom Auslander to a bloody, chuckling pulp with his own funny-bone. It is certainly the funniest book I’ve ever read.

May 20, 2013

George Saunders and the Question of Greatness 14

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The hype surrounding George Saunders’s Tenth of December in the early days of the calendar year was kind of staggering. The backlash followed not long afterwards, when it was suggested that someone who can’t seem to accrue enough pages to pen the Great American Novel couldn’t actually be considered the writer of our time. This makes me cringe — maybe because I’m beginning to suspect that it’s true.

May 15, 2013

Still Merry and Bright? Rethinking Henry Miller 8

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Few possess Miller’s courage, his willingness to walk away from the American dream and embrace a life without hope. Fewer still manage to be what Miller claimed to be in the face of hopelessness – always merry and bright.

May 9, 2013

The Black and the White: Maus and the Art Spiegelman Exhibit 1

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Born from universal ideas, crafted by the hands of artists, written with passion, the comic strip has become the medium for narratives that can be read again and again and images that can be stared at pensively in the hushed space of a museum.

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.