Essays

January 30, 2014

Fangirl 5

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This is the story of one person in one fandom, but it’s likely got hints of your story, too, if you’ve ever been involved in this sort of thing. I’d hope that it resonates if you’ve ever really loved something that you haven’t created — the I’d-kill-for-you kind of love of a work of art that inspires others to say things like, “Whoa, whoa, slow down, it’s just a book.”

January 30, 2014

Biographers Cannot Be Choosers: On The Biographical Drive 1

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Novelists tend to be repulsed by and attracted to the literary biographer, who is both kindred spirit and antagonist, reviver and executioner, exalted Boswell, and the “lice of literature” (to quote Philip Roth from Exit Ghost).

January 24, 2014

World History and Family Dinner: On Rachel Laudan’s Cuisine and Empire 9

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I’m a known pig, but over the course of my 20s I have been successfully indoctrinated against certain kinds of fast food and most grocery items that come in packages, which leads to confused, contradictory, and offensive positions on things. I won’t eat a Keebler Snack Cake, but I will eat an entire salami. I spurn the Olive Garden, but regularly eat a calorie-laden burrito filled with God knows what. I see fellow bus-riders with translucent McDonald’s bags to be fed to young children and feel sad, disregarding my past encounters with the Quarter Pounder and the Whopper.

January 23, 2014

Nobody’s Ever Ready: Snow in Poetry, Fiction, and Film 8

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Snow has also become a refrain in my reading. Snow fractures storylines and complicates characters. Snow forces writers to capture atmosphere and mood, and to uniquely describe a common event.

January 17, 2014

The Common Core Vs. Books: When Teachers Are Unable to Foster a Love of Reading in Students 22

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Learning that is transformative, learning that galvanizes our minds for a lifetime is what should be driving our discussions, instead of the current focus on more and more high-stakes tests, where standards are geared toward establishing uniformity of thought among students and where creativity and individuality are neither valued nor encouraged.

January 15, 2014

Read Chekhov for a Better 2014 8

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Reading literary fiction — including the works of Chekhov — increases scores on tests of empathy and emotional intelligence. But be advised that Chekhov doesn’t provide easy answers to becoming a kinder, more caring person.

January 10, 2014

Eminent Hacks 2

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We take for granted the difficulty of ascending to the empyrean heights of genius, but descending into the “majesty of mud” poses its own challenges for those unpure hacks not blessed “with all the might of gravitation.” Or to put it in distinctly non-Augustan terms, hackin’ ain’t easy.

January 9, 2014

A Father’s Story: An Elegy for Andre Dubus 5

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Love will bring a man to his knees. What ultimately draws me to Dubus is a fear of myself. It is a fear that has no justification in my history: I have managed to avoid violence, certainly any coming from my own hands. But Dubus’s fiction taps into the preternatural worry that we can turn, in a moment, from a person we have prayed to become to something sharp and wrong. To read Dubus is to be possessed by art.

January 8, 2014

My Not-So-Secret History 5

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Theo, protagonist of The Goldfinch, is my exact age and grew up on the same block as me. He’s a 18th and 19th century British antique dealer; I’m a 18th and 19th century French antique dealer. Popchik, the charming Maltese in the book? Meet ZoZo, the charming Maltese I had from ages 13-27. Things started to get weird…

January 7, 2014

Rare Book Crime Capers: Forgery, Theft, Murder and the Holy Grail of American Printing 1

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It is tempting to say that this was an episode when one of America’s greatest print forgers crossed paths with one of America’s greatest rare book thieves.