Essays

March 27, 2013

A Sentimental Education: Sex and the Literary Writer 32

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The word that made me lift my fingers from the keyboard was “clitoris.” Was it okay to use this word? What would my fellow literary writers, my former teachers and classmates at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop think of me?

March 25, 2013

The Weird 1969 New Wave Sci-Fi Novel that Correctly Predicted the Current Day 40

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Stand on Zanzibar is set in the year 2010, and this allows us to make a point-by-point comparison and marvel at novelist John Brunner’s uncanny ability to anticipate the shape of the world to come. Indeed, his vision of the year 2010 even includes a popular leader named President Obomi.

March 22, 2013

Stars Are Just Like Us: On Christine Sneed and Celebrity Disparity 2

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As readers, we’ve become so jaded, so used to seeing celebrities crash and burn, perhaps even delighted to watch them crash and burn, that when they engage in something as unexceptional as adultery, we hardly care.

March 20, 2013

Poshlost Highway: In Praise of Dubravka Ugresic 1

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Ugresic’s melancholy conclusion is that there remains no position possible for the intellectual outside the world of poshlost. A position like that would be a pose, insincere and misleading: in other words, poshlost itself.

March 15, 2013

A Servant of One’s Own: On Virginia Woolf, Domestics, and Downton Abbey 8

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The 18 years Nellie Boxall served as cook to Virginia Woolf were a far more fraught affair than the coupling of Lady Mary Grantham and Matthew Crawley ever was, full of emotional blackmail and power struggles. Boxall and Woolf had staged battle royals that left both parties smarting.

March 14, 2013

Dominique Morisseau’s 20/20 Vision of Detroit 1

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The city’s problems — and the historical sources of those problems — are being addressed in a clear-eyed fashion by a new generation of writers who are able to see beyond the tired cliches, beyond ruin porn and rosy optimism, beyond the finger-pointing and the exhausted racial-political rhetoric.

March 14, 2013

Uncle Charlie Newman and the Impossible Novel 6

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“It’s the great un-American novel,” he’d say, or “It’s a novel pretending to be a memoir that’s really a history.” Sometimes he’d simply say, “Nothing like it has ever been written.” The more he spoke, though, the more I worried, because the book sounded not just indescribable but unwriteable.

March 13, 2013

Jasper Johns as Michael Crichton Knew Him 4

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Crichton climbs Kilimanjaro; swims with sharks; beholds the pyramids; directs Sean Connery in Ireland in The Great Train Robbery; deep-sea dives for a wreckage in Bonaire (and nearly dies); goes hiking in Baltistan (and nearly dies); encounters gorillas in Africa (and nearly dies).

March 12, 2013

Zadie y Julio, or Ignorance is Bliss 5

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If the life of the writer — for whom writing offers the only solace from vicissitudes of life — is so miserable, how is Zadie Smith so happy?

March 6, 2013

Hot Milk Sponge Cake: On the Stories Recipes Remember 4

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Recipes themselves appeal to me because they are small and finite: little works. You set yourself a goal, pursue and finish it, it doesn’t take very long. That’s the opposite of what I spend my time doing. The longest, most complicated recipe I ever made took me a day. A novel takes years.