Essays

April 16, 2012

Exclusive: The Missing Pages of Laurent Binet’s HHhH 15

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“Inventing a character in order to understand historical facts is like fabricating evidence. Or rather, it’s like planting false proof at a crime scene where the floor is already strewn with incriminating evidence.”

April 11, 2012

Edith Wharton: A Writer’s Reflections 4

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Wharton’s deepest concern was morality. She wrote about the struggle between the body and the mind, that battlefield from which morality emerges. Central to her work are stifled and illicit passions, manifested in divorce, adultery, incest, and illegitimacy. Her writing was stylistically decorous but socially transgressive: her prose is so elegant that her message comes as a shock, like a sword wrapped in satin.

April 11, 2012

High Wire Act: Why I Started Writing By Hand 35

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I had several reasons for wanting to write by hand. Writing on the computer feels like going to war with myself. In fact, just thinking about a blank Word document makes me sweat.

April 10, 2012

The Activity That Dare Not Speak Its Name: My Mother’s Secret Literary Life 14

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Tin House? Glimmer Train? What kind of secret life was my 72-year-old mother leading?

April 9, 2012

A Room of Everyone’s Own: The Writer as Public Fixture 19

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The portmanteau “coffice” refers to a coffee shop employed as one’s office. Every time I stop into a café in New York City, I think, “There they are, the cofficeurs.” And what I have always been tempted to say to them is: Go home.

April 2, 2012

Fifty Shades of Fan Fiction 22

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For every story that puts Harry, Ron, and Hermione in some kind of BDSM threesome, there are a thousand stories in which they manage to save the world without having any sex at all. So why does fan fiction’s stigma persist?

April 2, 2012

The Berenstain Bears and the Tyranny of Timeliness 9

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The news hook is an ugly necessity. In my five years as a political speechwriter, I wrote and placed dozens of op-ed pieces for my bosses — and each time, a little bow of deference to the news cycle, no matter how halfhearted — helped answer the mandatory question: not “why this?” but “why this, now?”

March 28, 2012

The ___’s Daughter 81

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To be clear, I think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with calling one’s book The ___’s Daughter. I think those titles have a marvelous rhythm to them. And yet one can’t help but wonder why there seem to be so many of them.

March 22, 2012

Hip to Be Square: Confessions of an Out-of-the-Loop Parent 9

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Here are a few things I don’t usually tell people: I thought The Police really were law enforcement and I understood the song “Rock Lobster” to be “Rock Monster” for years. How can a girl growing up in hip Ann Arbor in the 1970s and ’80s be so hopeless?

March 21, 2012

Tumblr as a Commonplace Book 16

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This ability to easily aggregate others’ content has allowed Tumblr to earn the distinction of being one of today’s hippest (and most valuable) Internet properties. That said, we should recall that Tumblr is not the first technology to engage in this practice. Consider the early-modern European analogue to Tumblr: the commonplace book.