Essays

October 2, 2013

It Has Always Been Thus 8

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Critics who have taken up the dead author standard would have us regard creative work as an elaborate Freudian slip: don’t read for what a writer is trying to say, read for what they’ve said in spite of themselves. That’s wrong. Literature (and all the arts, really) is the product of concentrated, intelligent minds to which we are granted intimate, but temporary and incomplete, access.

September 30, 2013

You Must Read Kevin Barry 2

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Kevin Barry’s new collection of stories, Dark Lies the Island, shares the virtues that made his debut novel, City of Bohane, such an astonishment. There is rich music, high humor and deep blackness on every page.

September 27, 2013

Losing Yourself: What The Secret History Tells Us About the Liberal Arts 8

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We are told the liberal arts are a way of experiencing life; we are told the schools and institutions that teach the humanities to students are not merely teaching texts but fostering great citizens and empathetic human beings. From these descriptions, the liberal arts seem like a kind of magic medicine that will make you smarter, cooler, better.

September 26, 2013

Playing Survivor on Novel Island 1

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“The babies know just what they need to do,” observed one seasoned mother, watching my son on the playground. He was standing at an iron gate performing what honestly looked like a series of leg-strengthening exercises. He was very focused, very serious. He didn’t need a sign reminding him not to start any new projects.

September 24, 2013

Beauty is Truth: The Case Against Banning The Bluest Eye 8

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To call The Bluest Eye pornographic is simply wrong. Accusing Morrison’s work of containing child pornography both ignores the very important distinction between pornography and rape and displays the weakness of the arguments against the book.

September 23, 2013

Love, Reblogged: Thoughts on 40 Days of Dating 3

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The project is a lesson for fiction writers in the variance of point of view, and it proves that interpersonal communication can be as trying as putting together Ikea furniture.

September 23, 2013

Franzen and the Twitter Bog 21

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Twitter somehow encompasses both sides of the Emily Dickinson dichotomy. On Twitter, the Nobodies have seized hold of the mic and managed to occupy the bog.

September 17, 2013

Taut, Not Trite: On the Novella 6

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Most reviews of novellas begin with similar elements: the writer’s arbitrary word count parameter, why “novella” sounds more diminutive than “short novel,” and a lament that publishers are unwilling to support the form. This essay is not such an apology.

September 16, 2013

Calling My Grandmother (Or, Why I Write Fiction) 2

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A fellow expat once said to me that people of our generation who have stayed in Russia don’t think about the Soviet Union as intensely as we who have moved to America do. I think this difference has to do with our liminal space of language, our emotional core, which connects us to the fall, keeps us thinking about the place, keeps us building stories.

September 16, 2013

Rare Talent, Imperfect Art 10

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The writer — forced into a seemingly endless series of student conferences and reading a seemingly endless pile of student poems and stories and essays — sacrificing herself. Maybe there’s no getting around the exhaustion part of it all. At least, maybe, we can be tired but respected.