Essays

June 5, 2012

The Maturation of Etgar Keret 2

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Suddenly, a Knock on the Door encapsulates the tenor of much of the best of Keret’s short fiction: The striving to chronicle the human situation, to get beyond the partisan politics, anger, and fear of the contemporary Middle East even while struggling (knowingly struggling) within those constraints.

June 4, 2012

CSI: Karamazov (The Ghettoization of Courtroom Drama) 6

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What a plot synopsis of The Brothers Karamazov reveals is how Dostoevsky managed to hang a book of profound questions on some of the most hackneyed conventions of fiction: the murder mystery, the love triangle, the courtroom drama.

May 29, 2012

A Passion for Immortality: On the Missing Pulitzer and the Problem with Prizes 44

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After I got an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I moved to New York City, and I must say, though both the insular little MFA world and the New York City world of literary culture come with their own and different forms of attendant bullshit, there is far, far — and I mean far — more bullshit in NYC.

May 21, 2012

A Goofy State of Mind: My Grandmother’s Letters from Martha Gellhorn 11

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Martha Gellhorn’s pen pals included Eleanor Roosevelt, Maxwell Perkins, H.G. Wells, her husband (later, ex-) Ernest Hemingway, and Peggy Schutze, my maternal grandmother.

May 18, 2012

From the Library of Your Soul-Mate: The Unique Social Bond of Literature 15

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The bond formed around a favorite novel is one of shared immersive experience, usually open to impossibly wide interpretations. When we meet someone else who’s “been there,” there’s a biting urge to know exactly what the other person saw, what scenes remain strongest in her memory, what crucial knowledge or insight was retrieved, and what her experience reveals or changes about our own?

May 15, 2012

Confessions of a Literary Jingoist 8

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It’s an age-old complaint, but things don’t really seem to be changing. You can seek out literature from just about anywhere — and now it’s easier than any previous point in history — but it’s a hell of a lot harder to bring it into the conversation.

May 7, 2012

Bolaño’s Last, Great Secret 5

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With the close of the post-Bolaño decade, it seems that the tide of the author’s original works is finally ebbing. New Directions’ latest release, much to my delight and that of other genre boundary-watchers, is The Secret of Evil, a thin collection of fictions that occasionally read as essays. Or is it the other way around?

May 7, 2012

In Defense of Autobiography 15

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I spent years feeling like a failure before I’d even started writing, all because I was terrified of producing a cliché. If only I could have written a World War II epic with a chose your own adventure twist.

May 2, 2012

Reference Point: Fathers and Sons 3

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If my father could not directly invite me to connect with him, he could find more oblique ways to bring the two of us together: he could give me reference books as gifts, bribe me to open the books he collected.

April 25, 2012

Exit, Pursued by a Tiger 10

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Tiger Lit has never been so popular. Look at the number of award-winning fictions in the last decade in which tigers escape from zoos. All kinds of besotted, bombed-out, starving, mangy, metaphoric and misunderstood man-eaters are now on the loose.