Essays

May 5, 2015

Before You Start: Introductions, Forewords, and Prefaces 2

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A preface is an ars poetica for a book, for a literary life. A preface often feels like the writer sitting across the table from the reader, and saying, listen, now I am going to tell you the truth.

May 4, 2015

High Style and Desperate Love: On the Life and Work of Eileen Chang 5

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Chinese readers can’t forget her; most Western readers have never met her. This year, on the 20th anniversary of her death, the NYRB edition of Chang’s Naked Earth provides an opportunity for new readers to fall in love.

April 27, 2015

The Value of Writing Programs: On Why I Don’t Have an M.F.A. 27

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The question shouldn’t be whether or not getting an M.F.A. is a worthwhile for those privileged enough to agonize over the cost. Instead we should ask: how can we better support people who want to write?

April 21, 2015

Creating the Literary World of the Future: A Response to VIDA’s Recommendations 11

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The message that what women are writing isn’t important or serious enough is not a new one. It is as old as literature itself. And its persistence has everything to do with how women’s literature is treated in college and university classrooms and, in turn, how it is treated in the literary world.

April 20, 2015

The Uneasy Woman: Meghan Daum, Kate Bolick, and the Legacy of Ida Tarbell 2

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How should a female person be? The question occupied hundreds of printed pages a century ago and still does today.

April 16, 2015

How Will I Live? Fame, Money, Day Jobs, and Fiction Writing. 14

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What happened in those eight missing years to make a well-reviewed, commercially successful author fall so far so fast? Heartbreak? Rehab? Addiction to designer shoes? Easy: She took the wrong day job.

April 13, 2015

Portraits of Human Nature: Anthony Trollope at 200 2

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Trollope gives us the cad who is not quite entirely caddish, the woman who works hard to maintain a prudent marriage without forgetting the imprudent one she had wanted. Nothing could be less like Dickens’s stark portraits of saints and fiends moving through a black-and-white world in which the roads to perdition and redemption, though possible to miss, are nonetheless clearly marked.

April 9, 2015

So Many Hills: Writing as Training 3

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The constant desire to be a faster, better runner has helped me channel competition as a writer without being sidelined by it. My hunger is different than ambition. I know that I am ultimately only racing against myself.

April 8, 2015

Remember This Fondly: On Reading Roald Dahl to My Son 2

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I can think of no other time that my son will sit, his head propped on my shoulder, for a half an hour or more. That I can sense the drama popping in his mind as I read is an obvious added bonus. Reading storybooks has put us at the neat intersection of stillness and excitement.

April 7, 2015

Sordid, Unprofitable, Unrewarding: On ‘New Grub Street’ and Cynical Literature 1

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Gissing’s portrait of squabbling critics, disappointed writers, and the final triumph of literary middlemen is so obviously comparable to our own time that it ought to serve as required reading for anyone planning yet another thinkpiece on contemporary publishing.