Essays

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.

March 19, 2012

Finding Inspiration: A Homework Assignment 11

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A novel-in-progress must have its aesthetic seductions (the shifting perspective, maybe, or the challenge of covering fifty years in ten pages, or the delight of a brilliant but unlikeable narrator), as well as some je ne sais quoi magic. You must remain inspired. How else to justify the slog?

March 19, 2012

The Moral Value of Surprise: Lessons from Literature for a Fracturing Country 3

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So what does it mean for the country that our cultural common denominator is shrinking? And why, in the midst of these trends is there general agreement on an issue as potentially flammable as contraception?

March 15, 2012

Clean Bill of Health: The Novel’s Myriad Roads to Recovery 12

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I’m neither a doctor nor an esteemed literary critic, but it seems that either the literary culture has made a miraculous recovery, or it wasn’t that sick in the first place. Which is to say that when those famous writers were so certain the patient was ailing, perhaps they were looking at the wrong patient.

March 9, 2012

The Slacker in Modern Fiction: The Flâneur Goes to the Mall 7

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What makes for a successful slacker novel? What propels a book when nothing seems to be propelling the protagonist? And how will the tradition of the flâneur be repurposed in the modern era — because isn’t the slacker ideally positioned for the role?

March 8, 2012

Family Lies? The Value of the Single Story 4

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Sure, when I was six I’d peed on my sister, and over the years I’d committed various small-time atrocities against my younger brother. But I’d changed, and no one had seemed to notice!

March 1, 2012

Ban This Book: An Uncensored Look At The Lorax And Other Dangerous Books 6

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Am I a closet censor, ready to suppress repugnant ideologies while trumpeting the importance of Banned Books Week? The short answer is yes. The fact is, when censorship fits with one’s values, even the staunchest defenders of free speech are willing to bend the rules.

February 28, 2012

My Aversion 5

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That Americans hate politics is something everyone seems to agree on, even if no one knows exactly why. Could there be any more stark a contrast than between David Foster Wallace’s bemoaning of voter apathy in the U.S. and the situation in Haiti, where daring to vote could get a person killed, and where people persisted in doing it anyway?

February 27, 2012

The Beginning of the Brontes 2

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None of the Brontes’ work would have seen the light of day had it not been for Charlotte. At the age of twenty she wrote to the Poet Laureate, Robert Southey, sending him some of her poems and professing not merely a desire to write but “to be for ever known.”

February 23, 2012

Reading The Brothers Karamazov: Even a Toddler Knows a Funny Name When He Hears One 13

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My son has a long way to go until he’s reading The Brothers Karamazov, but hopefully not so long that he forgets about Stinking Lizaveta before he gets there. I hope I’ll be near at hand, or only a phone call away, when he discovers that the funny name we used to whisper to each other is actually a very sad character in a great novel, and that the line between life and art is arbitrary, if it exists at all.