Essays

August 19, 2013

The Death of the Ingénue 4

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Strong female characters now reign aplenty in literature without their necessary ingénue escorts, slowly eroding the role of that stock accompanying character. It’s not that these strong female characters newly exist, or that they suddenly gained mass appeal, but rather that they are surviving on their own.

August 16, 2013

Skylight Addicts and Private Wonderlands: On the Garret Novel 1

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The following garret novels introduce memorably reclusive protagonists, skylight addicts who, in their zealous guarding of their charmed rooms, stay true to the fortifying history of garrets.

August 14, 2013

The Artist and the Fly 5

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The performer’s recital is lovely, and the lilt and cadence of her voice are mesmerizing. But then halfway through, something happens that gets me thinking about artistry and solipsism and the fallout of one marrying up with the other. What happens is: A giant fly begins to circle the performer’s face.

August 13, 2013

The Map and the Territory: Infinite Boston 9

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What I lacked before coming to the U.S. was an appreciation of the rootedness of David Foster Wallace’s work in a specific geography. I had experienced only how the map could shape the territory. Living in Cambridge allowed me to see how the territory might conversely underpin the literary map.

August 8, 2013

The Asking is Both Graceful and Profound: On the Stories of Josephine Rowe 0

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In the absence of context, only the things that are truly important remain: someone was here, and freight trains broke their heart, and someone wanted them to stay but they didn’t.

August 2, 2013

Look. No, Don’t Look: My Book Cover, the Angel in the House, and Me 8

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If the cover accurately expressed the feel and content of the novel, and the cover embarrassed me, what did that say about my relationship to my work?

July 25, 2013

The Problem With Summer Reading 35

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Summer reading assignments and reading quizzes and book reports don’t teach our students how to be readers. They teach them that reading is a school-centered activity. That it is a chore. That they aren’t good at it if they can’t remember insignificant plot points. These assignments set students up to cheat, or to fail, and always to regard reading as a drag.

July 24, 2013

Shepherding Sadness: The Fiction of Mia Couto 3

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Why all this recent success for a writer that you’ve probably never heard of? Couto is a master at inverting reality, reversing the order of the world with a swift aphoristic grace that leaves us puzzling over our normal assumptions.

July 22, 2013

Smells Like Words 27

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I learned smells from books, which made me think they were fictional. When real people said That stinks, or I can smell the sea from here, I thought they were faking, that they were willing to pretend those smells existed beyond the page. I only discovered the word for people like me a few years ago. We are anosmic; we have anosmia: lack of the sense of smell.

July 22, 2013

Farewell to the Enchanted City 2

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In the vast realm of “leaving New York” essays, Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That” says everything that has ever needed to be said — but better.