Essays

June 19, 2012

On Loneliness: Art, Life, and Fucking Human Beings 15

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There are days when it seems to me that what it is to be a fucking human being is to be lonely; to be in this state of deep sadness and estrangement, and to know that there is something terribly wrong about this loneliness on the one hand, and on the other (in knowing the wrongness utterly), something also potentially beautiful.

June 14, 2012

Mario Vargas Llosa and the Heart of Roger Casement 2

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Vargas Llosa leaves the question, which kept many Conrad and Casement biographers busy, unanswered. Being both outsiders of the British establishment, how could these two men have differed so dramatically at the time of Casement’s trial in 1916?

June 13, 2012

Conversations With Myself: An Author’s Guide to Writing Reading Group Guides 4

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The best thing about interviewing yourself is that there are no “gotcha” questions. The second-best thing is that you can be certain the interviewer read the book.

June 7, 2012

Failing Better: Ian Hamilton and The New Review 5

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Hounded by debt collectors, pressured by printer’s fees, fearful that the Arts Council would come through on its threats to pull their funding, Hamilton was ever under intense strain. “He was the only person I knew who was sued by his own solicitor,” Christopher Hitchens recalled.

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.