Essays

August 3, 2012

Here is My Heart: The Frailty and Hope of William Saroyan 2

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When I saw Love, Here is My Hat, I needed to buy it again because Saroyan appeals to my heart and not my literary head. I bought it because Saroyan signals the pull of something or someplace absent; because the stories collected there are about people trying to make do, to make simple lives of love and happiness; and most of all because the book and that title I’ve never quite understood represent an offer. “Here is my hat.” Perhaps it’s a gesture of surrender, or of begging.

August 1, 2012

Got an MFA? Teach High School. 30

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Writers I publish with give a look of pain when I tell them I teach high school, wondering how I have any remaining interest or energy to write. I argue that I not only have sufficient time — the summers certainly help — but the emotional freedom that sometimes is only provided through job security.

July 31, 2012

700 Cats: Why I Write 9

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The best, most comforting advice I’ve ever heard on the “Why I write” question is from a woman named Lynea Lattanzio, who runs the largest cat refuge in California. She said, “I’m not crazy, what I do is crazy.”

July 30, 2012

Immersive Vicarious Dining: Cooking from A Feast of Ice and Fire 5

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I suppose it’s a gift of modern life that I was able to cook, host, and eat the night’s feast. It’s more likely that when book six comes out I’ll spend a good deal of time yelling at the characters to thank their chefs.

July 27, 2012

Tristram Shandy, Dilettante: Laurence Sterne and the Pleasures of Attention-Deficit Literature 5

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Shandy makes the Cervantes/Fielding/Dickens picaresque look like a straight walk down a well-lit road. It is both a challenge to read and a sustained work of jumpy, distracted hilarity. Attention deficit, for Sterne, is not something to be feared in the reader — it is the basis for his process of composition.

July 25, 2012

47 Endings Can’t Ruin A Great Novel: Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms 1

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Would you want to read a war novel called Love Is One Fervent Fire? Or Death Once Dead? Or, God forbid, One Event Happeneth to Them All? Evidently, Hemingway considered all these and many more even worse ones before making a note to himself, “Shitty titles,” and going with A Farewell to Arms.

July 19, 2012

Prescriptivists vs. Descriptivists: The Fifth Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary 21

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For all its many virtues, the fifth edition is not perfect. Its one glaring flaw is an introductory essay written by the chairman of the Usage Panel, Steven Pinker, a Harvard University linguist and cognitive scientist who is also an avowed descriptivist. What’s that whirring noise I hear? Is it William Morris, who died in 1994, spinning in his grave?

July 17, 2012

When This You See, Remember Me 6

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Getting rid of the clothing of someone who has died is almost a cliché, heavily metaphorical however you look at it. So it was a surprise that, within weeks of my mother’s death, my father wanted her clothes out of the house. Everything, gone.

July 16, 2012

Searching for the Meaning of Life: A Massive Norwegian Memoir Hits American Shores 5

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To summarize the act of writing and releasing the book, Knausgaard said, “I have given away my soul.”

July 10, 2012

Who Wrote the Great New Jersey Novel? 25

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They try to form a band, they do drugs, they light themselves on fire, they fall off roofs. It’s all so New Jersey.