Essays

May 7, 2012

Bolaño’s Last, Great Secret 5

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With the close of the post-Bolaño decade, it seems that the tide of the author’s original works is finally ebbing. New Directions’ latest release, much to my delight and that of other genre boundary-watchers, is The Secret of Evil, a thin collection of fictions that occasionally read as essays. Or is it the other way around?

May 7, 2012

In Defense of Autobiography 15

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I spent years feeling like a failure before I’d even started writing, all because I was terrified of producing a cliché. If only I could have written a World War II epic with a chose your own adventure twist.

May 2, 2012

Reference Point: Fathers and Sons 3

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If my father could not directly invite me to connect with him, he could find more oblique ways to bring the two of us together: he could give me reference books as gifts, bribe me to open the books he collected.

April 25, 2012

Exit, Pursued by a Tiger 10

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Tiger Lit has never been so popular. Look at the number of award-winning fictions in the last decade in which tigers escape from zoos. All kinds of besotted, bombed-out, starving, mangy, metaphoric and misunderstood man-eaters are now on the loose.

April 25, 2012

The Treacherous Journey From Page to Screen 6

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The overused word “unfilmable” should be banished from the lexicon.

April 17, 2012

Men at War 6

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Belief in surviving POWs “could be regarded as the closest thing we have to a national religion.” It is still difficult for me to read the questions that Gordo’s parents typed on the flyer: “Did you know our son?” “Which camp was he in?” “How was he treated?” “Do you know if our son received any of our mail?”

April 16, 2012

Exclusive: The Missing Pages of Laurent Binet’s HHhH 16

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“Inventing a character in order to understand historical facts is like fabricating evidence. Or rather, it’s like planting false proof at a crime scene where the floor is already strewn with incriminating evidence.”

April 11, 2012

Edith Wharton: A Writer’s Reflections 4

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Wharton’s deepest concern was morality. She wrote about the struggle between the body and the mind, that battlefield from which morality emerges. Central to her work are stifled and illicit passions, manifested in divorce, adultery, incest, and illegitimacy. Her writing was stylistically decorous but socially transgressive: her prose is so elegant that her message comes as a shock, like a sword wrapped in satin.

April 11, 2012

High Wire Act: Why I Started Writing By Hand 35

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I had several reasons for wanting to write by hand. Writing on the computer feels like going to war with myself. In fact, just thinking about a blank Word document makes me sweat.

April 10, 2012

The Activity That Dare Not Speak Its Name: My Mother’s Secret Literary Life 14

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Tin House? Glimmer Train? What kind of secret life was my 72-year-old mother leading?