Essays

February 12, 2014

Martin Gardner: The Most Interesting Man in the World 7

by

You may think that the most interesting man in the world has a scraggly gray beard, drinks Mexican beer, and hangs out with women half his age. But you’re dead wrong. I discovered the real deal. His name was Martin Gardner.

February 10, 2014

The Immortal Gaviero: Alvaro Mutis’ Maqroll Adventures 2

by

I can think of no better way to honor both the man and his singular hero possessed of an “incurable wanderlust” and a “vocation for defeat” than by quoting the latter’s bathroom graffiti, bits of wisdom written by the Gaviero in his seclusion.

February 6, 2014

On the Origin of Novels? Encountering Literary Darwinism 20

by

Accusations of scientism and reductionism may or may not be warranted, but the fact remains: the most fundamental discovery in all of biological science remains more-or-less completely un-talked about in English seminars.

February 5, 2014

The Fictional Lives of High School Teachers 6

by

In America, teachers are either seen as angelic or caustic, saviors or sycophants. These stereotypes enable politicians to convince the public to support the latest education fad or slash needed budgets. The reality is we teach because we love to help kids, and we think literature is a way to examine and understand our complex lives.

January 31, 2014

Beethoven Got There First 6

by

The Grand Experimenter, it turns out, was Ludwig van Beethoven. This musical colossus, completely deaf, his personal affairs in chaos, perennially behind in his finances, unwell and unloved, reworked the string quartet in ways that continue to bewilder and astonish.

January 30, 2014

Fangirl 3

by

This is the story of one person in one fandom, but it’s likely got hints of your story, too, if you’ve ever been involved in this sort of thing. I’d hope that it resonates if you’ve ever really loved something that you haven’t created — the I’d-kill-for-you kind of love of a work of art that inspires others to say things like, “Whoa, whoa, slow down, it’s just a book.”

January 30, 2014

Biographers Cannot Be Choosers: On The Biographical Drive 1

by

Novelists tend to be repulsed by and attracted to the literary biographer, who is both kindred spirit and antagonist, reviver and executioner, exalted Boswell, and the “lice of literature” (to quote Philip Roth from Exit Ghost).

January 24, 2014

World History and Family Dinner: On Rachel Laudan’s Cuisine and Empire 9

by

I’m a known pig, but over the course of my 20s I have been successfully indoctrinated against certain kinds of fast food and most grocery items that come in packages, which leads to confused, contradictory, and offensive positions on things. I won’t eat a Keebler Snack Cake, but I will eat an entire salami. I spurn the Olive Garden, but regularly eat a calorie-laden burrito filled with God knows what. I see fellow bus-riders with translucent McDonald’s bags to be fed to young children and feel sad, disregarding my past encounters with the Quarter Pounder and the Whopper.

January 23, 2014

Nobody’s Ever Ready: Snow in Poetry, Fiction, and Film 8

by

Snow has also become a refrain in my reading. Snow fractures storylines and complicates characters. Snow forces writers to capture atmosphere and mood, and to uniquely describe a common event.

January 17, 2014

The Common Core Vs. Books: When Teachers Are Unable to Foster a Love of Reading in Students 20

by

Learning that is transformative, learning that galvanizes our minds for a lifetime is what should be driving our discussions, instead of the current focus on more and more high-stakes tests, where standards are geared toward establishing uniformity of thought among students and where creativity and individuality are neither valued nor encouraged.