Essays

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.

January 15, 2014

Read Chekhov for a Better 2014 8

by

Reading literary fiction — including the works of Chekhov — increases scores on tests of empathy and emotional intelligence. But be advised that Chekhov doesn’t provide easy answers to becoming a kinder, more caring person.

January 10, 2014

Eminent Hacks 2

by

We take for granted the difficulty of ascending to the empyrean heights of genius, but descending into the “majesty of mud” poses its own challenges for those unpure hacks not blessed “with all the might of gravitation.” Or to put it in distinctly non-Augustan terms, hackin’ ain’t easy.