Essays

July 8, 2014

The Art of the Opening Sentence 22

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Opening sentences are not to be written lightly.

June 30, 2014

Mystery and Manners: On Teaching Flannery O’Connor 9

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The sheer originality of Flannery O’Connor’s stories shows students how amplifying their surrounding world can make great fiction. Now, 50 years after her death, when she is a staple of syllabi and the very canon that previously excluded her and other women, it is most important to stress fresh approaches to her work within the classroom.

June 26, 2014

Are You My Mother? On Maternal Abandonment in Literature 7

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Literature is full of disappearing mothers.

June 24, 2014

Lives in Letters 6

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While my father is a young 81—another man’s 61, according to everyone who meets him—the fact that there’s an “8” in the age recorded in so many of the obituaries he sends is still a fact. When did this happen? I think. I think: So he’s preparing me.

June 23, 2014

A Prologue to the Literary History of the First World War: War Poets at the Ballet 3

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Did Marsh, Thornycroft, Sitwell, Sassoon, and the Thomases all come together for an evening at the ballet—and am I the first to notice?

June 19, 2014

Only Spinning Forward: On the Commercial Viability of LGBTQ Literature 10

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Gay is the new vampire. Everywhere in YA fiction, boys are kissing boys, girls are sidling up against the captains of their swim teams, and queer kids are getting cute. Yet there’s a tremendous disconnect between what’s happening in the YA marketplace and what’s going on with adult fiction.

June 18, 2014

A Piano Quartet 0

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While the following three piano-themed books — Alan Rusbridger’s Play it Again, Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser, and Murray Bail’s extraordinary The Voyage — are all inexplicably devoid of sniper rifles, they do present slightly more nuanced takes on perfection and its discontents.

June 17, 2014

Home as a Verb: Writers on Choosing to Live Overseas 6

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Growing up all over the place makes you skilled at adapting, but it also makes you hungry to belong, something that in part motivates my writing: carving out a space I know, trying to understand what I’m witnessing around me.

June 13, 2014

Mad Men: It’s All About Family Values 3

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If Mad Men is itself a kind of advertisement — a reflection and dramatization of our deepest desires, the ones we didn’t know we had — then its message is both timeless and markedly modern: family is everything; we are hungry for family; your “real” family are, simply, the people who actually know you.

June 12, 2014

Sad, Strange Brilliance: On Tove Jansson and Moomin 3

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In Moomin, I didn’t stumble upon a strange new universe; I found an atmosphere that matched the strangeness I already felt inside.