Essays

July 28, 2010

In Search of Iago 5

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If we dig deep into literary villainy do we find caricature or do we find ourselves?

July 28, 2010

The Beauty That Lies in Wasted Time: On Cao Xueqin’s Dream of the Red Chamber 6

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Dream of the Red Chamber‘s doomed lovers, Jia Bao-yu and Lin Dai-yu, are as iconic in China as Romeo and Juliet are in the West. It’s also notable for its staggering length. At about twenty-eight hundred pages, the book is about twice as long as my copy of War and Peace.

July 27, 2010

Literary Endings: Pretty Bows, Blunt Axes, and Modular Furniture 13

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It’s tempting to imagine a linear spectrum of ending “types,” with tied-up-in-a-bow on one end, chopped-off-with-a-blunt-ax on the other. But really, there are so many different kinds of literary endings. What constitutes “satisfying” for different readers?

July 27, 2010

To Teach a Kid How to Read, Teach a Kid How to Think 6

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If you have not been paying attention to trends in grade school pedagogy over the last couple decades, the first thing you should know is this: The way public school students are taught to understand books looks little like the way most readers of this site probably learned themselves.

July 26, 2010

Orwell and the Tea Party 39

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George Orwell never thought that his work would outlive him by much. After all, he considered himself “a sort of pamphleteer” rather than a genuine novelist. Yet sixty years later, Orwell endures, and I am not sure that this is a good thing.

July 23, 2010

Of Human Limitations 6

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There was a divide between the books that I wanted to read, and the books that I wanted to want to read. And the latter category won over the former time and time again.

July 22, 2010

Reading in Tongues 4

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Where that translator emphasized, or rather extracted and highlighted, the poetic and romantic side of Proust, reading him in French showed just how muscular, how sinewy, Proust’s prose truly is.

July 19, 2010

Evolution of a Reader 16

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Perhaps I look to books to protect me from life’s ultimate highs and lows; maybe I am addicted to the parallel highs and lows books have to offer. I see the world through book-colored glasses.

July 16, 2010

No More Lying: a Primer on the Novels of B.S. Johnson 1

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Joyce, Beckett and B.S. Johnson all tried to move the novel forward, to shove it out of the 19th-century ditch its spinning wheels seemed only to dig deeper. To tell a story, he thought (and often said), was to tell a lie, to futilely pretend away the chaos of modern existence and pander to humanity’s base, vulgar desire to find out what happened next.

July 15, 2010

Writing Outside Realism: Aimee Bender’s Magical Power 2

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If reading Aimee Bender’s stories was like creeping downstairs in the middle of the night to eat all the leftover cake with my hands — that much better for the darkness, for the raw, guilty lust — this new novel is summer afternoon, garden party fare.