Essays

November 12, 2010

Snake Meat and Reefer: Horacio Castellanos Moya 4

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Moya’s novels read like gonzo thrillers or amphetamine-fuelled nightmares. In between explosions, stabbings, mass snake-bites, and stampedes, an image of San Salvador and Salvadoran society at large starts to come together in flashes, like the picture in a zoetrope.

November 11, 2010

Strange Flowers and Gubbinals: On Teaching and Pain 2

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What teacher has not felt this pain—the pain of the audible yawn from the kid in the back row just as you launch into the lesson you worked on for an hour and a half—or worse, the lesson you spent only ten minutes preparing and are now feeling vulnerable about?

November 10, 2010

Salinger in Vienna 9

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Part of the sadness here comes, of course, from a young woman being robbed, senselessly and viciously, of her life. But it is sad, too, in the way it deprived a young man, a man who hadn’t even known her that well, the luxury of remembering her without bitterness, of being able to ask lightheartedly: “I wonder what So-and-So is up to?”

November 9, 2010

Sunday Mornings 8

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Since my kids won’t be old enough to read this for a few more years, by which time they’ll probably hate me for other reasons, I’ll say this out loud: I sometimes fantasize about a life without them.

November 1, 2010

The Soul-Sucking Suckiness of B.R. Myers 73

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And so he whirled mirthlessly on, flourishing the word “prose” like a magic wand, working pale variations on his “Reader’s Manifesto.” Take that, Toni Morrison! In your face, Jonathan Franzen!

October 29, 2010

What We Teach When We Teach Writers: On the Quantifiable and the Uncertain 25

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“I think the single most defining characteristic of a writer” – I found myself saying to a friend the other day, when she asked my thoughts on the teaching of writing – “I mean the difference between a writer and someone who ‘wants to be a writer,’ is a high tolerance for uncertainty.”

October 28, 2010

Warning! Teenagers Inside: The Appeal of the Young Protagonist 7

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Doesn’t every reader, male or female, young or old, find that phase of life to be particularly dramatic, moving, screwed up, and beautiful?

October 27, 2010

The Sorry State of the Rejection Letter 40

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Sad but true, the rejection letter, like so many things in book publishing, is a shadow of what it used to be.

October 26, 2010

The Perils and Pleasures of ‘Idle’ Parenting 4

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I give my Idler book a big hug for bucking our stateside Be Perfect Do Everything Under the Sun child-rearing culture. Tom Hodgkinson’s answer to almost all of our must-do’s and have’s — from Tae Kwon Do classes to extravagant vacations — is a firm but friendly “Don’t do it!” Just stay on the couch to ponder life.

October 21, 2010

Shaving Cream and Heart Attacks and Learning When To Fear 3

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These are the things my son James has been afraid of in the 16-months that he’s been alive: The grinding blender, the roaring vacuum, disembodied voices on the speaker phone, the time I pantomimed a broken leg, being put to bed alone in his crib.