Essays

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.

October 18, 2010

Burned 12

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Michael Westen and I had work we liked, and we don’t have it anymore. We’re burned, and we’re spending a whole lot of time trying to get back into the game.

October 15, 2010

The Sixth Memo of Italo Calvino 6

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On the eve of his departure for the United States and with five memos written, Calvino died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. In the book, the sixth memo is written in the faded letters like an invitation to finish the list for him, as if it could (and should) be almost anything.

October 14, 2010

James Ross and The Agony of the One-Hit Wonder 13

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James Ross published just one novel in his lifetime.  This is a rare thing because of a paradox that lies at the heart of novel writing: it demands such sustained focus, such persistence, so much raw pig-headed stubbornness that anyone who does it once almost invariably does it again, and again, and again.  Once is almost never enough.

October 13, 2010

‘You Like Sandra Cisneros, Don’t You?’ On Reading Outside Your Culture 3

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“Just wait and see,” she said, as we ate samosas outside of my dorm. “Right now, you’re an English major set on law school. A few months from now, you won’t be. You’ll get caught up in this writing thing.”

October 12, 2010

Our Meals, Ourselves: A Short History of Food Writing 5

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“Tell me what you eat,” wrote Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “and I will tell you what you are.”

October 11, 2010

Gratuitous: How Sexism Threatens to Undermine the Internet 12

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I like following Lisa’s blog because, for whatever reason, her narrative is compelling. Following it is somewhat akin to watching a reality TV show (Not one of the ones where they try to out-dance each other or diet for money, but one that just follows someone’s daily life). She’s my Jersey Shore.

October 8, 2010

In Praise of Unlikable Characters 25

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Authors are too timid, it seems to me sometimes, in the face of the demand for conventionally sympathetic characters. “I didn’t like any of the characters” is a common Amazon reviewer’s refrain—or, I don’t know, maybe that’s just what they say about the books that I write. They say it like it’s a bad thing.