Essays

July 29, 2011

Following the Moon: Plot and the Novels of Tana French 8

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Beyond the world of storytelling, plot is defined as a secret scheme to reach a specific end. Or it’s a parcel of land. Or it means to mark a graph, chart, or map: the plotting shows us what has changed; our ship is headed this way. To a writer (me) interested in (obsessed with?) plot-making, all of these are significant definitions.

July 27, 2011

Scared Straight: Writers and The New Happiness 37

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Whereas previous generations of accomplished writers were awash in alcoholism and cigarettes, sexual-romantic openness, spiritual misery, and financial ruin, today’s young writers are more likely to faithfully drink 8-10 glasses of water daily, be married, get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, and have a decent credit score.

July 22, 2011

The Second Life of Irmgard Keun 7

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The German novelist Irmgard Keun’s life was the stuff of fiction: she was a best-selling debut novelist at twenty-six, published a second bestseller a year later, was blacklisted by the Nazi regime and in exile by the spring of 1936. She was possessed of a spectacular talent. She managed to convey the political horrors she lived through with the lightest possible touch, even flashes of humor.

July 20, 2011

What Ever Happened to the New Atheism? 26

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Five years ago, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens launched a jihad against religion. But their colleague A.C. Grayling’s new “Humanist Bible” suggests something surprising: maybe the quarrel wasn’t really with God after all.

July 19, 2011

Good Luck, Memory 13

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How much of what we read do we actually retain? Should we care? The accidental “hap” of memory and that cherished literary principle: “remember the poop joke.”

July 15, 2011

Quintessentially English: Middlemarch Between Bristol and Bath 6

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Railway tracks get recycled into public pathways, now; in Middlemarch, they aren’t built yet, and exist only in the form of industrial agents who come to plan their route through the fields, to the dismay of the farmers who don’t understand what they want.

July 14, 2011

What Harry Potter Knows 25

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This is one of those weeks in which everyone talks about Harry Potter, and in which it’s tempting to be that writer, you know that writer, who does the jaded contrarian take on it all.

July 12, 2011

Megan Abbott, Literary Criminal 6

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Abbott isn’t merely a poster girl for this increasingly progressive atmosphere surrounding “genre.” Her novels are distinguished by rhythmic prose, historical settings , and a candor about the way people live.

July 7, 2011

The Year of Wonders 45

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It was midday on a Monday in early August of the year 2000 and the bidding on my first novel had reached six figures, then paused for people to track down more cash. I was 32. I’d never made over $12,000 in a year.

June 21, 2011

On Bad Blurbs and the Heavy Lightness of Yates’s The Easter Parade 11

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The blurby back-cover declarations struck me as so off-pitch, that they in fact helped me to clarify for myself just what I think The Easter Parade is, and isn’t.