This Is The Way a World Ends: Joseph Roth’s Letters

In the back-page essay in this week’s New York Times Book Review, I take stock of Joseph Roth’s letters—and what they can and can’t tell us about their author:
The final message from the Austrian novelist ­Joseph Roth in Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters is short and desperate. “Dear friend,” he writes to his French translator, [...]

Meta in Madrid: Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station

I came to Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station via the bandwagon.  I first learned of the novel from James Wood’s New Yorker review, which left me intrigued: a novel about the uncertainty of language, expat angst, and the appropriation of history in the quest for an authentic self?  I may not be a poet [...]

The [Insert Superlative Here] Books of 2011: My Year in Reading

I recently, and much belatedly, got around to reading Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism. It’s brilliant—not a word I use easily—and really deserves its own post, but there is a point on which Frye and I disagree, in practice if not in theory.  “The demonstrable value-judgement,” he claims in his introduction, “is the donkey’s carrot [...] real gambling systems

Performance Art in Prose: Kirsten Kaschock’s Sleight

My latest piece for the Barnes & Noble Review is on one of the stranger novels I’ve read this year: Kirsten Kaschock’s Sleight. A more positive review than mine also ran this week, in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  It’s a polarizing enough book that I recommend reading both.
In her novel Sleight, Kirsten Kaschock has set herself a [...]

Of Dating and Derrida: Jeffrey Eugenides’s Marriage Plot

Fall has arrived, the season of weighty novels. Much like Freedom did this time last year The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides, has launched our annual referendum on The Novel in the 21st Century.  As Evan Hughes noted in a moving piece on their generation of writers, Eugenides and Franzen are both working in the gaping [...]

Ethnographers of the Everyday

The new issue of n1br has launched with my essay on Stephen Schryer’s new book Fantasies of the New Class—a study of how the post-war American novel dealt with the professionalization of intellectual culture.
The humanities have been looking a little haggard lately. The UK recently saw government-mandated cuts to university programs; American universities [...]

Amitav Ghosh Goes Up In Smoke

I have a review of River of Smoke, the second volume in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy, up at the Barnes & Noble Review.  I’ve liked Ghosh in the past, and the first volume—once I got past its faux-historical vernacular—made for a spirited summer read.  The new installment, not so much.
The second book of a trilogy [...] popular gambling games

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Blood, Guts, and Literature: Maggie Nelson’s Art of Cruelty

The Art of Cruelty, I had to assure many people as I was toting it around, is not a handbook; the “art” of the title is literal.  Maggie Nelson’s interest is in aesthetic cruelty, specifically how art forces us to confront and negotiate the indignities, violent and otherwise, that people inflict on one another, and [...]

Why Deborah Baker Is Not Janet Malcolm

I had a very short review of The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism by Deborah Baker in Sunday’s issue of The Daily, but given the constraints of both space and technology, I figured I’d embellish here.  The Convert is, superficially speaking, a short biography of Maryam Jameelah, formerly Margaret Marcus—a Jewish convert to [...]

Lazarus in Print: Notes on The Late American Novel

There are two narratives about the “future of fiction” that refuse, not without reason, to die.  The first is practical: how will the novel survive in a media landscape increasingly hostile to long-form reading, also known as “the book”?  Of these there is no shortage, though by now we’ve moved from articles about the death [...]

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