• Cover of Vladimir Nabokov's Pnin
    May 11, 2009

    Literary Losers

    Long before Amazon.com reviewers tyrannically demanded sympathetic and likable protagonists, literature was reliably populated by leading men of a less bland stripe. It’s hard for me to understand why someone would want to spend their reading hours in the company of the virtuous, the accomplished, and the capable, when failure is so much more interesting—and, sadly, altogether more common. Today, we call them antiheroes (it’s more polite), but to me, they will always be literature’s losers—tormented, feckless, sometimes lovable, sometimes not, but almost always heartbreaking.

    Host of the literary

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  • Path at Wakehurst Place Garden, England, 2004.
    May 04, 2009

    Walking

    Lisa Darms is senior archivist at the Fales Library and Special Collections at New York University.

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  • Borley Rectory
    April 11, 2009

    Supernatural Nonfiction

    Submitted for your approval, a list (in reverse chronological order) of exemplary books that treat the otherworldly—ghosts, monsters, other fantastic phenomena—as truth. That last word needs qualifying: Most of these writers belie their documentary pretenses by embellishing reality or simply by presenting legend as fact. So to enjoy books like these, you must want to believe in the improbable—and that can be perilous as well as liberating (e.g., it can lead to a vote for Bush or a vote for Obama). Supernatural nonfiction offers the reader a uniquely pleasurable mental space somewhere between

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  • Retouched photograph of Emily Dickinson, ca. 1897
    March 06, 2009

    Emily Dickinson

    Emily Dickinson’s legendary silence has produced a discordant chorus of speculation and mythmaking. As Alfred Habegger, her best biographer, has written, Dickinson’s “reclusiveness, originality of mind, and unwillingness to print her work [have] left just the sort of informational gaps that legend thrives on.” Readers and scholars alike have endlessly revised this legend, struck by the conviction that Dickinson speaks directly to them. Adding to the noise is the decades-long effort by the poet’s heirs to control her legacy, engendering incomplete and distorted editions of her work. This tendency

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