• Cover of Mary McCarthy's The Group
    July 21, 2009

    Postcollege Ennui

    College has proved so reliable a setting for fiction that it’s even laid claim to its own literary genre. But what happens after the campus novel graduates? The transition out of college is a much sadder, much less circumscribed, and, despite classic treatments by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mary McCarthy, much less popular novelistic subject than college itself. The following books tackle (or, in The Rules of Attraction and Privilege, are born of) postcollegiate malaise, each revealing the downside of what Amory Blaine termed “aristocratic egotism”—the darkest hour of the privileged youth.


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  • Caravaggio's The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, ca. 1601–1602
    July 14, 2009


    The narrator of my novel in progress has a storefront preacher mother and a family legacy of extremism that seem, the more she struggles against them, destined to determine her future. While her life goes in a very different direction from mine, I've taken quite a bit of material from my own experiences and neuroses in imagining her story. I'm a doubter by nature—committedly, almost compulsively so—and gravitate toward works by other agnostics. Skepticism is as old as faith, and its manifestations are complex and varied.

    Maud Newton hosts the literary weblog maudnewton.com. Her writing was most

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  • Cover of Nada Gordon's Folly
    July 07, 2009

    Flarf Poetry

    Since coming together on private Listserv exchanges in 2001, the writers of the Flarf Collective have attracted critical attention—oh, and readers—more rapidly than is deemed seemly for contemporary poets. The group’s recent reading at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (alongside a mock-rival cadre of “Conceptualists”) and supplementary inclusion in Poetry magazine have raised their already high profile, which may have resulted from the collective’s self-styled (and half-joking) status as a genuine avant-garde. Flarf, as it is usually practiced, takes as its raw material the results

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  • Cover of Dalí's Diary of a Genius
    June 30, 2009

    On Being an Artist

    There are certain books that all young artists read. For example, the other night I met a young woman at a bar. She said she was a cartoonist, so I asked to see her studio. Going over the next night, I noticed on her shelves a book I cherished when I was eighteen: Salvador Dalí’s Diary of a Genius. It was interesting that she had glommed onto Dalí—just as I once had. But what lessons was it teaching her about the artist’s life? Likely the ones I, too, had absorbed, studying certain books so thoroughly that now it gives me a headache just to see their spines.

    Sheila Heti is the author of the

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  • Walt Disney stamp, 1968
    June 23, 2009

    Deconstructing Disney

    In Preston Sturges’s film Sullivan’s Travels (1941), convicts get a break from the woes of the Depression and chain-gang life at a screening of the Walt Disney cartoon “Playful Pluto.” Now, just in time for the current economic crisis, comes Disney’s first traditional animated feature in five years, The Princess and the Frog, due in theaters at the end of this year. With a New Orleans setting—and jazz-loving alligators, Cajun fireflies, and voodoo priestesses—the film promises to heal whatever post-Katrina wounds The Curious Case of Benjamin Button neglected. The following five books, meanwhile,

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  • Nighttime satellite photo of London
    June 15, 2009

    London Underground

    Like any large city, London is a place of subcultures, most of which don’t find a place in mainstream lives or in mainstream writing. Here are some books that describe various forgotten London undergrounds. Mind the gaps . . .

    Hari Kunzru is the author, most recently, of the novel My Revolutions (Dutton, 2008).

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  • A schizophrenic's room at St. Elizabeth Hospital
    May 27, 2009

    Schizophrenic Memoirs

    While there are countless autobiographies by writers who have lost their sanity, memoirs of schizophrenia are a rarer breed. In moments of florid psychosis, schizophrenics can become so self-conscious about how they use words that they lose the ability to communicate. Everyday phrases seem unfamiliar, threatening, or absurd. As the psychoanalyst Hilde Bruch wrote, “The poet is a master of language, the schizophrenic is a slave to it.” Below is a list of six memoirs by writers who reveal the limits of language by chronicling their descent into madness.

    Rachel Aviv is a writer living in Brooklyn.

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  • Illustration by Weedon Grossmith from Diary of a Nobody, 1892
    May 20, 2009

    Comic Novels

    Nabokov urged us to read with our spines, to savor the tingle that the best writing brings. I tell the students in my comic-novel seminar to read with their funny bones. (Unfortunately, my suggestion that they mark the first point at which they chuckled audibly led to a paralyzing, nearly class-wide self-consciousness.) You won’t find Lucky Jim or A Confederacy of Dunces on this syllabus, for the simple fact that, despite their virtues, they’ve never made me laugh out loud the way the following titles always do, even after multiple readings, when nothing should surprise me.

    Ed Park is a founding

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  • Macedonio Fernández
    May 13, 2009

    Beyond Bolaño

    The spread of Bolañomania last year, after the release of 2666, was amazing to witness. I never thought I’d see a complex and disturbing nine-hundred-page novel, translated from Spanish and written by an author who passed away a few years ago, show up on the New York Times best-seller list. As a lover of Latin American literature, I found it especially encouraging, because Bolaño’s books don’t include talking iguanas or mystical recipes. Bolaño finally shattered the magic-realist stereotype that has plagued Spanish writers for the past few decades. Great news for the dozens of Latin American

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  • 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


    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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