• November 13, 2012

    Women on Women in Love

    Strangely enough, until now, Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 The Price of Salt has never had a proper film treatment. Announced at this year’s Cannes festival, the long-waited-for adaptation, directed by John Crowley and starring Cate Blanchett and Mia Wasikowska, will start filming in February 2013. Published under the name Claire Morgan, Highsmith’s second novel is a slow, swoony tale of women in love and on the run in midcentury America: Opaque, orphaned convent girl Therese meets the older, glamorous Carol, a perfect Hitchcock blonde, while working the toy counter during Christmas rush at a New

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  • October 31, 2012

    Catastrophe and Disaster

    As Hurricane Sandy prowled her way up the East Coast earlier this week, fear of her arrival bore an unmistakable whiff of anticipation. Restocking pantries and hauling out the generator took the form of dramatic ritual, and there was a sense that we were all bound together in the communion of impending catastrophe. On a global level, the prospect of annihilation has a curious way of inspiring us to pare down our priorities and possessions to only the most important. It makes us wonder, what would matter most if the human race were threatened with extinction? Below are four works that take very

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  • October 09, 2012

    Found Manuscripts

    A manuscript has a life of its own. One never knows where it will end up. Once a physical copy exists, its future is uncertain: it could be destroyed, lost, or find itself in unintended hands. The following novels are set around found manuscripts, and use their material uncertainty as a narrative frame. In doing so, these books not only tell their stories at a remove, but also question the ways in which we know what we think we know.

    Aaron Peck’s first novel, The Bewilderments of Bernard Willis, took the form of a found manuscript. He is currently working on a second novel. He lives and works

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  • Harpo Marx, ca. 1926.
    September 06, 2012

    Six Funny American Novels (and Harpo Speaks!)

    I am the editor of the Lowbrow Reader, a comedy zine from New York, as well as its book, The Lowbrow Reader Reader, which was recently published by Drag City. Only by using Cracked magazine as a benchmark would one mistake the Lowbrow Reader for a literary journal. Within our pages, the words “Rodney” and “Dangerfield” are considered hallowed. Yet we have always sought out laughs across platforms; over the years, as we move further away from the glories of adolescence, this has increasingly extended to literature. Below, in no particular order, are my favorite comedic American novels. Excluded

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  • July 11, 2012

    Devil in the Details

    The great challenge of nonfiction writing is transforming reality into a compelling story with a strong narrative arc. Bombarded by the characters and conversations of everyday life, the nonfiction writer must constantly discard details that don’t serve their stories, and notice and transcribe the few that do. Some of these titles reflect on the challenge of creating a world that’s as vivid as those in the most memorable novels, while others simply show how it's done.

    Jessica Gross is a writer based in Brooklyn.

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  • June 19, 2012

    Los Angeles for Beginners

    No one who arrives in Los Angeles comes without baggage. I came with a whole lifetime of seeing the city through the filter of its culture industries and the region’s relentless self-promotion. This did not prepare me for the real thing. Watching Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself—a brilliant documentary composed entirely of clips of the city in other movies—would have disabused me of at least some of the worst inaccuracies and illusions spun by Hollywood, but I didn’t see it until it was too late. I did come with the standard roster of guides: Time Out, Lonely Planet, Rough Guide.

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  • May 25, 2012

    Tainted Love

    The desire to capture the intersections and overlaps of love and consumer capitalism isn’t new—after all, Fitzgerald packed The Great Gatsby’s doomed romance with God-like billboards, lethal cars, and semi-famous lady golfers nearly a century ago. But in the last fifty-odd years, love, consumer goods, and entertainment have become even more inseparable, making love heavily mediated and harder than ever to locate, let alone describe. But good literature can still shed light on the naked heart beating beneath pop culture’s skin. The following writers have done just that, deconstructing and

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  • April 02, 2012

    Hobo Lit

    America’s attitudes toward its most destitute citizens have always been sharply polarized. Consider, for instance, the philosophical divide between Emerson’s uncharitable self-reliance (“Are they my poor?”) and proto-liberal Thoreau’s opinion that “none can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty.” Yet the ideas of self-reliance and voluntary poverty often converge in the classic American “bindlestiff” (or hobo) figure who hops trains or hitchhikes across the country, forever living on the margins of an unforgiving

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  • March 16, 2012

    Coming of Age

    I came of age online in the late ‘90s. Some of the friends I made on listservs and LiveJournal at the time are still friends today, in “real life.” I was blogging and keeping a diary online years before I even had a cell phone. In retrospect, participating in a space that was public but still felt anonymous has undeniably shaped my identity as a writer.

    I wonder if coming-of-age novels are changing because coming-of-age itself is changing as adolescence becomes increasingly protracted. (Some critics have raised the “second adolescence” phenomenon when referring to my novel’s twenty-two-year-old

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  • North Korea's Arirang Mass Games
    January 26, 2012

    Understanding North Korea

    Few outsiders have seen North Korea, in spite of the increasing international urgency to understand it. Perhaps for this reason, stories from the hermit kingdom hold a unique power over us. Like books about China written from behind the bamboo curtain, our only understanding of this “workers’ paradise” comes from state propaganda, and sensationalistic accounts from defectors—many of which can never be verified. But for all the accounts that go unchallenged, there are also books like the ones below, ones written by scholars and journalists working to shed light on the mysterious DPRK.

    Lee Ambrozy

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  • November 29, 2011

    Remixology

    You’re a rare writer if you don’t occasionally suspect yourself of plagiarism, of unconsciously stealing phrases from your favorite author or appropriating plot points from books you've read as a child. Or maybe, you're haunted by a sneaking suspicion that everything is something you’ve read before. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. The books below not only acknowledge the artistic impulse to use borrowed material, they embrace it as the cultural phenomenon it’s become. The digital revolution means that an audience can, for the first time, respond rapidly, actively, and en masse to whatever

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  • November 17, 2011

    Field of Screens

    In fiction, video games act as both the harbingers of dystopia and the means of salvation from bleak techno-futures. Between these two poles lies a vast possibility space, something William Gibson formulated with the idea of cyberspace in his 1982 story "Burning Chrome," a "colorless non-space of the simulation matrix, the electronic consensus-hallucination." Ultimately, when video games appear in fiction, they embody the hallucinations of those who use them, and illuminate the desires that brought them into being.

    Michael Thomsen lives in New York. He has written about sex, video games, and

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