• July 24, 2013

    The Unfinished Novel

    The novel, like all art, reaches for immortality, but the unfinished novel is bound up with mortality and the limits of time. In my view, that makes it even more beautiful than a finished novel. We're left to imagine the completion that is forever suspended. How was the writer ever going to tie up such a complicated plot? What was he or she going to do with all those characters and their noisy, difficult yearnings? And what was it all supposed to mean? As we circle these questions, the author becomes paradoxically more and more present to us in the work left behind. We feel his or her humanity

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  • July 15, 2013

    Books about Vancouver

    Though it’s often overlooked as one of the great West Coast cities, Vancouver, BC synthesizes many of the most appealing qualities of its American counterparts. The Canadian outpost combines San Francisco's walkability, Portland's livability, Seattle's seaside surroundings, and Los Angeles' slickness, all in a carefully designed urban setting. The city’s current state is the result of development that has taken place over the past several decades. Yet Vancouver’s skyscrapers, gleaming condominium towers and urban center can make it difficult for the uninitiated visitor to see everything else

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  • Donald Richie in Tokyo's entertainment district of Asakusa, 1954. | Donald Richie/Stephen Mansfield.
    April 04, 2013

    Western Ex-Pats in Post-War Japan

    The 1950s through the 80s saw Japan go from post-war disrepair to world-frightening powerhouse, adapting and even improving all manner of Western inventions from cars and consumer electronics to jeans and rock music. While America and Britain observed these developments from afar, a number of expatriate writers registered more thoughtful assessments of the rapidly changing situation on the ground. These Westerners, many of whom first came to Japan during the Second World War, brought outside perspectives to this endlessly fascinating era of unprecedented—and unsurpassed—Japanese development

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  • Samuel Johnson
    March 25, 2013

    The Golden Age of the English Poet-Critic

    Today we have academics and professional critics as well as novelists and poets who moonlight as critics. But prior to the establishment of literary study as an academic field in the twentieth century, nearly all criticism in English was written by creative writers, often poets. Their criticism is characterized by autobiographical arguments that make little use of outside opinion, and are stylized enough to be called poetic. Their criticism is literature. Of course, poet-critics are still with us (see: James Fenton, Charles Simic), but no longer are they as highly regarded as they were from

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  • March 12, 2013

    The Anglophone Epistolary Novel

    Dearest readers,

    About a hundred pages in to Fanny Burney’s Evelina (1778), the titular heroine writes the following: “How many long letters has this one short fortnight produced!” This might be an axiom for the epistolary novel, which tends to assume that no sooner is life experienced than it is converted into letters, stamped, sealed, and addressed. The eighteenth-century epistolary novel is associated with the rise of realism—Samuel Richardson’s enormously popular Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) is often considered a landmark text in this regard—but there is a sense in which the genre

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  • February 04, 2013

    The Life and Afterlife of Sylvia Plath

    Even before her suicide became cultural legend, Sylvia Plath created her life’s narrative through the lens of myth. Plath saw herself in Shakespeare’s Ariel and Robert Grave’s white goddess, the doomed German lorelei and the resurrected Lazarus—figures liberated by their fantastic generative powers yet bound, too, to tragedy and death. “I think I would like to call myself ‘the girl who wanted to be god,’” the teenage Plath wrote in one letter, only to doubt her own capacity to play that part lines later: “I am I—I am powerful—but to what extent?” It’s these paradoxes that Plath sought to master

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  • December 04, 2012

    Homebodies

    Environments can be mind-altering. In books like Heart of Darkness, landscape is portrayed as an alien, oppressive force, and evil is rendered in physical terms. “The earth seemed unearthly,” says Marlow of the Congo. Then there are the novels that keep you indoors. In them, noise is winnowed away and narrative is confined to the space between four walls. Home-bound characters are no longer be prey to the forces that trouble the outside world, but isolation invites other dangers. Pressure builds. The smallest actions and remarks take on unnatural meaning. Inhabitants become estranged from

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  • 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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