Editor’s Note: We’ll be running the article recommendations of our friends at TNR Reader each afternoon on The Plank, just in time to print out or save for your commute home. Enjoy! Jennifer Egan is not complaining about the death of the book from the sidelines. She is actively challenging such ideas with her work. Full Stop | 13 min (3,254 words) Don’t believe what you’ve heard about low-performing schools.
Every critic, I’d venture, has written something that he or she would like to take back. For me, it’s my expression of astonishment, in a column written on the third anniversary of September 11, that no important fiction dealing with that day had yet appeared. Blame it on the fever for documentation that arose in the wake of the attacks, perhaps, or on my naïveté about the amount of time required to write a book—not to mention to sell and publish it.
One of the perks—and curses—of my work is that new books and galleys arrive at my home at an astonishing rate, often four or five a day. As a person with hoarding tendencies who also happens always to be in search of ideas for pieces, I put an alarming number of them in the “to keep” pile. But when the books, like some out-of-control vine, threaten to choke everything in their path, it’s time for a year-end purge. Sorting through the last year’s accumulation, I discovered a number of books that I had set aside intending to write about but never got to.
Franzenfreude, Franzen feud, Franzen frenzy: This literary squabble, one of the most fraught in recent years, isn’t over. It started two weeks ago when Jodi Picoult, peeved that the Times had given Freedom two glowing reviews in one week, gently tweaked (should that be tweeked?) the paper via Twitter: “Is anyone shocked?