The Read

The Mad Men Revolution
November 30, 2011

The meme is now the message. So I learned from Monday’s New York Times profile of Kalle Lasn, the Adbusters editor who can be dubiously credited with creating the Occupy Wall Street movement. My dubiousness has nothing to do with the qualities of the movement itself, which, whatever else can be said about its tactics or its political direction, has sparked an important national conversation about income inequality. It’s the word “create” that I’m not sure about. Lasn did not issue a call to action, or write a position paper, or build an encampment.

The Thrill of Applying Literary Theory to Everyday Texts
November 16, 2011

The subject was dirt, or perhaps I should say “Dirt.” It was spring 1996, and I was a newly minted comp-lit Ph.D. candidate thrilled to be taking part in my first academic conference. Okay, it was a conference of grad students organized by my friends in the Harvard English department, but somehow that just made it feel more authentic, like college football compared to professional. I still have the flyer, which reproduces an artsy photo of a dump truck about to discharge its load into a giant quarry.

Should Novels and Politics Mix?
November 02, 2011

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in events honoring Irmgard Keun and Amos Oz—two writers who, on the surface, would seem to have little in common. Keun (1905-1982), born in Berlin, was a literary darling of Weimar Germany who promptly found her works blacklisted after the Nazis came to power. She spent the late 1930s in exile—for a time as the companion of the Austrian-Jewish writer Joseph Roth—before returning to Germany, where she lived out the rest of her life in relative obscurity.

Why Writers Should Embrace Amazon’s Takeover of the Publishing Industry
October 19, 2011

Peeking into the Amazon Publishing booth at Book Expo last spring, I felt like a member of the Rebel Alliance in the Death Star. While the main floor of the hall was crowded with readers lining up for giveaways and editors huddled around tables, the corner Amazon had staked out—right up front by the entrance—exuded a suspicious calm. Though it had the plushest carpeting anywhere in the hall (always the most reliable Book Expo status indicator) and the comfiest looking chairs, few books were to be found.

Art Spiegelman’s Genre-Defying Holocaust Work, Revisited
October 05, 2011

“A quest for ersatz verisimilitude might have pulled me further away from essential actuality as I tried to reconstruct it,” muses the author of a seminal work of literature about the Holocaust. In a lengthy interview that has just been published, he reveals that his source material included thousands of hours of interviews; a shelf of books in Polish, Yiddish, and Ukrainian; detailed maps of the death camps; and even manuals of shoe repair.

Élisabeth Gille’s Devastating Account of her Mother, Irène Némirovsky
September 21, 2011

I have never before come upon a book at once as loving and as devastating as The Mirador by Élisabeth Gille, the daughter of Irène Némirovsky. Némirovsky, it will be remembered, is the popular French-Jewish society novelist of the interwar era who came to attention in the United States and elsewhere after the discovery of Suite Française, her unfinished epic about the war years in France.

In Praise of Anonymous Internet Advice Columns
August 11, 2011

“Can’t you ask the computer?” my seven-year-old son regularly demands when I fail to supply the answer to one of his seemingly random questions. His generation knows implicitly what mine has gradually learned: That the Internet is essentially a garbage dump for information, albeit one that requires increasingly sensitive tools to pick out objects of value. “Crowdsourcing,” a term that Wikipedia (appropriately) tells me was coined only five years ago, has become the preferred way to answer any and all questions. Need a dentist in Missoula or a brunch spot in New Orleans?

Jaycee Dugard’s Memoir, An Acclaimed Novel, and the Art of Writing About Captivity
July 27, 2011

“A Captivity No Novelist Could Invent” is the headline on Janet Maslin’s recent review of Jaycee Dugard’s new memoir, A Stolen Life. Dugard, as many will know, is the California girl who was kidnapped at age eleven on her way to school in June 1991. For the next eighteen years, she was imprisoned in a backyard by Phillip and Nancy Garrido, forced to act as Phillip’s sex slave; she bore him two daughters, the first when she was only fourteen. Her story is horrific almost beyond imagination. Almost.

Is Female Masturbation Really the Last Sexual Taboo?
July 13, 2011

Most book parties are G-rated affairs. So I did a double-take at the invite in my mailbox from Taschen, the once-prestigious art publisher that now has what must be a more profitable sideline in erotica. Some of their recent XXX offerings include The Big Butt Book, The Big Penis Book (with an Anthony Weiner-esque cover shot), and now, the coyly titled La Petite Mort, an investigation of “the ultimate intimacy”: women masturbating.

Franklin: When Will Gay Marriage’s Time Come in Literature?
June 28, 2011

It is a truth now occasionally, if not yet universally, acknowledged: that a single man, whether or not he possesses a good fortune, could be in want of not a wife, but a husband. The passage last weekend of New York’s historic same-sex marriage bill, which made the state the largest to join the gathering movement, was thrilling to all supporters of equal rights.