The Read

The ‘Opt-Out’ Problem We Don’t Talk About
January 12, 2011

I was eight months pregnant with my first child when Lisa Belkin introduced the concept of “The Opt-Out Revolution” in The New York Times Magazine. It was October 2003, and the last year or so had seen a flurry of books and articles devoted to the challenges (to put it politely) of working motherhood. There was Allison Pearson’s comic novel I Don’t Know How She Does It, in which the protagonist, a perpetually frazzled hedge-fund manager and mother of two, finds herself in the kitchen in the middle of the night “distressing” store-bought pies so that they will appear homemade.

How I'll Be A Better Reader in 2011
December 30, 2010

New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite holidays—not so much for the champagne and crowds, but for the call to renewal that it brings. As a child I was an avid New Year’s resolution-maker, always with an eye toward self-improvement: I would pledge to write in my diary more often and keep my room neater. By now, I’ve given up on both of those endeavors, but, this year, I thought I’d try giving the classic New Year’s resolutions a literary spin. Let’s see how these play out over the course of the year. 1. Lose weight. OK, not literally.

Toto, We’re Not in Cannes Anymore
December 15, 2010

Last week, I attended the Marrakech Film Festival. I had never been to a film festival before, but the experience was in some ways no different from what I had imagined about Cannes or Sundance, albeit with a somewhat lower glamour quotient. The opening gala, complete with red carpet and paparazzi, was staged in a swanky convention hall surrounded by five-star hotels. The requisite stars made appearances: Jury chairman John Malkovich spoke acceptable French to his TV interviewer, while Keanu Reeves, displaying some alarming facial hair, didn’t bother to try.

The READ: Books I Missed
December 01, 2010

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.

The READ: Why Is Emma Bovary So Maligned and Misunderstood?
October 20, 2010

Emma Bovary is one of the most abused heroines of the modern novel. It’s not enough for her to lose her mind in love for an unworthy man; to squander her fortune and suffer the terror of mounting debt; and, finally, to die in a prolonged, painful suicide by arsenic. No, she must also be cruelly misunderstood by Kathryn Harrison in a weird piece in The New York Times Book Review that has generated a steady seething of online dissent. Harrison and the Book Review have been jointly taken to task for the piece’s failure adequately to assess the novel’s boutique new translation by Lydia Davis.

The READ: Washed Up
October 06, 2010

The more I watch “Jersey Shore,” the more it reminds me of the Stanford Prison Experiment, that notorious episode in 1971 when psychologist Philip Zimbardo selected a group of normal college students and assigned them randomly to act as either prisoners or guards in a mock jail. After only a few days, the “guards” turned cruel and sadistic, and the “prisoners” began to break down mentally. Zimbardo, confronted with this ethical conundrum, was compelled to terminate his experiment early. MTV has different standards.

The READ: How Do We Understand the Holocaust?
September 22, 2010

In the summer of 1995, when I was an intern at The New York Times’ Warsaw bureau, we received an unusual news tip. A flea-market vendor in Gdansk had been selling what he described as “authentic soap” made out of fat taken from the bodies of Jews murdered at the Stutthof concentration camp. He had been displaying the soap, complete with a sign advertising both its price and provenance, at his stall for several days before anyone seemed to have taken note.