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Reading at the Edge of the World

July 7, 2011

For five years in my otherwise landlocked twenties, I spent a week each summer with my best friend’s family at their rented beach house in Hatteras, North Carolina. It was an impossibly long drive to get there, the last turn before the road dead-ended at the ferry slip, the literal end of the land. We…


A ‘Big Night’ of Storytelling: The Moth Returns to SummerStage

June 30, 2011

On Tuesday night, The Moth storytelling series took over the Central Park SummerStage for the first time in eight years. Pam Grier, she of Foxy Brown fame, was supposed to be the headliner for a night of stories built on the theme of “big nights,” but the actress pulled out at the last minute due…


Polemic of the Personal: J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine

June 23, 2011

The other night, the novelist J. Courtney Sullivan was reading a New Yorker commentary about Anthony Weiner’s resignation, which suggested that the old feminist maxim “the personal is political” is perhaps too simplistic to apply to our particularly overexposed modern lives. “I was like, wait, what?” she recalls, on the phone from the back deck…


Revisiting Vonnegut’s Cradle

June 16, 2011

The reputation of Cat’s Cradle among the literary cognoscenti is summed up succinctly in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s obituary in the New York Times: “Though it initially sold only about 500 copies, it is widely read today in high school English classes.” This was also my perception of the novel — something I had moved on from…


The Bolero of Andi Rowe: An Author’s Meditation on Heritage

June 9, 2011

There’s a map on the first page of Toni Margarita Plummer’s debut short story collection, The Bolero of Andi Rowe. An artful pen and ink depiction of the spiderweb of interstates that threads through greater Los Angeles, it’s nexus is the city of South El Monte in the San Gabriel Valley. “Even in L.A., some…


How (Not) to Talk to Joan Didion

June 2, 2011

The day J.D. Salinger died, a weekly newspaper in Manhattan assigned me, along with a colleague, to write his obituary. By 9 a.m. that morning, the voicemail inbox of Joyce Maynard, the author’s former lover, was full. My editor gave me the weighty task of calling Joan Didion, who wrote a pernicious review of Franny…


Clone Wars: B&N Takes Gloves Off with New Touch-Screen Nook

May 26, 2011

To hear Barnes and Noble CEO William Lynch tell it, the biggest selling point of the latest Nook e-reader is that “it does what people want to do with books.”  To state the obvious,  he means to read them, to pocket them, and to pass them around. It’s been generally accepted that there are two…


Slow Fade: Rudolph Wurlitzer’s Cinéma Vérité

May 19, 2011

In Quake, Rudolph Wurlitzer’s short third novel about an earthquake that hits Los Angeles, triggering the apocalypse, the author and screenwriter keeps exposition to a minimum. Omitted details tell the story as much as anything rendered on the page, Hemmingway’s iceberg theory at work. Quake is Wurlitzer — the author of five novels and the screenplays…


The Lessons of Jane Austen, Life Coach

May 12, 2011

Out of the 30 or so southern Californians that gathered Monday night at a Pasadena bookstore for a reading by literary critic William Deresiewicz, exactly two were men. “And one of them was there because he knew me,” admitted Deresiewicz, the author of A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship,…


Sex and the Southern Gothic: Suzanne Vega Channels Carson McCullers

May 5, 2011

On Monday night, Suzanne Vega took the stage in a tiny West Village theater and sang a song she wrote long before “Tom’s Diner” made her name in the late-’80s. Plaintive and bluesy, it was an ode to the mid-century novelist Carson McCullers that she’d first conceived at the age of 17. “I can be…