“The more you know, the less they tell you.” – Mirta Ojito, quoted by S. Mitra Kalita in Telling True Stories Photo credit: National Library of Ireland Continue reading On Reporting
Someone once told me that the state of one’s room reflects the state of that person’s mind. The other day, I remembered this when I looked at how messy my apartment had become – the stacks of books collecting dust, clothes that I never wore and the souvenirs from various events and conferences I didn’t know what to do … Continue reading The Life-Changing Magic of Questioning Yourself on a Regular Basis
Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch is about loving beautiful things. With constant tensions, complicated relationships, and rising stakes, this book explores what it means to devote yourself to what eludes you.
Theo Decker, protagonist and mistake-maker in chief, has a weakness for beautiful art, beautiful furniture, and beautiful people. In the beginning of the novel, he and his mother are in an art museum when it’s bombed, and his mother doesn’t survive. From there, he’s tossed around from home to home, forced to make several new beginnings. The Goldfinch painting, which he steals in the aftermath of the bombing, stays with him along the way, wracking him with guilt.
Soon, he starts making more unethical moves, from committing petty fraud to help make more money for his mentor Hobie’s antique business to agreeing to marry a woman he doesn’t really love.
All along, the reader is holding her breath, wondering when all of Theo’s small, intricate lies will come crashing down into a big mess. At any moment, it seems that he could lose everything– his friends, his money and other people’s respect for him– in a single false step.
“We are, in the end, a sum of our parts, and when the body fails, all the virtues we hold dear go with it.” -Susannah Cahalan, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, written by New York Post journalist Susannah Cahalan, is a page-turning account about Cahalan’s experience … Continue reading The Sum of Our Parts: Brain on Fire Book Review
Tomas Tranströmer’s Nobel Prize-winning collection, Selected Poems, discusses big concepts– God, heaven, existence– but does it through small, specific objects and simple words. With vivid imagery and scientific precision , Tranströmer brings the infinitude of uncertainty back to the familiar and natural. After reading Selected Poems, I felt like I had experienced enough of Tranströmer’s beautiful poetry that I could, … Continue reading All the rolling wheels that contradict Death! Thoughts on Tomas Tranströmer’s Selected Poems
When I read MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, a collection of essays edited by Chad Harbach, I was really excited to learn about how I could break into either an MFA program or the vicious world of New York publishing. Instead, this book make me rethink everything I thought I knew … Continue reading Everything You Knew About MFAs and the Publishing Industry was a Lie
So a question remains: How, then, to best love a book? If we love books at a gallop, we are almost certain to forget much of the scenery we encounter. If we love at a trot, we will never feel the wind against our face. The only solution, it seems, is to love again and … Continue reading Love Again and Again
Reading a Jonathan Franzen novel makes a voyeur out of everyone. You get a bird’s eye view of a dysfunctional-yet-loving family, and you get to see them mess up. Repeatedly. The parents make parenting mistakes, the kids squander opportunities and ignore their parents, disconnections widen, and alliances shift. In many ways, Franzen’s stories are incredibly ambitious; he covers lifetimes of bad decisions and turns a critical eye towards capitalism, fraud, and selfishness. He portrays the struggle of families trying to keep up appearances while everything around them is falling apart. But in another way, Franzen’s stories are variations on a very familiar narrative of the unhappy family. It’s his writing style that elevates this pedestrian storyline to something more.
Here are a few things that make Jonathan Franzen’s work so fascinating to me:
Never use the word “then” as a conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page. – Jonathan Franzen in his “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.” For more about Franzen’s opinion on diction, read his essay “Comma-Then” … Continue reading The Worst Conjunction Ever
Reading Les Miserables is a serious commitment. Even if you’re a fast reader, it’s going to take a long time. At the same time, when you finish it, you’ll feel like it could have gone on forever. Like it should have gone on forever. When I read Les Miserables, it helped me realize a few things about writing … Continue reading 5 Things Les Miserables Taught Me About Writing