Jan. 19, 2018 | Joseph Conrad hated being called a writer of “sea stories.” Yet his experience of travel and displacement is what makes his work resonate today... more »


Jan. 18, 2018 | Denis Johnson was a prodigy, an American Rimbaud. Then, suddenly, he wasn’t. Heroin, alcohol, and the IRS followed, as did great writing... more »


Jan. 17, 2018 | “William, you’re very boring.” Empson, in the middle of a poetry reading, ignored the heckler. “William, you are very boring,” she said again. It was his wife... more »


Jan. 16, 2018 | The loves of Mary Shelley. Her husband was openly hostile to her. After his death, she was intimate with several women. Her sexual orientation was clear, perhaps even to herself... more »


Jan. 15, 2018 | Ezra Pound: His name is synonymous with the need to separate the life (fascist-sympathizing anti-Semite) from the work (visionary poet and critic) — and the impossibility of doing so... more »


Jan. 13, 2018 | Jews and jokes. The Old Testament isn't funny. Jews, however, produce so much humor. Why? Theories abound, few of them funny... more »


Jan. 12, 2018 | The British writer Ann Quin wrote novels that took aim at aesthetic orthodoxy. They didn’t catch on in the 1960s, but has their time arrived?... more »


Jan. 11, 2018 | Why did George Bernard Shaw, in his final decades, cozy up to Stalin and Mussolini? It was part intellectual isolation, part weakness for flattery... more »


Jan. 10, 2018 | A radical turn to the past. While much of feminist thought centers on the future, Audre Lorde made herself “a mouthpiece for history"... more »


Jan. 9, 2018 | A.R. Ammons was one of the great curmudgeons in the history of poetry. He made an aesthetic out of fuddy-duddiness, but he was more than a lovable grouch... more »


Jan. 8, 2018 | Elizabeth Hardwick said real literature should elicit criticism worthy of the achievement in question. That meant, among other things, a stubborn commitment to good, clear prose... more »


Jan. 6, 2018 | Mencken once estimated that he had published some 10 to 15 million words, everywhere riddled with verbal obscurities: Blattidae, chandala, chrestomathy... more »


Jan. 5, 2018 | F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed to have left the Catholic church in 1917. But his commitment to its rituals, as well as the moral urgency of his writing, suggests that he never escaped its influence... more »


Jan. 4, 2018 | Biographers: Henry James feared them as predators. James Joyce ridiculed them as “biografiends.” Saul Bellow compared them to coffin-makers... more »


Jan. 3, 2018 | Reading aloud is slow, but it used to be the norm. The rise of the novel was what shifted reading habits toward private and speedier consumption... more »


Jan. 2, 2018 | Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist, has read hundreds of books about Darwin and his work. Many are not good, but A.N. Wilson's is by far the worst... more »


Jan. 1, 2018 | As old as cave paintings, the umbrella — mundane yet magical — is a reminder of the elements of nature we have still not mastered... more »


Dec. 30, 2017 | Mailer at his height. Consider his Pentagon protest epic, now grievously out of fashion. At the time it was the longest article ever to appear in an American magazine... more »


Dec. 29, 2017 | Ecclesiastical control of universities, the Galileo affair, the Inquisition — what happens when science and religion clash? Dialogue is impossible; conflict, inevitable... more »


Dec. 28, 2017 | The bookishness of Bolsheviks. Their acceptance of apocalyptic violence wasn’t suppressed by the literary fraternity of their upper echelon... more »


Dec. 27, 2017 | By itself, travel does produce epiphanies. But it also makes clear that the language of location is relative — everywhere is to the east of something and to the west of something else... more »


Dec. 26, 2017 | Africa did not live up to Michel Leiris’s expectations. The Nile seemed a “common canal”; the insects were awful. His conclusion? “Writing a travel book is an absurd undertaking”... more »


Dec. 25, 2017 | Christian Wiman has written about the correlation between the quality of a poem and a poet’s capacity for suffering. But does he understand joy?... more »


Dec. 23, 2017 | “To Be Liked by You Would Be a Calamity.” Marianne Moore’s poems could be funny, tart, and conversational. But they had to have intensity... more »


Dec. 22, 2017 | Desire for booze lubricated the course of history: agriculture, civilization, revolution. What is it about getting drunk that we love so much?... more »


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