Archive

Essays

Jonathan Franzen is a little like Times Square, the Eiffel Tower, or a Dutch windmill. If you’re a local, you can protest all you want that he’s not the only sight worth seeing, that you know other, less touristy spots, that there’s more to our great country than this one monument that’s on all the postcards. The foreign visitors won’t be satisfied until they’ve been there.

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“What is art good for?” This question is often asked but seldom convincingly answered. It could be that the query itself doesn’t make much sense. What is sex good for? At a guess, humans don’t make art because it’s useful. We paint, write, read, look, listen, make music because it’s what we do. Imagination is […]

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The West of America isn’t as wild as it used to be. But Americans still talk about going “out West” and “back East.” Going West is an outbound journey, while East, even if you’ve never been there before, is called a return. East is the center, West the edge. East is the norm, West the […]

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There’s a pleasure in any place that comes purely from knowing it well. In the country, the feeling is often a private one: that tree, that field, that view seems to belong to you alone. In the city the same sentiment has a competitive, even arrogant edge. To claim a city’s heart—especially if you’re a writer—you have to insist that no one sees it more clearly or takes more joy in it than you.
That’s why literature is so full of solitary walkers…

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It’s been fifty years since Ursula K. Le Guin sold her first short story. Since then her books have been read, taught, quoted, thrust upon acquaintances, put at the top of Occupy reading lists. Over the course of a long, unpredictable, idiosyncratic career, she has written contemporary fiction, historical fiction, poetry, and essays. But she […]

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No books by women on the short list for the Libris Prize? If it’s any consolation, the gender gap in recognition isn’t just a problem in the Dutch literary world. In a much-discussed recent essay in the New York Times Book Review, American novelist Meg Wolitzer brought up yet again the question of the divided audience. While women read books by men, many men, consciously or unconsciously, leave out the books by women, as if literature were a checkerboard floor that they could cross by stepping on only one color of the squares….

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I think I must have been the last person in the developed world still writing love letters. By 19th-century standards I don’t suppose they were very romantic. J. and I were children of a less gushy, more cynical age. We had already gone way beyond kissing each other’s letters, but felt we were being very daring—stepping over an invisible line of appropriate distance and refusal to hope—on the rare occasions when we wrote “I love you.”

The point is, we wrote letters. Long ones, handwritten, with stamps…

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