Reading & Writing

Are You Stodgy, Middling, or Wild?

    In Metaphysical Animals, a young Iris Murdoch sits with three pals in the dining hall of their college. They are up at Oxford to study philosophy. The young men who would have elbowed them aside are braving World War II, so the four women have unexpected freedom to think, unusual attention from the […]

“Adventure” Means Something New These Days

    Adventure: An Argument for Limits. The title of Christopher Schaberg’s latest book is the perfect oxymoron: a frisson of thrilling risk followed by a grim grown-up reminder of constraint. I linger on the first part because the idea of adventure excites me. Invoking it can reframe any daunting challenge, turning passive misery into […]

Where’s Waldo Now?

    Three friends walked into a bar and … saw the fourth dressed in red and white stripes, her red and white striped hat topped with a giant pompom. Waldo! We had all reverted to age twelve and dressed up for Halloween, but Jodi’s costume was the merriest. Except—what was the deal with the […]

On Losing One’s Letters and One’s Mind

      My keyboard is dyng beneath my fingers. See that? The “i” is the latest to leave me. Not altogether, more like a disillusioned and petulant lover. It has to be in just the right mood to strike. The capital “I” of ego, however, refuses to go. Ironic, no? It will haunt me […]

What Do Women Want? Ask Colleen Hoover

      I had never even heard of Colleen Hoover; had no clue that TIME named her one of the year’s 100 most influential people in the world. After reading about her phenomenal rise, I quiz a young, single librarian. Yes, she says with a certain diffidence, she reads Hoover. Well, yes, all twenty-four […]

Abracadabra! The Magic of Words

    Bunnies from a black silk tophat! Doves looping through swirls of chiffon! Abracadabra is our word for magic. But there is an even lovelier etymology floating through the cultural landscape: abracadabra as a softening of ebra kedabra, meaning to speak something into existence. Which is quite a trick. Words have always made things […]

Monk on the Run

    Who could resist a book called Monk on the Run? With chapters titled “Monk on the Lam” and “Monk in the Slam”? The Buddhists were not best pleased to learn that the eager student who had kept their discipline for five years came to hide from the feds. As character witnesses in his […]

Strange Fle$h

        “I will be your tour guide through hell,” Joe West likes to promise. Joe Schwartz is his real name, and he works at the St. Louis Public Library, has for nineteen years, started as a custodian after a series of jobs filled with sweat, risk, and male camaraderie. Hell is not […]

Is Conflict the Only Way to Tell a Story?

    Of all Joan Didion’s brilliant lines, one has been co-opted to open hundreds of essays by lesser writers—and here we go again: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” We do tell ourselves stories in order to live. And we live in conflict. Stories only work when there is conflict—that is the […]

The Real Stanley Kowalski

    I never knew there was a real Stanley Kowalski. I never needed there to be a real Stanley Kowalski. Marlon Brando’s primal yell in Streetcar Named Desire—“STEL-LA!!!”—epitomized far too many men already. Home from the latest war, these men are no longer sure they are men. They have been shot up, cut up, […]