How St. Louis Admen Sold the Nation Its Spirits

How did our bland city become a hot spot for national ad campaigns? Overhead was low, flights were easy in any direction, and smart, creative talent was abundant. Between the two world wars, Winston Churchill himself, speaking at an international advertising conference, pronounced the St. Louis Ad Club “far ahead of other cities.” By midcentury, the Midwest was the obvious place to study middle America.

How to Paralyze Someone with Laughter

Might this be a way of coming to terms with feeling so unmoored from my birth country: journeying on a cultural tugboat up the largely English comedy river in search of the TV shows and comedians that had once influenced and shaped me? If I dipped my toe in the dimly remembered comedies of my childhood and youth, would I discover who I once had been?

Maria Teneva

Who Speaks Here? Ourselves or Our Machines?

Nearly every college writing textbook begins by reassuring incoming first-years that they already know how to write, usually in an embarrassing, cross-generational, trying-to-be-cool way: You write persuasive arguments when you create your Tinder profile or when tell the group chat about how much you love the latest Marvel film. As I begin another semester of […]

John Balaban

“Praise to Those Still Coming Through On Song”

Reading John Balaban’s poems and translations, you gain the camaraderie of poets as far-flung as Basho, Li Po, Anna Akhmatova, American John Haag, Georgi Borrisov, Bulgarians Kolyo Sevov and Lyubomir Nikolov; epigraphs by Homer, Polybius, Brecht; the people who wrote, remembered, and sang folk ca dao, and the many characters who live to speak again, from Ovid, miserable in his exile in Tomis, to Root Boy Slim, “lead singer and composeur for his Sex Change Band.”

The Claudine Gay Affair

The right has been on this push about Blacks lowering the standards of higher education since the early days of affirmative action in college admissions back in the early 1970s. Many Black commentators and activists have chosen to circle the wagons to defend Gay and cry racism. This is understandable. But there is a larger issue here about exactly how our race is supposed to function within the American university.

TCR’s Annual “Top Fives”

With two “Notable Essays” selected for inclusion in this year’s Best American Essays anthology, plus landings in top Internet aggregators such as Longreads, 2023 was a banner year for The Common Reader. Here our staff goes one field further, naming five personal favorites published by the journal this year, along with five favorite cultural moments from the wider world of books, film, documentary works, podcasts, and food.

Reclining Nude Woman by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

What a Piece of Work Is a Woman

We face the same dilemma with gender that we face with race. Science has shown that neither is an essential category, just a convenient construct we imposed upon infinite variations. But because that construct allowed centuries of injustice, we have to keep using its labels in order to repair the damage they have done.