Literature

On Books and Libraries

Alberto Manguel— I would argue that public libraries, holding  both virtual and material texts, are an essential instrument to counter loneliness. I would defend their place as society’s memory and experience. I would say that without public libraries, and without a conscious understanding of their role, a society of the

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How the Iowa Writers’ Workshop Saved Kurt Vonnegut’s Fledgling Career

David O. Dowling— In mid-1960s suburban Cape Cod, Kurt Vonnegut—whose ink sketches and signed monographs now command up to $5,000 each—was unknown and his books were out of print. “I was rescued by Paul Engle’s Writers’ Workshop in the mid 1960s,” Vonnegut recalled, “and he didn’t know me, and I

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On Noses

Noelle Gallagher— By the word Nose, throughout all this long chapter of noses, and in every other part of my work, where the word Nose occurs, I declare, by that word I mean a Nose, and nothing more, or less. So claims the eccentric hero of Laurence Sterne’s wildly popular

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Who Was Ben Hecht?

Adina Hoffman— Ben Hecht was “a genius,” Jean-Luc Godard declared in 1968. “He invented 80 percent of what is used in Hollywood movies today.” He “wrote stories—and he made history,” proclaimed Menachem Begin four years earlier, at Hecht’s standing room-only Manhattan funeral. When Hecht was still alive, and invariably kicking,

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From Automatic Writing to Artificial Intelligence: On Translating Can Xue’s Fiction

Annelise Finegan Wasmoen— Across interviews and essays, the experimental writer Can Xue characterizes her fiction in two ways that speak to what are also questions about translation: as, at once, the embodied performance of freedom, and, at the same time, as an automatic process predicated by a logic or mechanism.

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David Garrick and the Club

Leo Damrosch— When I got the idea of telling the story of a famous eighteenth-century club that called itself simply “the Club,” I knew that there were incredibly rich resources in the writings of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Edmund Burke, Edward Gibbon, and the rest – as well as fascinating

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How Old is the Hebrew Bible?

Ronald Hendel and Jan Joosten— The age of the Hebrew Bible is a complicated and controversial topic. For traditionalists, the age of a book is the age of its author – Moses for the Pentateuch, David for the Psalms, Solomon for the Song of Songs, and so on. For modern

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Reading as a Social Activity

Abigail Williams— On 15 April 1802, Dorothy and William Wordsworth took one of the most significant walks in literary history. They set out in blustery weather, across the fells near Ullswater in the Lake District. It was misty and mild, with a strong wind, and the first signs of spring

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Ep. 69 – Ben Hecht

A look at the life of Ben Hecht, screenwriter, reporter, playwright, novelist, and Jewish activist whose influence is still felt today. Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Stitcher | Spotify | Soundcloud

The 50th Anniversary of Portnoy’s Complaint

Bernard Avishai— Irving Howe famously said that the cruelest thing one could do with Portnoy’s Complaint was “read it twice.” But why reread it when the first time was unforgettable? Back when the book was published, exactly 50 years ago, I knew people who sat around in coffee shops, student unions,

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