1. 10 Classic Essays →

    tetw:

    As chosen by Molly McArdle

    We asked Molly McArdle, writer, editor, avid reader, reviewer, and the brains behind the excellent Library Journal and The Rumpus tumblrs to pick ten favourites essays. This is what she chose:

    “Atchafalaya” by John McPhee - This essay changed the way I felt about essays. I have always loved the form: it’s capacity for loopiness, it’s friendliness to digression, the space it made for beautiful language. But here, McPhee proves that the essay can do so much more: it can build worlds.

    “Mister Lytle” by John Jeremiah Sullivan - There was a time in which I worked at a job that did not require me to do very much at all, and so I spent my time, tucked away in a tiny corner cubicle, reading. I cried when I read this, and my coworkers thought something terrible had happened to me, but it was just Mister Lytle, raccoon’s sharpened bone-penis and all. John Jeremiah Sullivan writes about the South like a native who’s stricken by amnesia: he has no shortage of not only familiar affection but also bewilderment, even wonder.

    “What We Hunger For” by Roxane Gay - I’ve been reading Roxane Gay since she took on the overwhelming whiteness of the Best American Short Stories series in 2010 over at HTML Giant. (She was, delightfully, included in this past year’s edition.) However, this essay—one, if you follow Roxane’s work, you’ve probably read too—was a game changer. There are lines that when I reread them give me goosebumps. “Sometimes, when you least expect it, you become the girl in the woods” and “You think you are alone until you find books about girls like you.” How many girls thought they were alone until they found an essay like this one?

    “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed - I am a member of the church of Sugar. I regularly quote her in long, tough, sad conversations with my friends; and they quote her back at me. This essay of her’s is one of the most important to me. (Little surprise: I have seen it make a whole room full of young women weep.) Everything in it, from “Stop worrying about whether you’re fat” to “Be brave enough to break your own heart,” from “Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet” to, especially, “Acceptance is a small, quiet room” speaks plainly and bravely and with heart. There is really nothing else like it.

    “The Unlikely Influence of Dungeons & Dragons” by TNC - The reasons I love Ta-Nehisi Coates are too numerous to list here, but suffice it to say I’ve always felt he was a nerdy, inner-city kindred spirit: him reading the Monsters Manual in 1980s Baltimore, me reading Volo’s Guide to the Sword Coast in 1990s DC. I love this post (even though its really a transcript) in particular because he articulates what “high” and “low” culture have in common: beauty.

    “The Death of the Moth” by Virginia Woolf - I read this in high school and it remains one of my favorite things by Virginia Woolf. It is aggressively lovely, a kind of poem. “What he could do he did. Watching him, it seemed as if a fiber, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body. As often as he crossed the pane, I could fancy that a thread of vital light became visible. He was little or nothing but life.”

    “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences” by Mark Twain - There are few things in this world I love as much as a really (effectively) mean review, and this is perhaps the finest of the form. This take down of James Fenimore Cooper’s Deerslayer, which Mark Twain clearly loathed, is epic. “Personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others,” he explains, “this detail has often been overlooked” in Deerslayer.

    “My Dungeon Shook” by James Baldwin - I love the love in this essay, the love and pain that seeps out of Baldwin’s letter: love for a brother, love for a nephew, pain for what the world has done to them, for what they have lost because of it. Here he says about his brother, “No one’s hand can wipe away those tears he sheds invisibly today which one hears in his laughter and in his speech and in his songs.”

    “Chamber of Secrets: The Sorcery of Angela Carter” by Marina Werner - I love fairy tales, literary criticism, and sonorous, pulpy prose. This essay, about Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, has it all: “What reader does not explore with her these passages and woodland tracks? Who does not feel the Beast’s dark carriage like a hearse rumbling towards his eerily uninhabited domain? And who does not sense, through her powerful evocations, the pricking of thorns, the jaw-cracking stringiness of granny, the jangling of bed springs, the licking of a big cat’s tongue, the soft luxurious furs and velvets and skin, and the piercing contrasts with ice, glass, metal?”

    “How Men Fight for Their Lives” by Saeed Jones - This is a story I first heard my friend Saeed tell at a party. He held the room with it, it tilted on his axis. It was supposed to be wild, something crazy and, because crazy, funny—but there was always this dark, unsettling thread running through it, even during his magnetic, hilarious jujitsu demonstration. Here the darkness is not a thread but the fabric. Who reading this hasn’t felt the same way, when Saeed says (my favorite line): “I need you to know that, in that unlit, wood-floored room, I was more interested in the story of my life than my life.”

    Make sure you check out Molly’s site for stacks of great writing and reviews, or head to the Library Journal and The Rumpus tumblrs for all kinds of literary goodness.

    Over at The Electric Typewriter, I pick 10 of my favorite essays. Plus, an exclusive picture of me circa 2008 sleeping on my copy of War and Peace. It may or may not have been taken in Romania.

  2. therumpus:

On Reading by Cynthia Cruz



"On Saturdays when I was a young girl, my mother would drive me downtown to the Santa Cruz Public Library. Often, she would drop me off; leave me there for hours. And I was completely content to wander aimlessly, pulling books from the endless shelves. I would get myself into a small spell, walking and gathering books. Then, I’d find myself a quiet corner to sit and there, I would lose myself inside the portal of a book.




"Years later, I am, again, in the library, this time, the Aptos Public Library. I am in the children’s reading room kneeling before a round wooden table upon which sits a fake board game, The Phantom Tollbooth. Here is how the game goes: I pick up a card, and whichever book is listed on its backside, that is the book I will read. I spend a week inside the kingdom of this book and then, when my mother returns me to the library, the next Saturday, I tell the librarian which books I’ve read, and she takes me by the hand and escorts me back to the magic round table, back to the board game. She disappears for a moment and then returns with a form with my name on the top. She adds the books I read that week to the long list, instructs me to spin the spinner and then I pick up a new card, and flip it over.
"The pretty librarian takes my hand and leads me across the room to a shelf where she pauses, leans into the books and pulls out a beautiful red book with a black horse’s face on it. Black Beauty.




"She hands me the book, the key, and I open it, and then I drop under as I enter the beautiful kingdom again."

    therumpus:

    On Reading by Cynthia Cruz

    "On Saturdays when I was a young girl, my mother would drive me downtown to the Santa Cruz Public Library. Often, she would drop me off; leave me there for hours. And I was completely content to wander aimlessly, pulling books from the endless shelves. I would get myself into a small spell, walking and gathering books. Then, I’d find myself a quiet corner to sit and there, I would lose myself inside the portal of a book.

    "Years later, I am, again, in the library, this time, the Aptos Public Library. I am in the children’s reading room kneeling before a round wooden table upon which sits a fake board game, The Phantom Tollbooth. Here is how the game goes: I pick up a card, and whichever book is listed on its backside, that is the book I will read. I spend a week inside the kingdom of this book and then, when my mother returns me to the library, the next Saturday, I tell the librarian which books I’ve read, and she takes me by the hand and escorts me back to the magic round table, back to the board game. She disappears for a moment and then returns with a form with my name on the top. She adds the books I read that week to the long list, instructs me to spin the spinner and then I pick up a new card, and flip it over.

    "The pretty librarian takes my hand and leads me across the room to a shelf where she pauses, leans into the books and pulls out a beautiful red book with a black horse’s face on it. Black Beauty.

    "She hands me the book, the key, and I open it, and then I drop under as I enter the beautiful kingdom again."

  3. cloudunbound:

This morning via Sarah Weinman, I found out about Thin Reads, a free site devoted to tracking e-singles, which founder Howard Polskin defines as “a work of fiction nonfiction between 5,000 and 25,000 words, generally priced between $0.99 and $2.99,” per Laura Hazard Owen’s reporting at paidContent.
This could potentially be a great tool for conducting collection development, though I am surprised at the higher ratio of nonfiction to fiction. I had the sense that romance was hot on the heels of short-form journalism.

    cloudunbound:

    This morning via Sarah Weinman, I found out about Thin Reads, a free site devoted to tracking e-singles, which founder Howard Polskin defines as “a work of fiction nonfiction between 5,000 and 25,000 words, generally priced between $0.99 and $2.99,” per Laura Hazard Owen’s reporting at paidContent.

    This could potentially be a great tool for conducting collection development, though I am surprised at the higher ratio of nonfiction to fiction. I had the sense that romance was hot on the heels of short-form journalism.

  4. Achebe was acutely aware of “the danger of not having your own stories.” His 2000 collection of personal essays, Home and Exile, undertook the “process of ‘re-storying’ peoples who had been knocked silent by the trauma of all kinds of dispossession.” Library Journal said, “His passion and truth are sensuous and contagious, warming [the] soul.” In Achebe’s last novel, Anthills of the Savannah, an old man from Abazon speaks persuasively of the power of storytelling, which endures beyond wars and warriors. Carrying with it the wisdom of the past, “the story is our escort; without it, we are blind.”

    — “The story is our escort”: Chinua Achebe, 1930-2013, by yours truly, over at LJ Reviews.

  5. In the library after school, I looked for a picture of Audre Lorde, this poet I assumed was a white woman because all of the poems we read in class were by dead white men and women. Oh, and Langston Hughes. Then I found Audre Lorde’s “Love Poem.”

    “And I knew when I entered her I was / High wind in her forests hollow / Fingers whispering sound / Honey flowed.”

    This poem is about a black woman having sex with a woman she loves. This poem is about the fact that we can write poems like this poem.

    — Coming Out To Myself by Saeed Jones (via therumpus)

  6. therumpus:

What was the last book you loved? Tell us!
Starting February 1st, we’ll be posting our absolute favorite submissions by Tumblr users about the last book (any book!) they loved—an extension of The Rumpus’s ongoing series. Part book review, part love letter, your piece should communicate everything that’s wonderful about your chosen title. Every Friday, one submission will go up on Tumblr Storyboard, The Rumpus, and of course, your humble Rumblr.
Submit today!
(image via)

If there is one group of people I know who excel in talking up much-loved books (preferably Satanism), its you, my much-loved tumblarians. <3 <3 <3

    therumpus:

    What was the last book you loved? Tell us!

    Starting February 1st, we’ll be posting our absolute favorite submissions by Tumblr users about the last book (any book!) they loved—an extension of The Rumpus’s ongoing series. Part book review, part love letter, your piece should communicate everything that’s wonderful about your chosen title. Every Friday, one submission will go up on Tumblr StoryboardThe Rumpus, and of course, your humble Rumblr.

    Submit today!

    (image via)

    If there is one group of people I know who excel in talking up much-loved books (preferably Satanism), its you, my much-loved tumblarians. <3 <3 <3

  7. Soho Press recommends Dan Josefson

    recommendedreading:

    It reminds me anew how good and serious and smart Dan Josefson is as a novelist. More than that, though, it makes me forget that my friend wrote this book. It’s real, as I say. Gorgeously real. The world Dan created is as real to me as the keys I’m now hitting, the sky beyond the window out of which I now look, the book I know I will soon pick up to read again.

    Tom Bissell on Dan Josefson’s debut novel That’s Not A Feeling. (Josefson works just across the hall from Library Journal at our sister organization Junior Library Guild!) Read an excerpt of his novel here.

  8. Michelle Dean: BULLHORN: Free New Yorker articles! →

    newyorker:

    Up and down the East Coast, offices are closing ahead of Hurricane Sandy, and millions of workers are preparing to pretend to work from home. If you’re one of them, let us distract you with this rainy-day reading list. A few of these articles are hurricane-related; others just perfect for enjoying a slightly scary day at home: 

    High Water,” from October 3, 2005.
    David Remnick on how Presidents and citizens react to disaster.

    Atchafalaya: The Control of Nature,” from February 23, 1987.
    John McPhee on controlling the Mississippi River.

    The Fifty-Nine Story Crisis,” from May 29, 1995.
    Joe Morgenstern on an engineer’s worst nightmare: realizing that a skyscraper you’ve designed might collapse in a hurricane.

    Up and Then Down,” from April 21, 2008.
    Nick Paumgarten on the secret lives of elevators.

    A Murder Foretold,” from April 4, 2011.
    David Grann on one man’s race to stop his own assassination.

    Looking at War,” from December 9, 2002.
    Susan Sontag on photography’s view of devastation and death.

    Secrets of the Magus,” from April 5, 1993.
    Mark Singer on Ricky Jay, the world’s greatest sleight-of-hand magician.

    Advanced Placement,” from March 10, 2008.
    Janet Malcolm on the wicked joy of the “Gossip Girl” novels.

    Good Raymond,” from October 5, 1998.
    Richard Ford on his friendship with Raymond Carver.

    “The Power Broker,” from July and August, 1974: Parts onetwothree, and four.
    Robert Carto on Robert Moses and New York.

    Please stop everything you are doing and read John McPhee’s “Atchafalaya: The Control of Nature.” NOW! 

  9. Maybe if I keep moving and don’t complain, if I read more books and love better, and patch the leaky roof, then one day I’ll reach home, and my head will be clear. There will be a bed for me, with soft pillows, and I will sleep soundly.

    — Sam Lynn in Readers Report Back From… Going Home - The Rumpus.net (via therumpus)

  10. I have always loved best books with magic in them, more than books about space or the future or any other rule-bending, world-shaping force. And why? There are a lot of things that often come bound up in books with magic, whether it is a quasi-medieval setting (abrim with monarchies, chivalry), or the literal escape some characters make from their own lives (the Pevensie children to Narnia, Harry Potter to Hogwarts), or the material comforts magic often furnishes (the Abhorsen’s house in Sabriel), or a demonstrably real—if not totally understood—universal order. But Harry Potter is without kings and Westeros affords few people escape; Juniper’s Euny lives in poverty and Pern is a world without religion.

    — Your LJ tumblrer wrote an essay about asthma, magic, and the computer game Baldur’s Gate over at the Rumpus.