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Last Build Date: Thu, 19 Jan 2017 22:36:00 +0000


Life Stories #88: John Kaag

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 17:56:30 +0000

I spoke to John Kaag about his memoir, American Philosophy, shortly after the 2016 presidential election, so although we did spend a fair amount of time talking about his personal story, and how a rare book collection tucked away in an old building in the woods of New Hampshire helped Kaag make his way back from a profound, life-questioning despair, we also discussed what American philosophy can do to give solace to those of us who were shocked by what looked (and still looks) like the triumph of wrong over right, of evil over good. Philosophy, I think, offers us a guide to how we can live our lives, how we can best respond to the world around us, by getting in touch with what others have called "the better angels of our nature." Kaag recommends essays by James and Henry David Thoreau as starting points for readers interested in what the American philosophical tradition, with its emphases on pragmatism and renewal, can tell us about how to move forward. And he hints at future writings on his part that might follow in those footsteps: "I think that there are lots of times in the history of philosophy where philosophers have had to stake a great deal on their thoughts, and I think that we might be entering one of these times," he says. "I'm in the process of writing another sort of memoir like this one, but... it will have to be in some ways politically oriented, or socially oriented, because I think it's wholly unacceptable for philosophers to ascend into the ivory tower when things are going really nasty."

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David Park’s Way of Seeing into Lives

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 07:10:05 +0000

photo: Bobbie Hanvey As I was reading the stories in David Park’s Gods and Angels, I took note of the way he’s able to dig into the emotional lives of his protagonists, whether it’s a teenage boy who’s tired of having to spend the day after Christmas with his estranged (and clinically depressed) mother, or a [...]

Robert Oldshue: Is There a Doctor in the House? (Can Somebody PLEASE Get Him Out of Here?)

Mon, 02 Jan 2017 06:25:04 +0000

photo: Robin Rodin One of the earliest stories in November Storm, Robert Oldshue’s Iowa Short Fiction Award-winning debut collection, has a character who teaches eighth greade math in my old hometown in the Boston suburbs, a few years before I would’ve been taking eighth grade math. (I’m pretty sure it’s not actually based on any [...]

Allegra Hyde: The Beautiful Messiness of Deb Olin Unferth’s “Pet”

Wed, 28 Dec 2016 18:29:55 +0000

photo: Molly O’Keefe I was delighted to learn that Allegra Hyde is a fan of Deb Olin Unferth, whom I’ve admired for years. And as I’ve been reading the stories in Hyde’s John Simmons Award-winning debut collection, Of This New World, I’m becoming a big fan of hers as well. Her stories have a strong knack [...]

Don Bassingthwaite: Lovecraft Meets Maupin for the Holidays

Sun, 25 Dec 2016 02:39:36 +0000

photo courtesy ChiZine Publications The stories in Don Bassingthwaite’s Cocktails at Seven, Apocalypse at Eight are a hilariously campy addition to the tradition of supernatural stories for the holidays. It’s not just ghosts, although there is a ghost with a particularly Saturnalian thirst. Derby Cavendish, Bassingthwaite’s occult specialist, also comes across Krampus, a minotaur, a werewolf [...]

Jensen Beach & Jansson’s “White Lady”

Mon, 12 Dec 2016 19:07:41 +0000

photo: courtesy Jensen Beach Bad things happen to good Swedish people over and over again in Jensen Beach’s second short story collection, Swallowed by the Cold. A man suffers a fatal accident riding his bike home along a canal; before he dies, he tries to get the attention of a passing sailboat, but the two couples [...]

Courtney Elizabeth Mauk’s Characters Are Stronger Together

Tue, 22 Nov 2016 19:55:26 +0000

photo: Jiyang Chen Courtney Elizabeth Mauk’s new novel, The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things, introduces us to a family in pain: a mother, father, and son all struggling to cope with the disappearance of their daughter (older sister) Jennifer nearly a year ago. Rapidly moving from one perspective to the next within the story’s tight [...]

Lazer Lederhendler’s French-English Wall

Wed, 16 Nov 2016 05:41:42 +0000

photo courtesy Biblioasis Canadian novelist Catherine Leroux’s second book, The Party Wall, won the Quebec Booksellers Prize and the Prix France Québec when it was first published in French in 2014. Lazer Lederhendler’s English-language translation, published this year by Biblioasis, has just won Canada’s Governor General’s Award for translated literature, and it made the shortlist for [...]

Lisa Graley: When Bad Things Happen to Good Characters

Wed, 12 Oct 2016 01:02:17 +0000

photo: Chelsea Ellison Last year, the University of Georgia presented the Flannery O’Connor Prize to Lisa Graley for the short stories collected in The Current That Carries. One of the first things you’ll notice about Graley’s writing is her ability to get inside the heads of her characters, like the widower in “Vandalism” who starts out [...]

Life Stories #87: Barry Yourgrau

Wed, 05 Oct 2016 05:13:35 +0000

Barry Yourgrau actually lives just around the corner from me in Queens, so it was absurdly easy for us to get together to chat about his memoir, Mess—and the fact that this episode was recorded in my kitchen explains the occasional traffic noises from outside the second-floor window. Anyway, we had a great time talking about why he didn't let anyone into his working studio—;not even his girlfriend, whose apartment it was originally—and what happened when she finally told him to get it together. That led us to the differences between clutter and hoarding, and about how his efforts to create a document of his efforts to finally clear out his apartment sometimes created a "double block," where he wasn't writing and wasn't cleaning. And then I mentioned how Mess foregrounds one of the fundamental qualities of memoir, the way in which it offers the memoirist's life up for judgment, because that's something Yourgrau does himself with practically everyone he encounters in the course of his story.

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