John Burnside’s poems evoke the other world—whatever it might be. The poems are at once lyrical and meditative, their seemingly ordinary declarations cross-stitched with spookiness; the result is a kind of vivid, autumnal intensity. We liked this poem for the way it steadily drew us into a world of its own making, the slightly surreal clarity of its stains and stars. —Meghan O’Rourke
Did you know that Jennifer Egan was robbed by a motorcyclist in Spain at the age of twenty-two? That when she was little, she wanted to be a doctor, but then she tried to be an archeologist? That she’s written exactly one celebrity profile and it’s of Calvin Klein? And that she received a gratuitous amount of CK1, which she wore until it ran out? That her first apartment in New York City was on West 69th Street but she has also lived on East 7th Street (between First Avenue and Avenue A) and West 28th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues), but now she lives in Fort Greene? That she wrote her first (and unpublished) novel while studying abroad at Cambridge? That she was a reader for The Paris Review? That she writes her first drafts by longhand? And her second?
I have Jennifer Egan fever. I caught it at the beginning of last year, when I read “Ask Me if I Care,” a short story of hers that The New Yorker had excerpted from her then-forthcoming novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad. I read the other two stories The New Yorker had published on my iPhone while getting a pedicure. It’s a banal admission only worth recalling because I remember sitting in the salon’s lounge long after the polish had dried and it was time to leave—I had to read it all, right then and there. After that, I read every single story she published, every novel she had written, every interview I could get my hands on. (I knew the obsession was bad when I started picking through the Amazon reviews.)
Egan’s prose is stunning, funny, sexy—cool. Her stories reference Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys. She can write about an attractive kleptomaniac on a first date, a topic that seems dangerously cliché, and yet, by the end of opening paragraph, you’re hooked. She’s transparent about her writing process; honest about what she borrows and what she invents. It’s not that she “beat” Jonathan Franzen, though I see why some feel the need to pit the two authors against one another. And it’s not that she’s perfect—I have yet to encounter someone who liked The Keep—but maybe that’s also part of the appeal.
As told to Sheila Heti.
I grew up in Montreal and went to an upper-middle-class Jewish day school where kids had parents who maybe owned a carpet store or maybe were dentists. And then I went to Harvard for college. And it was pretty weird.
When I applied, I thought it would be great because I would get to meet lots of smart people. Those were the kinds of people I liked to be friends with, and I thought there would be more of them there. That was the main reason I thought it would be a fun place to be. I don’t think I was super ambitious or professional minded or even a very good student.
The thing I figured out soon after I applied was that, on Gilligan’s Island, it wasn’t the Professor who went to Harvard, it was Mr. Howell, the rich man. That was something of a revelation.
It’s funny, because what a lot of people talk about when they talk about going to Harvard is being really intimidated by the place when they arrive. I wasn’t at all intimidated by the place when I arrived—but I was really intimidated after graduating.
I arrived at Harvard from Montreal, which is a pretty fucking hip place to be an eighteen-year-old. I’d been going to bars for a while, and I was in a political theater company that did shows in lofts with homeless people and South American activists. And we went to pubs and got old gay men to buy us drinks. It was a pretty cool, fun, and exciting life for a kid in Montreal. It was a very vibrant place, and young people were really part of the life of the city.
Then when I went to Harvard, the place was full of these nominally smart, interesting people, all of whom at the age of eighteen seemed perfectly happy to live in dormitories and be on a meal plan and live a fully institutional life. And that was completely maddening! This was the opposite of everything I’d hoped for from the environment I’d be in.
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I finally picked up Keith Richards’s Life the other week, and it’s all I want to read when I have a spare moment. —Thessaly La Force
Over the long weekend, I devoured Bella Pollen’s The Summer of the Bear—the story of a family moving to an island in the Hebrides following the death of the father, as well as the unraveling mystery of his life—and found it to be the perfect escape. —Sadie Stein
One of the perks of having a kid is making time for books I otherwise wouldn’t make time for, especially the classics. Right now, we’re working our way through one of my favorites, Black Beauty. A good excuse to dig out my old Breyer set of Black Beauty, Duchess, Ginger, and Merrylegs. —Nicole Rudick
I spent the holiday with friends in New England, and we played many a round of what I’ve always called “The Book Game” and Dwight Garner calls “The Paperback Game” and, either way, is about the most entertaining game in existence. (Hint: don’t play it with Terry Southern’s Candy, which has a seventy-word opening sentence. I speak from experience.) —S. S.
Avi Steinberg on Mike Tyson. —T. L.
If you haven’t already, read Jose Antonio Vargas’s personal confession of being an undocumented immigrant. “We’re not always who you think we are. Some pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college. And some, it turns out, write news articles you might read.” —T. L.
Don’t let these creepy ads for Children’s Hospital scare you away—it reacts to the Casey Anthony verdict. —Natalie Jacoby
In her new book, Wanderlust, Eaves—a journalist and author who has worked for Forbes and previously published Bare: The Naked Truth About Stripping, about her time as an exotic dancer—does all of these things. Instead of making choices that follow neatly, one from the next—the job that brings you to a city where you meet the person you marry—the Eaves of Wanderlust makes decisions that consciously, thrillingly refuse to build on one another.
She travels to Cairo as a twenty-year-old college student. At twenty-three, she hikes the notoriously difficult Kokoda trail in Papua New Guinea. Fleeing the rekindling of her relationship with her ex-fiancé, Stu, she joins a husband and wife sailing from Whangarei to Tonga and nearly dies when their vessel is caught in a vicious storm on the open ocean. In person, Eaves may be slender and fair-haired, but she carries herself with a graceful, noticeable composure that makes it easy to imagine her haggling, at dusk, with a Jeep driver in Pakistan, trying to get him to lower the price of a ride she and her boyfriend desperately need. She maintains eye contact. She exudes competence.
And Wanderlust, though on the surface concerned with Eaves’s love of travel—a celebration of years spent indulging that love, moving from one town, one country to the next with little notice, living abroad for months and years at a time, cut off, in the days before e-mail, from family and friends—is also about the process by which she became the adult she is now. She doesn’t have regrets, though she would tell her twenty-year-old self to “spend more time trying to figure out what you want to do on your own. It’s easy to fall back on what somebody else wants to do.”