You Go Girl, Title-Wise

Anyone who read Gone Girl, or Girl on the Train, or Girl in the Dark or Girls on Fire, or the Stieg Larsson’s trilogy that began with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that started the girly title trend must know the irony. These are no girls, at least in the sense that, in responsible circles, we have come to define the species. In my years as magazine editor, if I had used the word girl in a title to describe a women, I would have been strung up by NOW. Nowadays, Donald Trump can call females whatever he wants and never get strung up. And so, irony upon irony, perhaps the literary industry presaged the age of Trump because the word girl has a snap to it. The Woman Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest just doesn’t do it. If you want to get ahead of the curve as a writer, coin a new title word for men. Guy is old fashioned. Fellow is too academic. This possibility, admittedly, is a little too wordy: Person led around by his private parts. So your suggestions will be welcome.

Michael Lewis and the Roundabout Reward

Today Michael Lewis’s new book, “The Undoing Project,” will be published to great fanfare, and for good reason. For writers, this event holds many lessons. One is that the old saw, “Write what you know,” now requires an expanded definition, maybe something like, “What you know is more than you think you know, and lessContinue Reading

Afraid to Live

The patrons of memoir and the players of politics seldom hang out at the same urban street corner, but they certainly do in the cases of a stunning new book by Cindy Brown Austin and the election of Donald Trump. To fully appreciate this intersection, and the potential power of eloquent words in a timeContinue Reading

In a Nutshell, Keep it a Secret

If you become a fan of Ian McEwan’s new novel, Nutshell, and I can’t see why you wouldn’t once you’ve read the very first page, you must do your best to hide your enthusiasm from certain people. As you probably know by now, this narrative is in the voice of a fetus who demonstrates aContinue Reading

All The Light We Can Research

In the back of his blockbuster novel, All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr provides an extensive acknowledgment list. It is not uncommon, of course, for authors to publicly thank those who provided support, but in the novel world it is an element seldom carried out to this extent. Anyone reading the book wondersContinue Reading

William Zinsser, Teacher

The last time I saw William Zinsser was the summer of 2013 at the house in Niantic, CT., where he lived with his wife Caroline during the summer months. He was completely blind by then, a result of severe glaucoma. But, as he sat with the writer Cindy Brown Austin, whom I brought to theContinue Reading

Philip Levine

When I heard of the death of the poet Philip Levine, I thought of his brother, Ed, who wasn’t mentioned in the New York Times front-page obit. I’d never met Ed, but I remember the way Philip talked about him. It was with love, of course, and with respect for the way Ed made aContinue Reading

Remembering P.D. James

I am late in weighing in on the death of P.D. James, whom I knew in two ways — as a devoted reader of her Adam Dalgleish novels and as a colleague in a writers conference in Key West many years ago. I remember that, walking to a panel discussion, she took my arm andContinue Reading

A Week With Roya in Italy

  A few years ago, the director of Fairfield University’s MFA in creative writing called me into a meeting on Enders Island, where we held our residencies. He’d also summoned fellow faculty member Roya Hakakian. Each of us had been scheduled to deliver writing seminars in about thirty minutes’ time. Michael C. White told usContinue Reading

Goldfinching: Four Ways to Experience a Masterpiece

The endurance course titled “The Goldfinch,” Donna Tartt’s modern 784-page masterpiece, tests the standard of making every word count. I won’t argue here that she did. The ending alone — a long discourse on the Meaning of Something or Other — may inspire a reader to ask, “I’ve come call this way for this?” OnContinue Reading