The Books of September 11

I’m writing this as the national media in the United States are already well into rolling out their retrospective “packages” to mark the twentieth anniversary of September 11. Maybe I’m just listening to and reading the wrong things, but in all these retrospectives, I have only seen the cogitations of journalists and pundits and academics—and precious little exploration of 9/11’s effect on fiction.

The Beauty of Fundraising

I was asked recently to speak, in a seminar series for professionals, on “the Beauty of Fundraising,” but as I sat down to reflect on what my remarks would be, I realized that the work had gone way beyond the activities of “just a job” to become an essential discipline—and, in case there are any worried parents out there, a profitable end point for a meandering, expensive college education.

My Life in Books

A few years ago I was at a neighborhood friend’s house for drinks with a couple of women, all with master’s degrees and professional jobs, and for a good twenty minutes, all the talk was about what a drag books were and how messy they made a room look. I sat there in silence, mourning, as though somebody had stabbed my dog.

The Tulsa Race Massacre and Beyond

If you’ve been anywhere near the media in recent weeks, you’ve likely seen the archival photographs, indistinct and muddy, depicting the broken and blasted-out blocks that were all that was left of the city’s affluent Greenwood district—the “Black Wall Street”—after the mob was done with it. A mob that, as the reports tell us, included the Tulsa police force and the National Guard.

Who is Doing the Ironing?

I once heard a female academic talk about the necessity of “de-gendering the private sphere,” and the past year would certainly seem to confirm that, what with children (including my own) and baskets of dirty laundry creeping into the backgrounds of Zoom calls.

Embroidery, Writing, and the Temptation to Fudge

I want the sheen of the easy finish. Don’t I deserve it, by now? But that’s the dishonesty everywhere now, from The New York Times to CPAC. Instead, the task remains, to take the uneven thread of words, just as with the backstitches of embroidery, and pull them out, and pull them back in—this is not just writing or sewing, but soul-making, too.

Who’s LARPing Now?

Not that long ago, I was talking to somebody—at the farmer’s market, of all things—on the hot, somewhat pundit-y subject of “cultural appropriation.” I remarked to a friend that I was in big trouble, because all my favorite cultures had been appropriated.

Monument-Making

I’m thinking about Lefty because I worry about the growing disappearance of death—and by extension, the remembrance of death—from physical space in America. It’s not new: “Have you heard about the revolution in the funeral industry?” my brother the financial manager declared to me, years ago now—the growing preference for cremation over physical burial.

Writers and Characters: White and Black

Within Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha universe, making Dilsey the spiritual center, the concrete embodiment of Christian faith, was doubtlessly intended to be the exact opposite of a racist gesture. But is putting her on a pedestal actually a form of condescension?

The Necessity of Pruning

This seemingly endless summer, in the middle of this seemingly endless plague year of 2020, has given me at least one thing: It is the year I began to grow things in earnest. For years I’d annually buy a pot or two of herbs, or a sole tomato plant, and sometimes they’d grow and sometimes I’d forget and they’d just drown in dry dirt.

Friendship: Close Encounters of Intense Recognition

The Internet hadn’t yet arrived, so the conversation was solely in letters at first, scrawled on notebook paper, sent three or four times a year at the most. It was not a witty crypto-romance, like the set of letters that make up Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road.

On Literature, Place, and Abiding

One of the abiding narcissistic wounds of my time as a parent is that neither of my children particularly likes to read. Sixteen years into being a mother, I can still get teary thinking about it—as if, in some way incredibly important to me, I have failed.

The 1918 Flu Pandemic: Different from Today?

Pale Horse, Pale Rider’s narrative center focuses on a woman as fully realized as we might imagine ourselves to be today—a bone-weary professional woman moving in a smoky newsroom, navigating challenges (co-workers, actors angry at bad reviews) that seem amazingly contemporary.

What is Truth?

I haven’t seen these notions of truth—both the old ideal of the “objective” one and the more current, perspectival one—mixed in a more arresting manner than in Susan Choi’s 2019, National Book Award-winning novel, Trust Exercise.

The Embodied Word

For the past few months, I have made a practice of reading a portion of the Psalms daily. My goal has been to read—out loud if I can—one of the twenty kathisma, or traditional divisions of the Psalter that are observed in Eastern Orthodox monasticism.