Author Archive

On Magic

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Magic in literature causes problems. It has always bugged me, just a little, that at the end of all the sublime comic mix-ups and supernatural complications in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we’re left with an imbalance in our two happy couples: one pair has been reunited by the reversal

On Dressing Up

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There’s a section of Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock that’s famous enough to have its own almost-official title. The Toilet Scene. People mention this scene often when they talk about the poem’s mock-epic qualities, its training of a heroic gaze, modeled on the loftiness of The Aeneid

Fear and Narrative

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There’s a little door in the corner of our almost-three-year-old daughter’s bedroom, and she’s very convinced something is going to come out of it. It isn’t even a door, really—it’s an access panel for getting at the problematic plumbing in the bathroom next door. I’ve come to really, really

Ways of Beginning

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New Year’s Eve has always struck me as sort of a strained holiday. The newness it represents feels invisible to me, no matter the countdowns and music and noisemakers piled on it—a threshold in the air, a line that’s there because we say it is. I’m always so aware

The Past, Living

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For a person who loves writing and reading stories that take place in the past, I don’t seem to like the term historical fiction much. It tastes of dust to me. No doubt unfairly, I think of a certain kind of novel when I hear it. You know the

Reading about Reading

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Paintings of people looking at paintings, like this one, can make me fall into a dizzy sort of hole. Gazing at the painting to find, there, painted people gazing at a painting, suddenly I’m not quite sure where I’m actually standing, where the line between me and the painting

Literary Teachers and Their Lessons

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I have a new teaching job this fall, and so I’ve been thinking even more than usual about classrooms, and teachers, and the hold they have on our imaginations. It’s strange to realize, right before I walk into a classroom to teach, how clearly I can remember most of

When We Were Little Women

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Like all the books I loved as a kid, Little Women took over my imagination and play and conversation—but in this case, more than any other, the takeover was communal. With my friends, I play-acted scenes from the book. Meg’s stay with the fashionable Moffats. The onset of Beth’s

Dear, Dear: The Intimacy of Letters

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Nobody writes letters anymore. Sometimes the lament strikes me as cranky, romanticized (I once heard a radio interview with a woman who’d decided to homeschool her children in large part because their school had cut out cursive writing). But it’s true that I’ve saved many of the rare handwritten

Borders

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We moved to Pittsburgh from the Northeast almost two years ago for my husband’s job. I tell people here I’m new to the city, usually as a way of explaining that it’s new to me, that my mental map is hazy and lots of references still slip right past.