Literature and Essays

Reading The Brothers Karamazov: Even a Toddler Knows a Funny Name When He Hears One
My son has a long way to go until he’s reading The Brothers Karamazov, but hopefully not so long that he forgets about Stinking Lizaveta before he gets there. I hope I’ll be near at hand, or only a phone call away, when he discovers that the funny name we used to whisper to each other is actually a very sad character in a great novel, and that the line between life and art is arbitrary, if it exists at all.
(The Millions, 2012)
Where Parents Get Their Power: Evidence from The Brothers Karamazov
It occurred to me that the Grand Inquisitor’s interpretation of the Temptation of Christ effectively describes the power I hold over my two sons.
(The Millions, 2012)
Goodnight Stars, Goodnight Air: Reconnecting with Children’s Books as a Parent
As my son finished his milk and started to fall asleep, I found myself awash in the same anguish I’d felt at this point in the story as a child. I couldn’t have explained why at the time, but as a child I knew there was something deeply sad about the peddler throwing his own cap to the ground. Now as an adult, I can put words to that sadness; I can see that by throwing his own cap to the ground the peddler is effectively saying that without his caps, nothing in the world matters anymore.
(The Millions, 2011)
He Was Water: Kenyon Grads Remember David Foster Wallace’s Commencement Speech
I recently began to wonder: What did the Kenyon grads think when they heard Wallace deliver it on that hot Ohio morning? I was curious whether Wallace’s speech seemed important in real time or whether it was hard to perceive amid the hurrah of a graduation weekend.
(The Millions, 2011)
Shaving Cream and Heart Attacks and Learning When to Fear
These are the things my son James has been afraid of in the 16-months that he’s been alive: The grinding blender, the roaring vacuum, disembodied voices on the speaker phone, the time I pantomimed a broken leg, being put to bed alone in his crib. Most recently he ran in fright from shaving cream.
(The Millions, 2010)
When I’m in the Mood for Fiction
The more I’m engaged with life—and particularly with other people—the more I want to read fiction. At the peak of a wedding reception or in the throes of a night out when the crowd has given itself over to celebration, I often want to sneak off and read a novel. It’s a contradictory impulse, to want to retreat into a book at the precise moment I am most enthralled with life, but such are the circumstances we live by.
(The Millions, 2010)
Haruki Murakami and the Art of the Day
What appealed to me most about Murakami’s essay was the way it joined something very big, like writing a novel, with something very small, like what time each day to go to bed.
(The Millions, 2010)
Reflections on Fear, Freedom, and Growing Up
Recently two people who wouldn’t seem to have much in common—my 26-year-old brother and my one-year-old son—have both had me thinking about wonder and fear, and how their experiences of those two things are similar to each other’s, and different from my own.
(The Millions, 2010)
Reading War and Peace: The Effects of Great Art on an Ordinary Life
One somewhat disquieting effect of reading War and Peace is that the more your own thoughts show up in its pages, the less original your life begins to feel.
(The Millions, 2010)
In Our Parents’ Bookshelves
Even a megabyte seems bulky compared to what can be conveyed in the few cubic feet of a bookshelf. What other vessel is able to hold with such precision, intricacy, and economy, all the facets of your life
(The Millions, 2010)

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