Recently by Jessa Crispin:

We know the story. Van Gogh died having only sold one painting during his lifetime. He was a mad creative genius — our favorite kind — cutting off his ear and giving it to a prostitute. Then, tragically, a suicide, perhaps bereft at the cold reception his work received, so that he never knew how the world would come to embrace him.

   

The Late Lord Byron by Doris Langley Moore. 544 pages. Melville House. $18.95. Monopolizing the Master: Henry James and the Politics of Modern Literary Scholarship by Michael Anesko. 272 pages. Stanford University Press. $35. Solar Dance: Van Gogh, Forgery, and the Eclipse of Certainty by Modris Ekstein. 368 pages. Harvard University Press. $27.95.

We know the story because after he died in obscurity, he quickly became the most overexposed painter in the world. In… More…

Libraries are in crisis. Right? I mean, that is all we hear. All around the nation, budgets are being slashed, hours shortened, librarians laid off. And on top of that we have e-books… doing something. God dammit, e-books. You are always ruining everything.

   

What is the future of the library, in a world of the financial crisis, where all inessential services are being slashed in city budgets — inessential services ranging from health care for the poor to libraries to a large chunk of Camden, New Jersey’s police force — in ineffective austerity measures? My infallible editor sent me to the 2012 Public Library Association conference in Philadelphia to find out.

This is where the action is, after all, the public libraries. And by action I mean bloodletting. It’s perhaps the most vulnerable… More…

“How do you know what you like?” We were, this writer and I, discussing sex at that moment. The conversation started with us trying to trace back why we found certain things attractive. Glasses, for me. Strong shoulders, for him. But the conversation got franker from there, as we realized we shared the fact that some people we had found attractive clothed and at a distance were much less appealing once we got them alone. We began reminiscing about those shameful moments from your past when you’re in bed with a guy, things are getting interesting, and he has the nerve to ask, “So, what would you like me to do?” Maybe your mind went blank, or maybe you gestured vaguely with your hand, or maybe you mumbled something like, “Oh, I don’t know, just keep doing what you’re doing” and you kind of wanted to die.

More…

I returned to Cork in the west of Ireland seven years after I moved away. I hadn’t lived there long the first time around: six months, the longest I could stay on a paltry visa given to a 19-year-old girl with no skills, no money, and no connections in the country. And it was not like I had a particularly wonderful time during those six months. There had been a severing from both my family and my sort-of boyfriend. I rarely left the very tiny room in my apartment, sneaking out only when I heard the last of my three roommates leave for the day.

   

Homesickness: An American History by Susan J. Matt. 360 pages. Oxford University Press. $29.95.

I was there simply to test the limits of my leash. I wanted to see if it would… More…

Today I was thinking how similar an iPad is to a Guatemalan baby.

   

Finding Fernanda: Two Mothers, One Child, and a Cross-Border Search for Truth by Erin Siegal. 317 pages. Cathexis Press. $14.95.

Stay with me here. There is no shortage of information about what it takes to manufacture an iPad. You can read about conflict minerals that are funding civil wars and atrocities, or hear about the inhumane working conditions at the plants that manufacture Apple products. Workers have, one after another, killed themselves at work. Then there is the scar the iPad will leave on the world once you’ve discarded it, which you will, for a shinier, prettier, and faster version. Chemicals will leak into the soil. Probably not our soil, of course. Those old iPads will be shipped to poorer countries, most likely. The… More…

“So, what?,” my friend wrote in response to my email from Ljubljana. “Someone had like a jar ready when John’s head got chopped off?”

   

Christian Materiality: An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe by Caroline Walker Bynum. 440 pages. Zone. $32.95. Knock: The Virgin’s Apparition in Nineteenth-Century Ireland by Eugene Hynes. 390 pages. Cork University Press.

“Well, I’m not convinced it’s actually his blood,” I wrote back. “It’s probably just as likely to be strawberry jam.”

I had accidentally stumbled upon Saint John the Baptist’s blood in Slovenia. It happens often enough in collections of medieval art: Body parts can be found scattered about the gilded and bejeweled representations of religious figures, usually where you least expect them. A tiny drawer pops out and there’s a mummified finger. Or you’re admiring a frame, only to notice… More…

“Out of sync with their time, yet deeply, longingly feminine, neither knew how to be a woman.” I have been fussing over this sentence from Susan Hertog’s biography of two remarkable writers, Dangerous Ambition: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson, for weeks now. Hertog is obviously not referring to how West and Thompson felt about themselves. She is instead raining down judgment from above. First came my kneejerk feminist response: Both women had unhappy marriages and serious ambivalence regarding motherhood, but when male writers disappear on their children or marry the wrong people, we don’t say they have failed as men. Then came my psychoanalytic parsing of the text, trying to glean Hertog’s particular issues with mothering and career and how they might skew her conclusions. Did Hertog’s mother miss important childhood milestones in her daughter’s life because she was working? None of my business, but it’s my typical irrational response… More…

“Find Madame Wagner, and you will find yourself,” the man told me. It wasn’t quite the spiritual quest I had been expecting as I sat waiting for the U-Bahn to arrive. One second I was enjoying my book; the next, a man was jabbering excitedly to me in very quick German. I interrupted to ask him to slow down or switch to English, although really, I wasn’t listening so much as looking to see if I could get to the exit fast enough in case he pulled a knife. The man looked perfectly normal, able to dress himself and carrying a bag full of groceries and not, say, a bag full of moldy stuffed animals. But still, the situation was alarming. He picked up in English where he left off in German, repeating “You are she, you are she…unheimlich, you could be twins,” and something about Wagner. Then the… More…

It was supposed to be a groundbreaking work of anthropology. And for the most part, it was. In 1890, Sir James Frazer unleashed the massive The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion into the world. It was the first work that collated worldwide, history-spanning religious and magical beliefs, and then sifted them through an analytic filter. The origins of certain myths and beliefs were revealed; behaviors that seemed idiosyncratic were found to fit global patterns; and the story of Jesus’ crucifixion was shown to resemble many other stories of gods who were killed and resurrected three days later. The mysteries of religion could now be studied like any other realm of human behavior. Coming between Darwin and Freud, Frazer’s work played an active part of the Western world’s shift to the secular.

   

The Terror of History: On the… More…

Your therapist is probably giving you multiple personality disorder.

   

Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris by Asti Hustvedt. 372 pages. W.W. Norton & Company. $26.95. Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan. 320 pages. Free Press. $26.

Oh sure, he’s going to deny it. He will say you obviously had some problems to begin with, and that he just uncovered the form they’re taking and their source. And there you will be, disassociated into several different personalities. People you don’t know will greet you with names you don’t recognize. You’ll find notes around your apartment written in unfamiliar handwriting. You’ll walk into hotel rooms without pants (every person who has ever had multiple personality disorder has always had one who was a slut).

And maybe by the end of it… More…