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My father had two sisters, one older and the other younger. Min, the oldest, had four children — Henry, Willie, Harold, and Loretta. (I know this is starting to sound like a recitation from the Bible: “And Seth begot Enosh and Enosh begot Kenan, and Kenan begot Mahalalel, and on and on.”) My Aunt Min moved from Newark to Los Angeles in 1946. I didn’t know her well (I was only five when she moved and I never saw her again). Her son Henry stayed on the East Coast and lived in Lake Hopatcong, NJ (I always loved that name because it sounds so exotic). Willie, Harold, and Loretta were on the West Coast and I never met or saw Willie and Harold. I just heard their names, always spoken together as if they were one person. Both were equally inconspicuous and unknown to me.

More… “Route Worst”

Bruce Eisenstein is the Arthur J. Rowland Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Drexel University. He received the BSEE from MIT, MSEE from Drexel, and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He has done post-doctoral work at Princeton University and Stanford University.
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Rudolfo Botelho must have been about 65, perhaps younger, though of course to a 15 year old he appeared ancient. His white moustache bristled on an otherwise mild beige-skinned face. You didn’t much notice his small size; it was always the moustache you saw. And the twinkle — there was the twinkle. I lived in Shanghai, 15 years old in 1948, a Eurasian child of an Italian-Dutch-Indonesian father and Chinese mother. My parents knew him back in the golden days of Shanghai’s roaring ‘20s like those in America. I met him when he became the accompanist for the choir at St. Columban’s, a church run by Irish priests. More… “Bottles & Me”

Lucille Bellucci grew up in Shanghai with an Italian-Dutch-Indonesian father and Chinese mother. After exile from China, the family sailed to Italy, where they lived five years before immigrating to the United States. Lucille has also lived 15 years in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
She has five novels and has won many awards for her short stories and essays.
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Existential crises are by no means exclusive to students in the liberal arts (think the bearded Beat emanating a cloud of hand rolled tobacco smoke, nauseated by these two options: to drop out and hitchhike cross country or attend his Intro to Western Phil class). The burdens of years of scholarly toil, the substantial time in esoteric animal labs, the hypercompetitive pursuit of graduate study lead many students in the sciences to also question: What’s the point of it all? The rigors of the pursuit of knowledge as a means to a career in medicine weigh down too many bright young minds such that by the time the goal is met, the soul is bruised and weary. More… “Death Meets the Doctor”

Nikhil Barot, MD is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.
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When you’re young all this stuff happens for who knows what reasons and then you spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what it means.

– Gary Indiana, Resentment: A Comedy

You may not know the work of writer Gary Indiana (a pen name for the visual artist and writer Gary Hoisington, one obviously selected in the days before web search optimization was a thing). His new memoir may not necessarily clarify the picture. I Can Give You Anything But Love includes no stories about his work as video artist, recently on view at last year’s Whitney Biennial, or his collaborations with Louise Bourgeois, or his art criticism in the Village Voice in the 1980s. Although you’ll learn something about his friendships with writers like Kathy Acker and Susan Sontag, you won’t learn much about his own books, or why he wrote them.
More… “Loserville”

John Cotter’s first novel Under the Small Lights appeared in 2010 from Miami University Press. A founding editor at the review site Open Letters Monthly, John’s published critical work in Sculpture, Bookforum, and The The Poetry Foundation. Say hi at John [at] JohnCotter [dot] net.
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STRANGE ATTRACTOR
On James Merrill (and myself) in and out of the classroom
BY JUDITH MOFFETT
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The story of my 28-year friendship with James Merrill begins in April 1967 at the University of Wisconsin. Merrill was in Madison to teach a creative writing course in poetry. I had entered Wisconsin’s Ph.D. program the previous fall as a Teaching Assistant, bringing with me a bachelor’s degree (majors in English and philosophy, minor in biology) from Hanover College in Indiana, and an MA in English from Colorado State University. These were the nether regions of academe; Wisconsin was a decisive step up for me. I had just turned 24.

In those days the English Department was quartered in Bascom Hall, a picturesque old building crowning a hill above the city of Madison. The underclass of first- and second-year teaching assistants, who were paying for graduate school by teaching freshman composition, shared a big office on the third floor. My desk formed one corner of the block of desks pushed together in the middle of the room; a tall, slender second-year man called Steve Yenser occupied a desk facing the far wall. Merrill had admitted several TAs to his poetry course, including the two of us. Until the notice went out inviting students to apply for the course, I had never heard of James Merrill or read any of his work, though he had just won the National Book Award (whatever that was) for a poetry collection, Nights and Days.

We at Wisconsin were lucky and knew it; creative writing courses given for credit were not common on the campuses of that time. And I had experienced something in college that may have intensified my eagerness to get into this one. For five weeks during the spring of my senior year, a poet called Lionel Wiggam1 had been in residence on the Hanover campus. The arrangement was informal; his job had been simply to give a reading and make himself available to student writers. From this availability an odd relationship, platonic but intense, had formed between the two of us, eventuating in a scholarship for me to the 1964 Indiana University Writers Conference, where he was on the faculty. Three years later we were still corresponding. At 50 or so Lionel had published a slim volume, The Land of Unloving, in which some poems from a precocious, decades-earlier collection had also been included. His lyric verse was deft but dated. His startling handsomeness, somewhat marred by bad teeth (slightly protruding, with gaps), had qualified him at one time to model aftershave and menswear; for years I owned a little black-and-white stand-up poster, purloined from a barber shop, on which Lionel pondered the dilemma: “Which Stephan’s dandruff remover is right for your hair?” The mysterious mutual attraction continued to fascinate and perplex me, and the mask of sophisticated posturing to frustrate me. I didn’t know how to make Lionel feel safe enough to show me what was behind the mask, yet faith in his essential goodness made me want to confirm it, reassure him, convince him to stop hiding, from me and from everyone.
More… “Strange Attractor”

Judith Moffett is the author of James Merrill: An Introduction to the Poetry. Her third collection of poems, Tarzan in Kentucky, will be published in September.
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Poor Saint Augustine. For years now people have drawn the source of the memoir back to his Confessions. As if because of that book, Augustine’s hands now bear the ink stains of James Frey, tales of addiction, incest and mental illness, the word “momoir,” and a dozen Holocaust survivor fakers. Just like Jane Austen, who occasionally bears the blame for the candy-coated chick lit aisle of your local bookstore, Augustine deserves a better legacy.

Memoir: A History by Ben Yagoda. 304 pages. Riverhead. $25.95.

Even Ben Yagoda accuses Augustine of the crime of inventing the memoir in his new book Memoir: A History. It’s a long road from Confessions — written around 400 A.D. — to the memoir’s current dominance in the publishing scene, although the template hasn’t changed much in all of those centuries: I have done some… More…

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I can think of no better poster child for the Twelve Step addiction recovery plan than James Frey. This is despite the fact that Frey argued extensively against the Twelve Steps method in his addiction, uh, “memoir” A Million Little Pieces, calling it spiritual nonsense. He wrote, “I’d rather have [relapse and death] than spend my life in Church basements listening to People whine and bitch and complain. That’s not productivity to me, nor is it progress. It is the replacement of one addiction with another.” Frey instead decided he could beat his addiction through sheer willpower.

Soon after, there he was, revealed as a liar and fraud who exaggerated his addiction and melodramatized his rock bottom. If that is recovery through willpower, perhaps that surrendering your will to God thing is looking a little better now. Jody,… More…

Of a life as a writer.

 

The summer I turned 18, my parents went away to Europe and I lived with my grandmother in our family’s rambling summer home in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region. It was an unusual housing scenario. My grandmother was the grande dame of an elite summer colony that had begun hosting cocktail parties and picking blueberries in the New Hampshire hills even before her own grandparents had bought the house in 1905.

Meanwhile, I was there in the house expressly to escape the confines of the upper-crust world. A bony, scowling, and acne-pocked iconoclast, I’d never fit in at my prep school back in Connecticut. But there in New Hampshire, hanging out with my friends, year-round residents all, I’d been able to flourish — to recast myself as a wry comedian and a sort of visiting scholar capable of leading… More…

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I couldn’t figure out why I was having such a hard time concentrating on Daphne Gottleib’s anthology Fucking Daphne. Instead of writing her sex memoir, Gottleib asked the men and women from her past to write it for her. The result is a collection of true stories and fantasies about her sexual past, and I was bored out of my mind. There was certainly enough that should have kept me interested — Daphne fucking in a cemetery, Daphne choking a man in a San Francisco bathroom, Daphne sleeping with the girls in her writing class. Then halfway through the book, Colin Frangos used his contribution to refuse to participate. He explains:

I’m not against sex, or even sexy stories. But it pales in comparison with the excitement of discovering what it means to be alive and under your… More…

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Some say he’s a maverick. May be. He’s done his share of things his own way for his own reasons. But that isn’t the part of him that is most interesting.

   Candidates’ Stories

Barack Obama: The Audacity of Hope Hillary Clinton: Living History John McCain: Worth the Fighting For

John McCain really grabs your attention when he blows it. When you think about it, McCain blows it far more often than seems possible, or at least survivable, in contemporary political life. But even before that, even as the half-assed soldier he admits that he was, blowing it was part of the picture. His war heroism revolves around getting shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese, and the story finds its climax when McCain signs a false confession under torture and then tries to kill himself out of… More…