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We all have fears, dark premonitions about the future, troubling recollections of the past, anxieties about the present that weigh on our minds and ruffle our sleep. Have I been a loving parent? Was I to blame for my divorce? What possessed me to vote for a Republican? Is she faking her orgasms? It may be that my life is very far from being the model of responsible engagement that I like to imagine it is, but there’s one particular fear that haunts me above all the other slippages, insecurities, and moral failings that must be held to my account: I worry that I’m Cecil Vyse.

Cecil Vyse, for those unfamiliar with E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, is the priggish, snobbish, supercilious, sexless aesthete that Lucy Honeychurch almost makes the mistake of marrying in the 1908 novel. Even now, my Vysian tendencies betray me: “for those unfamiliar with E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View.“ Why should I assume, if only by implication, that anyone should be familiar with A Room with a View? Read it if you want to, don’t read it if you don’t. Ah, but things are rarely that simple for “artistic” spirits like Cecil and me. Against everything my education and reading have taught me, against everything I believe about respecting the subjectivity of all personal experience, I find it hard to avoid the conclusion I would like not to draw: I’m moved to rapture or wonder or fury by this or that artistic expression. You’re not. What’s wrong with you?

More… “I, Cecil Vyse”

Stephen Akey is the author of the memoirs College and Library and of a forthcoming collection of essays, Culture Fever.
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My library has a display shelf, near the main circulation desk, of recently returned books. I love this shelf. They’re just random books, new and old — novels, cookbooks, photography books, biographies, how-to manuals, self-help. I often find something I want to read amongst them. It’s anti-curation — my options are reduced, but there’s no discernible algorithm behind the selection. They are not even recommended.

It reminds me of a game my brother and I used to play in the backseat of the family car. We’d flip through a catalog from a toy store or Sharper Image and choose the one thing we most wanted from each full-page spread. In airport bookstores, my husband and I like to go row by row and choose which bestseller we’d read if we had to read one. We don’t buy the books, of course; we’ve brought our own. As kids, we didn’t get the toys. But the act of choosing was a form of entertainment. Choice itself is pleasurable. More… “On Choice”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L'Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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In old novels and plays, the woman who blushes is invariably described as lovely and virtuous. Jane Austen, for instance, created charming characters whose blushing was a sign of modesty and sincerity. Paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries often display pink-cheeked women looking sweet. Think of the many beautiful and blushing young women Auguste Renoir painted over the years.

But today, instead of being viewed as attractive, blushing is seen as an expression of shame and embarrassment. Contemporary accounts of the blush portray it almost entirely in negative terms. The blusher’s red face seems to unmask a person who just isn’t right with the world, quite literally an uncool character, one who has somehow crossed the boundary between the outside social world and the private inner life.

People who blush a lot are sometimes called “pathological” blushers. They blush at unexpected moments over nothing in particular. The psychological-physiological tic… More…