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Herman Wouk, the best-selling novelist, died on Friday, May 17, at the age of 103. Among his best-known novels are The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance (the latter two about World War II, inspired by his time in the Navy in the South Pacific). For me, however, Wouk will always be the author of the 1955 novel Marjorie Morningstar, about the coming of age of a Jewish-American girl in New York City. I published a piece about re-reading that novel in the Wall Street Journal four years ago. When I had first read the book, as a teenager almost 50 years earlier, it had been viewed by those in the know as a “woman’s book” and a rather vulgar page-turner. I now discovered that it was a serious work of literature, both well-written and psychologically insightful about a middle-class young woman struggling with the often competing claims of ambition, romance, family, and religious expectation. When my essay appeared, I was surprised by the avalanche of emails I received from readers who wanted to weigh in on what the novel had meant to them when they first read it. Below is a sampling from some of those emails:

I have been a lifetime voracious reader and an avid book club member.  However, I still return to Marjorie as my literary rock and foundation. Almost beyond number I have reread the section where Marjorie reveals to her lawyer husband to be that she lost her virginity to Noel Airman.  His reaction so touched my heart because she was no longer perfect to him. I am 69 years of age, Jewish, and a graduate of Queens College, in New York City. I confess to being another “Shirley.”  I have been married for 46 years and have two sons.  All my men our [sic] lawyers. 
I thank you for validating my feelings about Marjorie Morningstar and vindicating my rereading the book in the face of some of my acquaintances who could not understand why the novel means so much to me.

I am a product of the 1950s and Herman Wouk was confronting reality in my time not investigating history when his books came out. I do not know if Marjorie Morningstar survives as great literature but it is great humanity, and serves in the same instructive coming of age tradition as was Studs Lonigan, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Adventures of Augie March, Edith Wharton, and their peers.

Indeed, I was one of those teenage girls for whom  Wouk’s novel was “de rigueur reading.”  If I remember correctly, even as my life and career evolved, I read it every five years, simply to stay in touch with the hopes, dreams, and realities of becoming an adult, as you so aptly noted.  Now, I work assiduously to encourage the younger people around me, those with whom I work, those I mentor, my own children, to hold onto a particular moment in time so that sometime in the future that moment will be remembered both for how it felt and what it meant then, and how it feels and reflectively, what it means now.  I so enjoy the feedback I get when I learn that one of them has had a potent experience of, “Oh, I see what you meant!”

The following is the original article written about Wouk’s Marjorie, a young character with whom many identified.

More… “Herman Wouk’s Legacy”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

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I’d waited months, nay years, for this moment. I was finally getting a tattoo and not just any tattoo but a tattoo of a Hamilton lyric after seeing the musical on broadway. In high school I was dead set on getting the Fall Out Boy lyric, “I can write it better than you ever felt it,” in dainty script across my rib cage. I was introduced to their music at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (or PAFA) summer camp in middle school and ever since, their music was the lifeblood of my of young angsty want-to-be-artist soul. So after seeing them live and getting into college as an English major, I felt I needed something to commemorate both my love for this band and for writing. But that was a childish notion (that my mother said absolutely not to). I was 17, what did I know about anything? Plus, now at 22, I barely even listen to Fall Out Boy. But Hamilton — a Tony award winning, constantly sold out, people of color driven narrative — was never going to go out of style.

Now after spending months scrolling through BuzzFeed articles about the best tattoo artists around Philadelphia and New York, I found the place, Bang Bang tattoo studio. The minimalist black and white building, the artist bios about how each person has carefully cultivated one skill or another, and of course the owner, Keith McCurdy, nicknamed Bang Bang for reasons I didn’t bother to google, who’s tattooed everyone from Rihanna to Adele. This was it. This was the place I was going to get my tattoo. After months of scrolling through images of script, watercolor, and portraits, the day was here. I should have been excited. More… “Like You’re Running Out of Time”

Byshera Williams is a Senior English Major at Drexel University and the current Associate Editor for The Smart Set.

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“Don’t worry, ‘muggle’ isn’t a derogatory term or anything. “ But I wasn’t offended by 28-year-old Freya Fridy’s using the M-word that Friday afternoon on the phone, mostly because I had no idea what the hell she was talking about. “It’s just our term to refer to people who don’t know much about Harry Potter.”

 

“Well, in that case,” I thought to myself, “thank God, I’m a muggle.” Or more apropos, I suppose, thank Aberforth Dumbledore. Or Kingsley Shackleport. Or Mundungus Fletcher. Or Sir Nicholas Mimsy-Porpington. Or Nymphadora Tonks. Or Cornelius Fudge. Or Whoever the Fuckingdweedle…

And I don’t thank all these wizards, witches and, um, Metamorphmaguses because I think I’m too good for Harry Potter. Quite the opposite, actually: I’m probably not good enough. As I would soon come to find out, to become a part of… More…

In the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center just outside Chicago, I bump into a crowd of Jedi wearing Obi-Wan-style robes and munching popcorn. I change direction and slip around the Star Wars fans, who are just a few of the thousands of people attending Wizard World Chicago, the second-largest comic book convention in the country.

There’s a large crowd of kids in X-Men costumes in front of me, and I take out my camera.  When I was at the height of my comic-book fandom (now more than a decade ago), the X-Men titles were by far my favorites. There were two things I especially liked about the team of mutants: The X-Men were outcasts, and they had strong, capable females on their team. Sure, those women were drawn with wildly disproportionate bodies, but they were also given equal page time as the men. Gleefully I snap pictures of the costumed… More…

“I never lecture, not because I am shy or a bad speaker, but simply because I detest the sort of people who go to lectures and don’t want to meet them.” – H.L. Mencken

 

This weekend, like they do every year around H.L. Mencken’s September 12 birthday, about one hundred Mencken fans descend on Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Library to pay tribute to the man famous for his scathing attacks on religion, creationism, the middle class, politicians, countryfolk, and a host of other targets he blamed for the ruination of America. The Pratt is the perfect setting for such a celebration. There are parts that feel as if they haven’t changed since Mencken wandered its halls. The first day of the celebration, the library’s main elevator was broken. Visitors who didn’t want to climb the stairs to the third floor auditorium — and there were many, Mencken fans being on… More…