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Politicians, stop saying mass shootings are tragedies unless you’re going to do what literary critics do with tragedies: actually interpret them.

“This was a horrible tragedy:” perhaps the most common thing we hear after each new incident that adds to the alarming trend of mass shootings in the United States. Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Umpqua, Las Vegas, and Parkland are only the most notable communities whose names have come to symbolize the phenomenon. Their “tragic” quality is the reason, some politicians say, we shouldn’t “politicize the tragedy” – we shouldn’t refer to it in arguments about policies for the good of the nation. More… “Something Is Rotten in the United States of America”

Jeffrey R. Wilson is a faculty member in the Writing Program at Harvard University, where he teaches the Why Shakespeare? section of the university’s first-year writing course. Focused on intersections of Renaissance literature and modern sociology, his work has appeared in academic journals such as ShakespeareLaw and the Humanities, and Crime, Media, Cultureas well as public venues such as National Public RadioThe Chronicle of Higher EducationAcademe, CounterPunch, and Shakespeare and Contemporary TheoryHe is on Twitter @DrJeffreyWilson.

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It is a heart-wrenching love story. That alone would put it in the category of “good summer read.” It is a short book, clocking in at one hundred and fifty-one pages in my edition. It’s thus an easy book to stick into a beach bag or to carry on the train.

It is also highly appropriate to read in the dying days of this summer, the summer of 2014. That’s because this summer is the hundred-year anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The guns started firing on June 28, 1914. By mid-August, young European men were dying by the tens of thousands, victims of a war that redefined organized, industrial killing for the modern age.

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for… More…

Something horrible happened. Horrible things happen all the time to everyone, but it’s still a shock how one phone call can obliterate your future and slam you into a dreadful present tense. I was taken in, I was cared for, and somehow I lost time — days. Vaguely I can recall moments where I wandered into my friend’s kitchen to make a cup of tea, only to find myself 20 minutes later in a puddle on her floor. Or I would wake up mid-panic attack, not quite sure where or when I was.

Life Is Meals by James and Kay Salter. 464 pages. Knopf. $22.50.

In those first few days, the only times I was grounded and sure of my surroundings were those moments when I had food as an anchor. Without it, I flew around… More…

Part of Chicago froze in the 1930s. I’ve been thinking of my old home city of Chicago a lot lately, and of my new home in Berlin. The thread that ties them together seems to be that they’re both stuck in time. In the same time. They have one foot in this chaotic contemporary period, but the other is still in the 1920s and early ’30s, each summed up as a Bob Fosse experience (Chicago and Cabaret).

The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry. 320 pages. Viking Adult. $25.95.

And why not? It was a glamorous age for both. Berlin had its cabarets, Otto Dix, sex, and liquor. Chicago had its speakeasies, gangsters, and gunner girls. With what followed — rubble for one, crime and poverty for the other… More…

I came across the frog rabbit in the basement of the Petit Palais in Paris. A medium-sized plaster sculpture, the frog rabbit is a hairless beast with a pointy reptilian nose, rabbit ears, long talon-like toes, and a stubby rabbit tail with no fur. He is a monster, though it is unclear whether he bodes something evil or merely something strange.

 

Jean Carriès sculpted “The Frog with Rabbit Ears” in 1891, a couple of years before he met an early death at the hands of an obscure lung ailment the likes of which regularly robbed the world of starving young artists in those days. It was, after all, the fashion: a little art and then a terrible death. It is particularly unfortunate that Carriès wasn’t given a few more years. He was hard at work on his unfinished… More…

How does a poet who aims to make his or her expressions timeless react to a contemporary tragedy steeped in politics such as the disaster in the Gulf? — Dr. Sunshine

 

It’s always tricky when poetry, current events, and politics intersect, but it happens all the time. Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote “An Elegy to Dispel Gloom” after the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. “New York American Spell” is Thomas Sleigh’s reaction to 9/11. I believe these poems achieve a sense of timelessness, but more on how to do that in a moment.

It can seem that timelessness is achieved in part by avoiding politics and current events: Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Billy Collins, the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska. But how do we really know that “The Road Not Taken” was not Frost’s response to a contemporary tragedy?… More…