Category Archives: literature

“Other ways of knowing”: Out of Africa

I’ve been in long-term “discussions” (a euphemism for “arguments”) with some people who claim that the humanities—in particular art, music, and literature—constitute “ways of knowing” that tell us facts about the universe either unattainable by science, unverifiable by science, or truths first revealed by literature and later verifiable by science. Often these arguments are made by […]

A reader comments on the value of literature and “ways of knowing”

I received an email from reader Geoff Howe about yesterday’s post on the value of studying literature, and I thought it was good enough to merit its own post: I think the article [the piece in Commentary by Gary Saul Morson] does a good job of encapsulating a major problem in society, one that I see […]

Why the study of literature is going extinct

This is a long post, larded with quotes. If you don’t want to read it, take a number, get in line, and. . . When I was in college at William & Mary, I was lucky enough to be taught by professors not only oriented more toward students than toward research (so we got lots of personal […]

Classic American road trips

I’ve just gone on my own Big Road Trip, but it doesn’t compare to the others made famous in American literature. Over at Atlas Obscura, Richard Kreitner and Steven Melendez have collaborated to make an interactive map of many great road trips in American literature, ranging from Blue Highways to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle […]

Google Doodle celebrates Langston Hughes

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the life of Langston Hughes (1902-1967), author and poet, who would have been 113 years old today had he lived. The Doodle is especially good today—animated, and with music. You can see it by either clicking on the screenshot below, or, if that doesn’t work for non-USers, watch the YouTube video […]

The top ten essays since 1950

I love essays, as I know when you have a nice glass of wine and a book of them before me, I’ll be able to digest an entire piece or more instead of making a small inroad in a big book. And so I love reading the collected essays of, say, George Orwell or Christopher Hitchens. Publisher’s Weekly […]

2014 Nobel Prize for Literature

And it goes this year to French author Patrick Modiano “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.” I’ve never heard of the man (what seems to be his most famous book hasn’t been translated into English), and too bad for me, but Matthew […]

Google Doodle celebrates Tolstoy

Today is Tolstoy’s 186th birthday (9 Sept. 1828-20 Nov. 1910), and Google has celebrated with an animated Doodle recounting his best works. You can get to it by clicking on the screenshot below, and you advance from work to work by clicking on the arrows that will appear. The Guardian took a break from its […]

Hemingway app judges writing—badly

Oh well, another technical failure: the inability of computer programs to judge the quality of writing. The program at issue is the Hemingway App, which has apparently achieved some renown for being able to parse writing and suss out the awkwardness, the passive voices, the over-use of adverbs, and so on.  It’s supposed to help you […]

We wercynn scopes thrym gefrunon, hu se bard ellen fremede!

by Greg Mayer Ireland provided a large share of the great literature in English of the late 19th and 20th centuries– Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Shaw, Wilde, O’Casey, Synge– a share out of proportion to it’s size. Last week, one of its most recent bright literary lights, Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), died in Dublin at the age […]


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