Literary New England

I spent the first half of October on a long-planned road trip through New England, unable to decide what I was enjoying most: the foliage, the history, the food, or the (not-so-)simple fact of taking two weeks’ vacation. I took turns driving a cozy rental car with Spiderman (the alias I’ve bestowed upon my husband in this blog) across Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts, and this is what I have to show for it:

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…Because, of course, New England is one of the most densely packed literary hubs on the planet, and has been ever since the birth of this beautiful, optimistic, imperfect nation. And I had plenty of room on my bookshelf (OK, not really) to add to my Travel Collection.

Here’s what I learned along the way—besides the fact that the Massachusetts State House’s Sacred Cod was once “Cod-napped” by the staff of the Harvard Lampoon.

Amherst, MA

Our first literary stop was Amherst, Massachusetts, where Emily Dickinson lived and wrote some 1,800 poems in determined solitude.

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Hello yellow.

Influenced by the Metaphysical poets of the 17th century as well as the Book of Revelation, Dickinson tackled love, death, immortality, and nature among other themes. Almost all of her work was published posthumously, but her reputation as an original and insightful artist has since earned her a place in the American canon.

Here are a few excerpts from the Selected Poems & Letters I picked up at her house:

Heart, we will forget him!
You and I, to-night!
You may forget the warmth he gave,
I will forget the light.

When you have done, pray tell me,
That I my thoughts may dim;
Haste! lest while you’re lagging,
I may remember him!

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any courses like a page
Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

“The chariot that bears a human soul”… and I thought I didn’t like poetry. WELL PLAYED, Dickinson. Well played.

Portland, ME

After a handful of illiterate stops in Vermont, New Hampshire, and the northeast coast, we made our way down to Portland, Maine. Portland’s literary legacy owes much to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of Paul Revere’s Ride fame.

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The Wadsworth-Longfellow House, where brick-on-brick is worn as proudly as denim-on-denim.

Remember “One, if by land, and two, if by sea”? That was Longfellow, almost 100 years later, describing the moment when two lanterns were hung in Boston’s Old North Church to signal the advance of the British army.

Modern scholars/killjoys emphasize the poem’s many historical inaccuracies. But in Longfellow’s (and, frankly, every writer’s) defense, IT SOUNDED GOOD, OK?

Here are the opening stanzas to his legendary commemorative poem:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, — “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light, —
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

Sometimes I am glad I have so few occasions to meet famous dead people. Right now I’m picturing myself meeting Longfellow, stuttering out a hello, reaching over to shake his hand, and saying, “YOU DID A GOOD POEM, SIR.”

Longfellow is not, however, Portland’s only household name. Stephen King was also born in Portland and still spends most of the year in Maine.

Somehow, to this day, I have yet to read King. But hopefully—with The Shining now sitting patiently on my shelf, and only 6 books left on The List (!)—I’ll find the time soon.

I found this copy at one of Portland’s many bookstores, our favorite feature of the city by far. In addition to the Maine Historical Society gift shop, two perfect indie bookstores grace the compact Old Port: Longfellow Books on Monument Way, and a branch of the Maine-only chain Sherman’s on Exchange Street.

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Why not SherMaine’s??? Such a missed opportunity.

Salem, MA

It poured down rain on the day we traveled to Salem, Massachusetts, but this bewitching little city still made a great first impression. Among its more notable residents was Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote The Scarlet Letter while living in Salem’s harbor-facing Custom House.

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Yeah, I took this photo on Day 2, after the rain cleared.

Unable to find an edition of The Scarlet Letter that did not scare the bejesus out of me, I opted instead to buy The House of the Seven Gables:

Inspired by a real mansion built in 1668 (still open today to the fee-paying public), The House of the Seven Gables is a 19th-century Gothic novel compared by one reviewer to “a passage through the wards of an insane asylum.”

Don’t get too excited, though; another reviewer called it “I’m so glad you’re dead, Nathaniel Hawthorne.”

Boston, MA

Most of the renowned authors who’ve lived in the Boston/Cambridge area were only temporary residents, so I opted against making a “sort-of-Boston” book purchase. I did, however, want to see the Old Corner Bookstore, where Ticknor and Fields published almost all of the authors in this blog post during the 1800s.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been a bookstore or a publisher for quite some time. It is now, of all things, a Chipotle Mexican Grill:

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What’s wrong with this picture?

My first impulse, upon seeing this Chipotle, was to boycott it on behalf of the publishing industry. But I also really wanted some tacos.

The tacos ultimately won out, much like democracy, and they were delicious.

Concord, MA

Nowhere in New England is more literary than Concord, Massachusetts, home to approximately all (but, more accurately, four) of the “Late and Great” American writers. Here we go, in accidental alphabetical order:

Louisa May Alcott wrote her semi-autobiographical Little Women at the Alcott family home known as “Orchard House.” Her own sisters were the inspiration for Meg, Beth, and Amy March, and Alcott wrote much of herself into the beloved Jo March.

I remember being crushed by Little Women long ago, but this Penguin Threads edition was too beautiful to exclude from my Travel Collection:

While living in Concord in the 1830s, Ralph Waldo Emerson made significant contributions to the Transcendentalist movement, publishing essays including “Nature” and “Self-Reliance” and lecturing across New England. His first Concord residence, known today as the Old Manse, is directly adjacent to the Old North Bridge, where the Battle of Concord took place in 1775. Emerson’s grandfather, the Rev. William Emerson, watched from the house as 400 Minutemen fired upon the British light infantry.

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Nasty Redcoats, we hates them!

Emerson wrote his “Concord Hymn” as part of the dedication ceremony for a memorial obelisk erected on the site in 1837, famously referring to the Americans’ first round of fire as “the shot heard round the world”:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

I played my own small role in history by purchasing this poetry collection from a 17-year-old hippie at the Old Manse gift shop:

YOU’RE WELCOME, AMERICA.

Fun fact: Nathaniel Hawthorne lived at the Old Manse from 1842-1845, after Emerson moved into another home in Concord. Nathaniel Hawthorne also lived in a Concord house called the Wayside, which he bought from the Alcott family when they moved in to Orchard House next door.

This is, of course, the same Nathaniel Hawthorne we met earlier in Salem. Was he nomadic? Restless? Or just poor? you ask.

The answer is: I dunno, go ask Wikipedia.

Henry David Thoreau, that famous anarchist freethinker, was born in Concord and returned to his hometown after graduating from Harvard in 1837. Of course, he famously left Concord again in 1845 to live in a one-bedroom cabin on the north shore of Walden Pond.

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Tiny House Hunters: 1840s edition.

…Or did he? Walden Pond sits just two miles outside of Concord, meaning Thoreau could walk home anytime he wanted—and did, several times a week, for company and baked goods.

Nevertheless, Thoreau’s Walden has come to occupy a unique place in the American imagination, promoting principles such as self-sufficiency, simple living, and the conservation of nature and the wilderness.

Lenox, MA

We spent our final day in New England at The Mount, the Berkshires home designed by Edith Wharton in 1901.

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On your right you’ll observe the grass steps of The Mount, oft-noted for their grassiness.

On a two-hour tour of the house and gardens, we learned how Wharton used decidedly literary principles in modeling the home to her tastes. She applied a concept analogous to “parallel structure” to the interior, for example, repeating patterns as often as possible.

She also insisted on a smooth transition between the house and the countryside beyond, which she achieved via a large, grassy lawn, a tree-lined promenade, and even a gradual change in building materials from least to most natural.

Wharton famously said in letter to her lover that she was “a better landscape gardener than novelist,” but I’m guessing her Pulitzer Prize would disagree.

Wharton’s library at The Mount is filled with her own collection of novels, annotated by Wharton herself, as well as works on gardening, travel, history, philosophy, religion, and science in English, French, Italian, and German.

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Life = unfair.

Wharton wrote 40 books in 40 years before her death in 1937, so I didn’t have an easy choice of gift shop souvenirs:

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How? WHY?

I finally settled on The House of Mirth, a book I read (and loved) years ago but do not own for some reason. Wharton wrote The House of Mirth during her 10 years at The Mount, mostly from her comfortable, sunny bedroom.

Here are a few House of Mirth excerpts, in case you haven’t come across her and need a little encouragement:

She had been bored all the afternoon by [him]—the mere thought seemed to waken an echo of his droning voice—but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of boring her for life.

That’s Lily all over, you know: she works like a slave preparing the ground and sowing her seed; but the day she ought to be reaping the harvest she oversleeps herself or goes off on a picnic.

Every step she took seemed in fact to carry her farther from the region where, once or twice, he and she had met for an illumined moment.

And, finally, in the wake of a Trump presidency:

Why do we call all our generous ideas illusions, and the mean ones truths?

The last photos I’ll share with you today are autumnal snapshots of Edith Wharton’s pet cemetery:

I realize this has nothing whatsoever to do with books. I just thought it was funny.

RIP, Toto—you will not be forgotten.

That’s all, folks! I hope you enjoyed your tour of Literary New England, and the newest books on my shelf.

Happy reading!

“Chick Lit” and Other Horror Stories: My Interview with SpareMin

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First things first: I know.

I know it’s a random Wednesday at the end of October, and I know the air is chilly and the leaves are crunchy, and I know you’re probably halfway through a spreadsheet or a surgery or a stock… broking… maneuver.

I know.

But take a moment—right now if possible—and think back with me to this summer.

Remember June? June was warm, and sunny, and picnicky, depending on your chosen climate/hemisphere. June was pre-split for Brangelina, pre-Ghostbusters for those of us who saw and kind’ve liked it, pre-Olympics for the legendary Simone Biles, and pre-pussy-revelations for Trump. June was innocent, and hopeful, and naïve, like a first shot of tequila—a simpler, if not a better time, followed by an autumn that feels like a hangover.

I spent my June researching and writing an exhausted, exhausting, and (I hope) exhaustive post on Sexism in Classic Literature, something I come across all too frequently on The List. And then, because that was so depressing/distressing/discouraging, I added a post on Bookish Feminism a few weeks later.

Satisfied that I’d said my part, at least for the moment, I moved on with my summer.

So it came as a surprise when, in September, I was contacted by the founder of a new app called SpareMin. He had read my Sexism/Feminism posts and invited me to be part of a “mini-podcast” on the subject. The deal was that the SpareMin team would use the conversation to promote the app’s call-recording features, and I would get to talk about something I am passionate  fanatical maniacal about for 15 whole minutes.

And, last week, we did. Check out my talk with the lovely Abi Wurdeman here.

I’m including a transcript below—tidied up a little for clarity’s sake—to fill in any gaps in the audio, and to include all the appropriate links in all the appropriate places (huzzah!). Abi is in bold, and I am not, because I am incredibly modest and extraordinarily humble (if I do say so myself).

Happy listening!

Hello, this is Abi. Is this Jamie Leigh?

Yes, this is Jamie.

Hi, welcome! How are you?

I’m fine, thanks. I’m glad this worked.

Me too! Me too. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today.

No problem. Just to warn you, someone got out a chainsaw in my neighbor’s apartment, like, ten minutes ago. So if you hear a lot of noise, that’s why.

Oh, OK.

I hope they’re doing construction.

Yeah! Yeah, I hope so, right? OK, so, just for listeners—just so they know who I’m speaking to—I’m speaking with Jamie Leigh, who is a reader and writer, and we’re speaking about the representation of women in the literary world. So, let’s start with the first general question: What attitudes do you notice in the literary world towards female authors and books with female protagonists?

Right. Well, we can start off with the fact that there’s a genre called “chick lit,” right, but no genre called, like, “dude lit.” I’m far from being the first person to point this out, but it’s like the industry’s way of saying that books written by and about men represent the sort of universal human experience, but books by and about women represent only the female experience—which, then, reinforces this idea that the male narrative is the default narrative.

And this starts really early on, right? Like, even in children’s books, there are more boys than girls in central roles. And we definitely, as a culture, you know, tolerate young boys’ contempt, I guess, for books about girls—or anything associated with girls, really. So we end up teaching boys from a really young age, without necessarily meaning to, that it’s OK to dismiss us, or to ridicule us.

So I guess the most common pattern I see is one of, you know, neglect, or of belittlement. I think a good example is Jodi Picoult. She writes these really—really, like, sober books, right? She’s written about school shootings, and mercy killings, and cancer, and suicide, and stem cell research. And still critics call her books “chick lit” and “beach reads.”

And then the opposite happens when a man starts writing in an area dominated by female authors. Like, this happened in YA, this happened in romance. You know, romance is one of the most ridiculed genres. But, of course, Nicholas Sparks comes along and he’s able to build a respected career for himself writing romance novels. I, uh, I hope—I hope he and all of his movie deals will be very happy together. But that’s bullshit.

Yeah. It’s true, it’s true. It always makes me think of—I mean, as you said, there are a gazillion examples of this happening. The one that I always think of is—and this is a movie review that I believe was in Variety, about Wild, which you know, of course, was a book first—but the reviewer, a male reviewer, actually said—was letting everyone know—this is a cool movie for guys to watch, too. And the line that he used in it was, “It’s—this isn’t—” it was something like, “This isn’t a woman’s story; this is a human story.” 

Oh, for God’s sake. Thank you for, yes, defining women as human. Yeah.

Right, right. And the title of that was “Wild Is Actually Macho.” He talked about how—his focus was “It’s a macho—it’s something that guys can get, too, because the emotions she expresses aren’t just lady emotions. It’s crazy! It’s nuts!” 

I actually—so, the person who did that screenplay was Nick Hornby, and I saw him speak a couple of years ago in New York. And he—someone asked him about—well, actually I think he was telling a story about someone who’d asked him how he was able to kind of “get inside the mind of a woman.” And he was like, “…She wrote a memoir. I read her book, and I adapted her book to the movie…” Yeah. Not that hard.

Yeah. It’s crazy. So then, I guess you kind of addressed this, the next question, of the differences that you notice between the ways that the publishing industry markets books written by men versus by women. Is there anything else—any other points on that you want to make before we move on?

Yeah, um, a couple things. So, I guess one of the most obvious differences is book covers. You know, women’s book covers have a lot of flowers, and horizons, and makeup, and hearts, and wedding dresses, and pink. Basically anything stereotypically feminine. You know, things that imply that they’re not worth taking seriously, in a lot of cases.

And then men’s book covers are usually darker and edgier. Less cluttered. Less domestic. Less frivolous. And this is important, right? Because a book’s cover contributes to our perception of its quality, along with other things like the blurbs, and the comparisons to other novels, and where we shelve it in a store, and that kind of thing. 

So, yeah, I think book covers are a big one. Oh, I just read this article about a woman who wrote a memoir about the years that she spent working as a war photographer in Afghanistan. And her publisher—I think it was Random House—changed the title, without asking her, to Shutterbabe—

Ew.

I know. Ew, right? And then their initial design for the cover was a naked cartoon torso with the camera covering the crotch, all set against a pink background. Yeah, her war photographer memoir, right?

Wow.

So she had to explain to Random House that it is “usually her eye behind the camera, and not her vagina.”

Isn’t that how they work?

Yeah. Oh, she also said that almost all of the publications that reviewed her book—which wasn’t very many, even though this went on to become a bestseller and has been taught in journalism schools—almost all of those reviews called her a stay-at-home mom. Like, when is the last time a male author was called a stay-at-home dad? That never—that never happens.

Wow. No. 

So book reviews are also a problem. I’ve heard it’s getting better, so that’s good news, but still I think most of the major review publications have mostly male reviewers, and the reviewees are less likely to be women. So, basically, what ends up happening is that men are the kind of “literary gatekeepers,” and then they’re more likely to open the gates to other men.

Which doesn’t actually make a lot of sense if you look at book sales. There was an, I think it was an Atlantic article, out maybe this summer, that pointed out that women buy more books than men, and we read more fiction. And, in the U.S., there are more women than men who have degrees in literature. So, if anything, we should probably be considered the default readers. Like, we are the greater part of the literary audience. Women are not a niche market.

Yeah. So, now, let’s talk about—I guess this actually branches off on what you were saying earlier about children’s books, and what we learn about how to value female stories and male stories and female authors and male authors when we’re young. And you and I had spoken a little bit—I talked about, I mentioned to you how I, as I got older, I realized that I sort of internalized these ideas accidentally, that male literature is insightful and says powerful things, and female literature tends to be more niche. So let’s talk about the classics, and required reading in high school. Of the classics that are frequently assigned to high school students, where are overlooked instances of sexism or misogyny in those stories?

Um, yeah, like—well, everywhere, first of all. Yeah, when we talked about this before—well, on my blog I’ve talked about how rape happens all the time in the classics. I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember ever having classroom discussions about male entitlement, and how that leads to sexual assault. Even though it’s this, like, meta-theme that ties a lot of the classics together. You know, English—English teachers love that shit, right?

I think part of the problem is how rarely we’re willing to call rape rape. Right? Anything to victim-blame, right? The example that shocked me the most, actually, was Lolita. Because it’s hailed as this, like, great love story, even though it’s, you know, it’s about a middle-aged man who kidnaps his twelve-year-old step-daughter and rapes her repeatedly over the next two years. Which is the complete opposite of a love story. And it’s not even ambiguous, even in the book. Nabokov says in the preface to the book that Humbert is a monster. He calls him a—he calls him a “moral leper.” And then I turn my book cover over—my book over to the back cover—and I see a quote from Vanity Fair that says that the book is “the only convincing love story of our century.”

Oh my God.

Isn’t that horrifying?

I just threw up a little bit.

Yeah. So rape is definitely one. But there are broader issues, too. I mean, in my experience, literary curriculum in general overlooks female authors and protagonists. I can—I can only think of three books assigned in my high school that were by or about women. I mean, out of dozens, right? Meaning I spent entire semesters—and even entire years—reading books by men about men. And that was just normal, right? But if I’d wanted to take a class that featured only female writers, I would’ve had to wait until college, and I would’ve had to sign up for some specialized class in the Women’s Studies Department. Again, as if we’re this, like, niche offering.

Yeah. Yeah.

And while—yeah. And it is true that, historically, men have dominated literary culture, but most of the novels that exist today have been written in the last couple of centuries. So there are plenty of women to choose from.

And I’m not sure that being a man has ever been an excuse to dismiss or exclude women. I’ve criticized Tolkien on my blog before for underrepresentation of women, and some guy was like, “Well, what do you expect? He was a conservative Catholic academic born in the 19th century.” And I was like, Tolstoy. Thackeray. Flaubert. Henry James, Lewis Carroll, Samuel Richardson, Thomas Hardy… All men. Some Catholic (probably). Some conservative (probably). All born well before Tolkien, and all of whom thought women were, at least, like, minimally interesting. Interesting enough to write novels about, apparently.

And yeah, the last thing I was going to say is that there are, um, I think there are a lot of missed opportunities for discussion around intersectional feminism in the classics—like, this idea that the various forms of oppression intersect. So, for example, a poor black woman is going to experience oppression differently than a rich white woman. I just finished Native Son in September. It’s this book, set in the ’40s, about this 20-year-old black boy who accidentally kills a white girl—who’s his boss’s daughter—and then deliberately murders his black girlfriend. But when he’s captured and put on trial, it’s only for killing the white girl—and the black girl’s body is brought in as evidence.

Whoa.

Yeah. Evidence of his, like, inclination toward violence. And as he’s sitting there, in court, he thinks to himself that even though she’s dead, and even though he killed her, he knows that she would resent her body being used that way. You know, in a way that essentially erases her personhood.

Yeah. Yeah. So what—yeah, sounds like an intense read. I have not read that one.

Yeah, it is an intense read for sure.

So what women authors or woman-centric books do you think should be added to high school curriculum to help teenagers now get the experiences and perspectives that you and I didn’t get when we were in high school?

Well, I guess in the case of my high school, like, any would be a good start. Because there were so few. I—I looked up a list recently of the most frequently assigned books in U.S. high schools, and it was all Shakespeare and the Greeks and Steinbeck. And, you know, us ladies, we get, like, The Scarlet Letter. Which is so boring we all wish it never existed in the first place, right? And it was written by a man.

But some of my favorites—and this is definitely subjective—but I would say of the books that actually do justice to female characters, probably Jane Eyre or anything by Jane Austen. Margaret Atwood’s books. Toni Morrison’s books. Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf and Zora Neale Hurston all wrote wonderful, complex women. I know some high school curriculum does include some of their books, but mine definitely didn’t. I wasn’t assigned any of those authors, at least not until college. Which is such a shame.

Yeah. My best friend from college, I always really envied. We had a few—we would have, like, maybe two female authors a year when I was in high school, so there was a little bit. But my best friend in college went to an all-girls Catholic school, and the nuns very deliberately made sure that fifty percent of the authors they read were women. And I was so jealous when I first met her—I was like, “I’ve gotta catch up to you!” Cuz there were these books I didn’t even really know existed, or had a vague sense of—but no one was saying, “You need to go out and read these,” so I didn’t prioritize them.

Right. Right. So, like, for example, why did I have to read both 1984 and Brave New World, but didn’t get to read The Handmaid’s Tale in school—you know? And why did I have to read everything Shakespeare ever wrote, but I had to find Jane Austen and Toni Morrison on my own? There’s just such a huge imbalance.

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Well, thank you so much for speaking with me today. This was a great conversation.

Thank you so much.

Have a good day. 

Thanks, Abi.

Bye.

In listening to this after the fact, I realized I did not reciprocate Abi’s initial “How are you?”—like some kind of mannerless monster—and I did not wish her a good day in parting. Normally both are reflexes, so the evidence of this wanton incivility on my part fills me with shame. My only defense is that I was distracted by setting up the call, preparing my notes, checking the time (the call was set to cut off automatically after 15 minutes), and, of course, tuning out the roar of my neighbor’s chainsaw.

Anyway, there you have it. This probably isn’t the last you’ll hear from me on this topic, but it’s probably the last you’ll hear from me about it today. Feel free to return to your spreadsheet, or your surgery, or your stocks, as the case may be. I’ll be here, as always—reading and writing and banging my head against the wall on behalf of women everywhere.

Why Would I Even Bother Writing Titles Anymore

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When I was a senior in high school, I opted to take an elective called “Novels.”

Novels was the god of all blow-off classes—the class every other blow-off period would strive to be if they weren’t all such slackers. It was quite literally an hour and a half at the end of the day set aside for reading. We could choose any book we wanted off a long list of popular novels, spend as long as we cared to reading it, and then move on to the next at our leisure.

We weren’t even tested on them, or required to write reflective essays. We just had to “conference” for ten minutes with the woman who called herself our teacher but spent every afternoon holed up in her dim office wearing sunglasses, complaining of a light sensitivity.

The “conferences” went like this:

Teacher: So, you read Little Women.

Student: Yes.

Teacher: So, what are your plans after graduation?

Student: Like, college.

Teacher: You should go to Prague instead.

Student: OK?

Teacher: When I graduated, I went straight to Prague.

Student: …

It was during the course of this class, Novels, that I discovered Edith Wharton for the very first time. Just one page of The Age of Innocence later, and I was a goner. My friends and I were truant for a lot of Novels as the semester dragged on, but that book kept me in my seat for days at a time. I had never read anything quite like it, in all its wrenching irony, devastating romance, and exquisite disdain.

In college, I read The House of Mirth for an American Literature course (the legitimate kind, this time) and fell in love with Wharton once more, for exactly the same reasons. I look forward to finding her again and again over the years to rekindle our passionate affair. And when an opportunity came up, in the form of a Headstuff assignment, to investigate the lives and legacies of world-famous writers, I immediately chose Mark Twain and Edith Wharton herself.

Wharton seems, at least by my impression, to be one of those names everyone has heard but doesn’t know anything about. This, of course, is exactly why I chose her. I was not disappointed or bored for a second in my research on her life and writing—but with both articles behind me now, I can say with all certainty that biographies are not my calling. I take pride in milking tedious material and churning out entertaining results, but biography has left me coming up empty.

Maybe it just can’t be done? I’ll have to read Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare and find out.

Anyway. Remember when I frantically wrote my Mark Twain piece in firework bursts of panic, and Headstuff casually rejected the title? I managed to be microscopically offended, even though they simply wanted to keep the titles consistent across the series (“The Open Book”).

Well, this time around, I didn’t even supply the outstanding and click-worthy title I had come up with—”Edith Wharton: Accomplished Writer, Comprehensive Badass,” it went—to save myself another infinitesimal agony. AND THEN THEY GAVE IT A DIFFERENT, NON-SERIES TITLE ANYWAY—something standard and competent that Edith Wharton would have liked.

The very nerve.

I’m OK, though. I’m coping. I’m even considering a trip to Prague.

It is, after all, long overdue.