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The Better Angels of Our Writing

Copy editors are to the world of publishing what the stage manager is to the world of theater. I love copy editors and I love stage managers. When the copy editor for my latest book placed a little check mark over the name of a computer game, Snood, and then wrote in the margin (“”), I knew that her fact-checking was protecting me, and I felt grateful. When I dashed…


Go Ask Alice

From the tangled tale of mass literacy one can pluck a few specific objects—books that were to be found in every household where there was somebody who could read and people who wanted to listen. Aside from the Bible, a typical list would run like this: “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” “Robinson Crusoe,” and “Gulliver’s Travels,” to which were later added “The Pickwick Papers” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Notice that Alice…

Harper Lee

Harper Lee to publish new novel, 55 years after To Kill a Mockingbird

Lee said in an announcement from her publisher, Penguin Random House, that she completed Go Set a Watchman in the mid-1950s, but set it aside after the publication of her debut and never returned to it. “It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman and I thought it a pretty decent effort,” said the reclusive writer. “My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood,…


Never trust a corporation to do a library’s job

The Internet Archive is mostly known for archiving the web, a task the San Francisco-based nonprofit has tirelessly done since 1996, two years before Google was founded. The Wayback Machine now indexes over 435 billion webpages going back nearly 20 years, the largest archive of the web. For most people, it ends there. But that’s barely scratching the surface.

A Novel is a Fictional Story Told by a Narrator (Poems, Plays & Reports are not Novels)

I’m Asking My Students to Be Deliberate about the Word “Novel”

In the past few years, I have noticed more students are applying the word “novel” to any text they might be asked to study in class, whether that text is a book-length fictional narrative, a play, a poem, a political manifesto, or a collection of academic essays. I wrote up this lecture to introduce the concept of literary genre, in the hopes of communicating why it’s important that we recognize…