Let the Great World Spin author (and one of today’s YiR2011 writers!) Colum McCann had some inspiring words for this year’s crop of Boston College freshmen. “There’s a degraded discourse around the notion of optimism these days that says there is something soft about being an optimist—something wrong,” he said. “It claims that optimism has no edge, as if it’s less than complete, less than the full deck of knowledge. The optimist is cartooned into the corner with an idiotic grin. I submit to you that none of that is true.”
This holiday season may set a record for gift returns, and perhaps that’s understandable given the economy. But what does it mean if you simply abandon your things instead? A recent survey by Virgin Atlantic reveals which books are most frequently left behind by their passengers, and it raises that very question.
“Writing difference is a challenge, particularly in fiction. How do men write women and vice versa? How do writers of one race or ethnicity write about people of another race or ethnicity? More important, how do writers tackle difference without reducing their characters to caricatures or stereotypes?” Roxane Gay reviews Joyce Carol Oates‘s The Sacrifice and simultaneously explains how to write difference well. Hint: it “demands empathy, an ability to respect the humanity of those you mean to represent.”
Jack Gilbert died yesterday at the age of 87. Gilbert was the author of five standalone poetry collections—as well as additional collected volumes such as last March’s Collected Poems—and he was also a past winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award. For The LA Times, John Penner reviews the poet’s legacy. Or, perhaps as fitting tribute to Gilbert’s life and work, better to hear his own final lines to the poem “Failing and Flying”: “I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, / but just coming to the end of his triumph.”