Enlightenment comes in many guises, and though we usually think of it as arriving in a koi pond or a distant mountaintop, we can also find it, as the protagonist of Year in Reading alum Tom McCarthy’s new novel attempts to do, on Staten Island. In The New Republic, David Marcus reads the book.
Scientists confirmed recently that writers are more likely to struggle with mental illness (sometimes, as recently noted, due to syphilis). Since we’re so used to our alcoholic literary greats, and a smattering of suicidal ones (Plath, Woolf, Thompson, Wallace–and many more), this comes as no great surprise. On a happier note, a new study using fMRIs and MFA students has found that writers show different brain patterns than “normal people” just writing: in fact they resemble “expert” thinking patterns of all professionals doing what they’re best at–musicians, athletes, competitive Scrabble players. I don’t know if I’m happier to learn the fMRIs found no gaping black holes, or that MFAs do in fact teach you something.
In the past ten years, we’ve seen many attempts to construct a taxonomy of the hipster, which is why it’s refreshing to come across a novel account of the term’s origins. At The Atlantic, Karen Swallow Prior makes a convincing case that T.S. Eliot, in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, invented the “cuffed-trouser urbanite on the hunt for authenticity.”
The correspondence of Vladimir Nabokov and the critic Edmund Wilson suffered from Wilson’s inability to appreciate Nabokov’s work. But by the spring of 1950, illness had affected both men to the point where a skilled correspondent in the ways of the U.S. mail became “a panacea to pain.”