Embracing the Mysteries in Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby Books

At the Paris Review, Adrienne Raphel looks back at Beverly Cleary’s beloved Ramona Quimby series, and notes that the books are riddled with odd discrepancies that are both puzzling and charming. “Ramona taught us how to look for the weirdness in the everyday,” Raphel writes, “and the everyday in the scariest moments. When she wears a particularly gruesome witch costume in Ramona the Pest (the baddest witch in the world!,’ she declares), she begins the day delighted with her anonymity, but ends terrified by the greatest fear of all: no one will know who she is. So, she carries a huge poster with her name on it, presumably beaming under the warty disguise. The mask itself isn’t scary—disappearing, anonymity, being forgotten is what’s most frightening of all.”

Isabel Allende on the Many Dimensions of Reality

At O, Isabelle Allende discusses her newest book, A Long Petal of the Sea, with Elena Nicolaou, and how the world’s inexplicable nature drove her writing. “I grew up with the idea that the world is a very mysterious place,” Allende says, “and there are many dimensions of reality. If you open your heart and your mind, your heart is enriched by everything we cannot explain and control, but we see the evidence.”

Matthew Salesses on Calling Language Into Question

At the Rumpus, Matthew Salesses discusses his latest novel, Disappear Dopplegänger Disappear, and how he shaped the language of adoption to fit his own experience. “Thankfully, the language is constantly changing,” Salesses says, “since grammar is a made-up way of excluding people from the institution of language. My favorite way to change the language, to call it into question, is through puns and plays on words. Some of language’s most important work is the work of revealing our making of culture to us so that we can make it better.”

Robin Coste Lewis on the Comfort of Literature

At the LA Times, poet Robin Coste Lewis shares how she makes her students feel safe during uncertain times by providing refuge in art. “I’m trying to show them that this is in fact what most literature is about,” Lewis says. “Being a comfort to you at hard times. Even if it’s a comedic literature. Even if it’s absurdist literature. Even if it’s something that’s light and fluffy and pastel. All art, hopefully, if it’s good, will give comfort in the most trying of times.”

Roxane Gay on How Audre Lorde Honored the Lived Realities of Women

At the Paris Review, Roxane Gay’s introduction to the The Selected Works of Audre Lorde is excerpted, a tribute to Audre Lorde’s defining contribution to contemporary feminism. “Lorde never grappled with only one aspect of identity,” Gay writes. “She was as concerned with class, gender, and sexuality as she was with race. She held these concerns and did so with care because she valued community and the diversity of the people who were part of any given community. She valued the differences between us as strengths rather than weaknesses. Doing this was of particular urgency, because to her mind, ‘the future of our earth may depend upon the ability of all women to identify and develop new definitions of power and new patterns of relating across difference.'”

Revisiting Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Speak Memory’ During the Pandemic

At the Guardian, Ryan Chapman recounts how Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory resonated with him during the pandemic and helped him navigate our changed reality. “My listlessness ended after I pulled Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography Speak, Memory from my bookshelf,” Chapman writes, “more or less at random. I first read it 10 years ago and quickly saw the wisdom in the author’s oft-quoted line, ‘One cannot read a book: one can only reread it.’ Nabokov’s remembrances granted reprieve from the new abnormal and—crucially—guidance on how to navigate it.”

Claudia Rankine on Seeking Shared Realities

At Lit Hub, Claudia Rankine discusses her newest book, Just Us: An American Conversation, with Catherine Barnett, explaining how it does not seek out easy answers. “Just Us might be a desperately seeking conversation,” Rankine says. “I don’t want to suggest these interactions are conversations seeking answers but rather something more like conversations in search of a shared place for understanding, a shared reality, shared recognitions. The desperation has to do with a kind of historical misalignment before the conversation begins. The question becomes: Can we get aligned so we can actually have the conversation? Just Us, for me, often feels like the conversation to the conversation.”

Decoding Moments of Tension in Edith Wharton’s ‘The Age of Innocence’

At the Guardian, Sam Jordinson reflects on the many moments of sexual tension found in Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer-winning novel, The Age of Innocence. “Every small moment takes on huge significance,” Jordinson writes. “Archer and May’s brief disagreements over whether or not windows should be left open somehow say more about the state of their relationship than any number of screaming rows might have done. There are all kinds of similar telepathies with flowers sent and not sent, envelopes left empty, parties attended and avoided. There’s also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ‘tremble’ in a library that changes the destiny of all the main characters in an instant. As a reader, the very act of decoding these messages immerses you ever deeper in the attitudes and customs of this strange world. It makes for a fascinating, engrossing experience.”

Baking Pies Inspired By Italo Calvino

At the Paris Review, Valerie Stivers takes on a literary baking challenge: crafting pies inspired by the works of Italo Calvino, using ingredients culled from his books and family history. “I must have been high on his genius, creativity, and playfulness when I attempted to climb into the trees myself,” she writes, “and invent a series of Calvino-inspired pies, interlocking like the chapters of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler and utilizing tree fruits and tree nuts from The Baron in the Trees. My plan also drew on a biographical note of Calvino’s: his parents were botanists, and his father pioneered the cultivation of exotic tree fruits in Italy, which made me feel that any tree fruit or nut was fair game. These high-concept pies would use new-to-me techniques such as chiffon, Italian meringue, chilled custard filling, blind-baked crusts, and pudding layers.”

Alyssa Cole on Leaning Into Anxiety

At The New York Times, Alyssa Cole discusses her new book, When No One Is Watching, with Concepción de León, and the difference between writing romances and thrillers. “When I’m writing romance, I’m leaning more into the good,” Cole says. “In every romance you have to also make the reader feel bad sometimes, but you lean into certain beats that will make the reader feel happy, feel hopeful and excited. In this, it was fun to be able to lean into things that would make the reader feel anxious, because I was anxious in writing it. I could explore the kinds of things that can be done in the story when focusing on that slate of emotions as opposed to romantic emotions.”