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A New (and Final) Open Letters Monthly

December 2, 2017 – 4:19 pm | 0 views

I have often but not always marked the occasion of a new issue of Open Letters Monthly here. The thing about publishing on the first of every month, regular as clockwork, is that it seemed predictable enough that people who cared shouldn’t have any trouble remembering the schedule and finding the new issues on their own! I feel as if I should not let the December 2017 issue go by without acknowledging it, however, because as some of you already know from our announcements on Facebook and Twitter, it will be the last one.

We’ve made our official statement about this on the site itself, and I’m not going to say more here about the collective discussion that brought us to this point. Speaking just personally, I feel a potent mixture of regret and relief. Open Letters Monthly is pretty venerable in internet years–it was founded in 2007–and has had a very good run. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that at its best Open Letters Monthly was as good as any literary journal you’ll ever read, and I will always be very proud to have been part of it. It has also always been a lot of work, all of it challenging and most but not all of it rewarding. Though I feel ready to move on from it, I also know that I have OLM to thank for where I am now as a writer and critic, and thus for the new opportunities I hope to keep reaching for. I learned an enormous amount from my co-editors and from our contributors–about writing and editing above all, from the intense hands-on experience, but also about books and criticism, and about literary culture more generally and how I would like to participate in it.

For our final issue, we opted to highlight some of our favorites of the many essays and reviews we have both written and edited over the past decade. The result is a sampling that I think truly epitomizes what we always hoped Open Letters would be: a place that showcases smart, engaged writing on a wide range of topics, writing that is detailed and probing but also has plenty of personality. It is our plan to keep Open Letters available in its entirety so that people can still browse and enjoy its rich archive. We will all also still be reading, writing, and talking about books in a range of venues, so keep your eyes open for us!

On that note, I should add that I have no plans to give up Novel Readings, which actually predates my own association with Open Letters Monthly by a couple of years. I moved the blog from its original location to the OLM site in 2010. I always find change difficult, and I remember very clearly how anxious I felt when I made that decision. I feel a bit anxious now too, but as we all know, change is the only real constant! So as OLM winds down, so too will new posting at this site. When the time comes, I’ll put a note here to make sure everyone who wants to can find me at my new address.

A New (and Final) Open Letters Monthly

December 2, 2017 – 4:19 pm | 0 views
A New (and Final) Open Letters Monthly

I have often but not always marked the occasion of a new issue of Open Letters Monthly here. The thing about publishing on the first of every month, regular as clockwork, is that it seemed predictable enough that people who cared shouldn’t have any trouble remembering the schedule and finding the new issues on their own! I […]

This Week In My Classes: Slouching Towards the End

November 27, 2017 – 9:09 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Slouching Towards the End

I was about to open this post by saying “it has been a tough week” when I realized it’s only Monday! On the other hand, it has been a challenging week if we start it back at last Monday, and since I haven’t posted here since then, I think that’s fair enough. It’s nothing in particular making […]

This Week In My Classes: Slouching Towards the End

November 27, 2017 – 9:09 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Slouching Towards the End

I was about to open this post by saying “it has been a tough week” when I realized it’s only Monday! On the other hand, it has been a challenging week if we start it back at last Monday, and since I haven’t posted here since then, I think that’s fair enough. It’s nothing in particular making […]

Piffle: Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

November 20, 2017 – 6:22 pm | 0 views
Piffle: Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

“If anybody every  marries you, it will be for the pleasure of hearing you talk piffle,” said Harriet, severely. Strong Poison was the first Peter Wimsey novel I ever read. It was the right one for me to start with, as it is the first one that features Harriet Vane, who is superb from the […]

Piffle: Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

November 20, 2017 – 6:22 pm | 0 views
Piffle: Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

“If anybody every  marries you, it will be for the pleasure of hearing you talk piffle,” said Harriet, severely. Strong Poison was the first Peter Wimsey novel I ever read. It was the right one for me to start with, as it is the first one that features Harriet Vane, who is superb from the […]

“According to the Peruzzi”: Antonio Pennacchi, The Mussolini Canal

November 16, 2017 – 9:19 pm | 0 views
“According to the Peruzzi”: Antonio Pennacchi, The Mussolini Canal

I make no claim to be telling you God’s own truth, the perfect and absolute truth which is known to Him alone. I’m telling you the truth according to the Peruzzi, as my uncles told it to me, as they themselves had lived it. To hear the other side of the story, and about other […]

This Week In My Classes: After This, The Deluge!

November 13, 2017 – 10:16 am | 0 views
This Week In My  Classes: After This, The Deluge!

I was talking with some colleagues last night and we all agreed that it is going to be hard to regain the momentum we’ve lost in our classes after this unusually long fall break–it’s extended because today is a holiday “in lieu of Remembrance Day.” A fall break itself is a relatively new thing: last […]

Nevertheless, I Persisted: One Year Later

November 9, 2017 – 2:52 pm | 0 views
Nevertheless, I Persisted: One Year Later

One year ago this week, the members of my promotion appeal panel wrote up their final decision: in their view, my file (“with its heavy reliance on non-peer-reviewed on-line venues”) had not met the requisite standard and therefore “promotion to full professor is not merited at this time.” Though they claimed to “see merit in […]

Nevertheless, I Persisted: One Year Later

November 9, 2017 – 2:52 pm | 0 views
Nevertheless, I Persisted: One Year Later

One year ago this week, the members of my promotion appeal panel wrote up their final decision: in their view, my file (“with its heavy reliance on non-peer-reviewed on-line venues”) had not met the requisite standard and therefore “promotion to full professor is not merited at this time.” Though they claimed to “see merit in […]

“The Resurrection of the Ordinary”: Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

November 7, 2017 – 1:42 pm | 0 views
“The Resurrection of the Ordinary”: Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

So the wind that billowed her sheets announced to her the resurrection of the ordinary. I was actually tempted to take my title and epigraph, not from Housekeeping, but from Middlemarch:  “It is painful to be told that anything is very fine and not be able to feel that it is fine — something like being blind, […]

“The Resurrection of the Ordinary”: Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

November 7, 2017 – 1:42 pm | 0 views
“The Resurrection of the Ordinary”: Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

So the wind that billowed her sheets announced to her the resurrection of the ordinary. I was actually tempted to take my title and epigraph, not from Housekeeping, but from Middlemarch:  “It is painful to be told that anything is very fine and not be able to feel that it is fine — something like being blind, […]

This Week In My Classes: Keeping Up

November 1, 2017 – 7:20 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Keeping Up

I am, mostly, but today I had my doubts about my students, many of whom seemed pretty tired and some of whom I’m reasonably certain were also (probably not unrelatedly) too behind on the reading to have anything to say in class. That’s OK: it happens, especially around this time of term. It is startling […]

“Detaching the Threads”: May Sarton, A Reckoning

October 28, 2017 – 6:43 pm | 0 views
“Detaching the Threads”: May Sarton, A Reckoning

Yes, Laura thought, it’s like a web. Whatever the secret, the real connections, we are inextricably woven into a huge web together, and detaching the threads, one by one, is hideously painful. As long as one still feels the tug, one is not ready to die. I don’t think May Sarton is a very good […]

“Detaching the Threads”: May Sarton, A Reckoning

October 28, 2017 – 6:43 pm | 0 views
“Detaching the Threads”: May Sarton, A Reckoning

Yes, Laura thought, it’s like a web. Whatever the secret, the real connections, we are inextricably woven into a huge web together, and detaching the threads, one by one, is hideously painful. As long as one still feels the tug, one is not ready to die. I don’t think May Sarton is a very good […]

“The Game Is Up”: Georgette Heyer, Regency Buck

October 22, 2017 – 1:30 pm | 0 views
“The Game Is Up”: Georgette Heyer, Regency Buck

The moment when the dashing, exceedingly well-dressed, but annoyingly remote Earl of Worth declares “The game is up!” is the moment I finally understood fully that the reason I hadn’t liked him much throughout the rest of the novel is that he’s both the romantic lead and a detective hero–part Regency rake and part Sherlock Holmes. […]

“The Game Is Up”: Georgette Heyer, Regency Buck

October 22, 2017 – 1:30 pm | 0 views
“The Game Is Up”: Georgette Heyer, Regency Buck

The moment when the dashing, exceedingly well-dressed, but annoyingly remote Earl of Worth declares “The game is up!” is the moment I finally understood fully that the reason I hadn’t liked him much throughout the rest of the novel is that he’s both the romantic lead and a detective hero–part Regency rake and part Sherlock Holmes. […]

This Week In My Classes: Erring Women

October 19, 2017 – 7:38 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Erring Women

In both of my classes this week we are focusing on young women making mistakes. It’s interesting for me (and I hope also for the students who are in both classes) to compare the very different ways their novels approach their rather different errors. Both of them do wrong things for right reasons. Jane Eyre, […]

This Week In My Classes: Erring Women

October 19, 2017 – 7:38 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Erring Women

In both of my classes this week we are focusing on young women making mistakes. It’s interesting for me (and I hope also for the students who are in both classes) to compare the very different ways their novels approach their rather different errors. Both of them do wrong things for right reasons. Jane Eyre, […]

Education and Failure: Tanya Talaga, Seven Fallen Feathers

October 15, 2017 – 6:20 pm | 0 views
Education and Failure: Tanya Talaga, Seven Fallen Feathers

“To understand the stories of the seven lost students who are the subjects of this book,” Tanya Talaga begins her devastating, angry, and thought-provoking book Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City, you must understand Thunder Bay’s past, how the seeds of division, of acrimony and distaste, of a lack of […]

This Week In My Classes: Politics and Moral Complicity

October 12, 2017 – 6:18 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Politics and Moral Complicity

The 2016 U. S. election has given some books I regularly teach new resonance–and not in a good way. In March 2016, Hard  Times was indeed “for these times,” with Mr. Bounderby running for President: He was a rich man: banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not. A big, loud man, with a stare, and a metallic laugh. […]

Happy Thanksgiving!

October 9, 2017 – 9:45 am | 0 views
Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving today. If you aren’t Canadian (or even if you are) and you’ve never understood why we celebrate Thanksgiving (“isn’t that an American thing?”), here’s a really informative post by Andrea Eidinger at “Unwritten Histories” on just that topic. I was industrious last week and returned two sets of assignments, plus with today off, […]

“The Lesson Will Live”: Daniel Mendelsohn, An Odyssey

September 30, 2017 – 7:44 pm | 0 views
“The Lesson Will Live”: Daniel Mendelsohn, An Odyssey

One of the strange things about teaching is that you can never know what your effect will be on others; can never know, if you have something to teach, who your real students will be, the ones who will take what you have to give and make it their own . . . can never […]

“The Lesson Will Live”: Daniel Mendelsohn, An Odyssey

September 30, 2017 – 7:44 pm | 0 views
“The Lesson Will Live”: Daniel Mendelsohn, An Odyssey

One of the strange things about teaching is that you can never know what your effect will be on others; can never know, if you have something to teach, who your real students will be, the ones who will take what you have to give and make it their own . . . can never […]

This Week In My Classes: Keeping Up

September 27, 2017 – 2:19 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Keeping Up

The first couple of weeks of the new term are always deceptive: you anticipate them with so much anxiety after the slower pace of summer work, but then for a while, though the logistics are a bit hectic and there are more day-to-day deadlines, it doesn’t seem that bad. But then the first significant assignments […]

This Week In My Classes: Keeping Up

September 27, 2017 – 2:19 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Keeping Up

The first couple of weeks of the new term are always deceptive: you anticipate them with so much anxiety after the slower pace of summer work, but then for a while, though the logistics are a bit hectic and there are more day-to-day deadlines, it doesn’t seem that bad. But then the first significant assignments […]

This Week In My Classes: Blather, Rinse, Repeat

September 21, 2017 – 6:40 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Blather, Rinse, Repeat

I’ve put off writing this post, hoping that I’d get some bright idea about what to say in it. Is it possible that I’ve been reporting on my weekly class business for too long? Everything I have to say seems like something I’ve said before. Actually, that in itself might be worth considering, because I […]

This Week In My Classes: Blather, Rinse, Repeat

September 21, 2017 – 6:40 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Blather, Rinse, Repeat

I’ve put off writing this post, hoping that I’d get some bright idea about what to say in it. Is it possible that I’ve been reporting on my weekly class business for too long? Everything I have to say seems like something I’ve said before. Actually, that in itself might be worth considering, because I […]

This Week In My Classes: Every Word Counts

September 14, 2017 – 6:36 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Every Word Counts

We’re one week into the fall term and I’m starting to feel that I’ve got my sea legs back. Every new term seems a bit herky-jerky at first, but before long it smooths out, or at least becomes routine again. In Close Reading, where my initial goal is to foster a habit of paying close […]

This Week In My Classes: Every Word Counts

September 14, 2017 – 6:36 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Every Word Counts

We’re one week into the fall term and I’m starting to feel that I’ve got my sea legs back. Every new term seems a bit herky-jerky at first, but before long it smooths out, or at least becomes routine again. In Close Reading, where my initial goal is to foster a habit of paying close […]

Burning Down the House: Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere

September 9, 2017 – 3:07 pm | 0 views
Burning Down the House: Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere

On the very first page of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, Elena Richardson’s house burns down. Everyone, including Elena, immediately and rightly identifies her renegade youngest daughter Izzy as the arsonist, but it’s not until three hundred pages later that we learn why she did it–that to her it was not act of destruction, but […]