On ‘Flawless’ as Feminist Declaration

By Parul Sehgal, The New York Times Magazine, March 24, 2015 Something interesting happens when a word that suggests action is applied to beauty: It recasts beauty as something that can be done, pulled off — not just possessed. On Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter, when “flawless” is used as praise, it implies a friendly interestContinue reading “On ‘Flawless’ as Feminist Declaration”

‘Huck Finn’s America’ by Andrew Levy

By Parul Sehgal, The New York Times, Feb. 4, 2015 The famous preface to “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” reads like a goad: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it willContinue reading “‘Huck Finn’s America’ by Andrew Levy”

‘The Sexual Night’ by Pascal Quignard

By Parul Sehgal, The New York Times Book Review, December 5, 2014 There is some unpardonably bad sex writing, most of it unprintable here (and, in a just world, anywhere). We must contend with “uterine” as a favorite adjective. We must contend with a tender, anxious regard for virility and the concomitant dread of theContinue reading “‘The Sexual Night’ by Pascal Quignard”

‘The Wallcreeper’ by Nell Zink

By Parul Sehgal, The New York Times, Dec. 2, 2014 You don’t read Nell Zink so much as step into the ring with her. Every sentence is a jab or feint, rigged for surprise. Every word feels like a verb. The plot leaps will give you vertigo. Her debut novel, “The Wallcreeper,” is a veryContinue reading “‘The Wallcreeper’ by Nell Zink”

‘Citizen’ by Claudia Rankine

By Parul Sehgal, Bookforum, Dec/Jan 2015 Claudia Rankine’s Citizen is an anatomy of American racism in the new millennium, a slender, musical book that arrives with the force of a thunderclap. It’s a sequel of sorts to Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (2004), sharing its subtitle (An American Lyric) and ambidextrous approach: Both books combineContinue reading “‘Citizen’ by Claudia Rankine”

‘On Immunity’ by Eula Biss

By Parul Sehgal, The New York Times Book Review, Oct. 3, 2014 Lucretius said to handle them with caution; Berkeley, not to handle them at all. Aristotle said that too many confound; Locke, that even one can “mislead the judgment”; Hobbes, that their natural end was “contention and sedition, or contempt.” Sontag said simply, theyContinue reading “‘On Immunity’ by Eula Biss”

Drawing Words From the Well of Art: On Ben Lerner and ’10:04′

By Parul Sehgal, The New York Times, Aug. 22, 2014 At the Met, Mr. Lerner stood before “Joan of Arc” so long and talked about it with such intensity that, in the peculiar way of museums, other people became gradually persuaded of its importance. A small crowd gathered. A nun pulled out an expensive-looking camera.Continue reading “Drawing Words From the Well of Art: On Ben Lerner and ’10:04′”

On ‘Man and Beast’ by Mary Ellen Mark

By Parul Sehgal, New York Times Book Review, May 30, 2014 Over the last 50 years, Mary Ellen Mark has photographed twins, clowns, patients in a mental hospital, Ku Klux Klan members and Liza Minnelli. She likes to look at people who are used to being looked at, and she uses her camera like WonderContinue reading “On ‘Man and Beast’ by Mary Ellen Mark”

On ‘Can’t and Won’t’ by Lydia Davis

NPR.org, May 13, 2014, Listen on All Things Considered   In “Notes During Long Phone Conversation With Mother,” a woman listening to her mother express a desire for a cotton summer dress doodles variations of “cotton”: “nottoc,” “coontt,” “toonct,” “tocton,” almost palpably driving her pen into the pad. What is happening here? The word “cotton” disintegratesContinue reading “On ‘Can’t and Won’t’ by Lydia Davis”