Blog Profile / Slate: Books

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Archived Since:July 14, 2009

Blog Post Archive


Some mysteries are so intractable that each generation of readers has to discover them anew. To many enthusiastic reviewers, the success of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet is finally giving the potent and perilous female friendship the literary attention it deserves. Show More Summary

Traumatized Ghosts

There’s a strange temporal disjunction at the heart of Jesmyn Ward’s new novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing. On the one hand, its mother-son duo of protagonists, Leonie and her 13-year-old son, Jojo, speak almost entirely in the present tense,...Show More Summary

Cutting ’Em Down to Size

Every critic knows that readers love a spirited hatchet job, whether or not the author being chopped is one whose work they’ve hated—or even read. Much of the public seems to possess an ambient belief that the literary world is filled...Show More Summary

John Ashbery’s Convex Mirror

John Ashbery was the poet who observed that “it’s different when you have hiccups.” He was right about this—right about many things, even if his fabled “difficulty” sometimes obscured the felicity of his intuition. In the same poem,Show More Summary

Sour Heart Sets the “Model Minority” Myth on Fire

Sour Heart, the tremendous debut story collection by Jenny Zhang, is structured as a theme and variations, the theme being first-generation Chinese American daughters living in New York City. Each of its six narrators, speaking from a grown-up present, is a tilted mirror for the others. Show More Summary

Outraged Romantic

About halfway through the 19 th century, a fundamental change occurred in the relationship between people and cities. For the previous 5,000-odd years, cities had served as totems of human memory and achievement. Construction of a single building, like the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, could unfold over 10 generations. Show More Summary

If “The End of Men” Were a Novel

Tom Perrotta is the acknowledged literary king of the suburbs, producing a long line of critical and popular hits that often—Little Children, Election, The Leftovers—become onscreen gold. The cover of Mrs. Fletcher, his latest, is adorned...Show More Summary

“I Had a Boss Who Interrupted Me Constantly to Say, ‘Gee, You Have Pretty Hair’ ”

“People imagine that programming is logical, a process like fixing a clock,” Ellen Ullman writes in her essay “Outside of Time: Reflections on the Programming Life.” “Nothing could be further from the truth.” Instead, writing code is “an illness, a fever, and obsession. Show More Summary

Keep It Hot, Keep It Real

A familiar pattern plays out repeatedly in American literary fiction, especially in American literary fiction written by male authors stumbling through middle age. We know its circuit by heart: A man settles. A man stirs. A man strays. Show More Summary

True Crime Gets Pretty

A woman learns that her best friend from childhood has been murdered. A woman dithering over her stalled career in a small town becomes preoccupied with a serial killer. A woman interning at a law firm specializing in death penalty defense is shocked to find herself wishing for the execution of one of the firm’s clients. Show More Summary

Nowhere Man

You cannot count yourself a real urbanite city dweller until you regularly entertain fantasies of chucking it all for some remote idyll. For most of us, this fantasy remains just that. I know I couldn’t hack it in the great outdoors....Show More Summary

Tell Me I’m Interesting

Sally Rooney is a planter of small surprises, sowing them like landmines. They relate to behavior and psychology—characters zigging when you expect them to zag, from passivity to sudden aggression and back. The four protagonists in her...Show More Summary

The World Without Us

“The world is entering an age of ecological collapse, material contraction, and social and political unravelling,” the network of writers, artists, and thinkers called the Dark Mountain Project believe. “We want our cultural responses...Show More Summary

Exotic Minutiae

James Earl Ray was an eclectic reader. His nightstand in the weeks following his assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968 could have theoretically included the novel Mission in Tangier, the self-help book Psycho-Cibernetics, or a manual on hypnotism. Show More Summary

The Chickenshit Club

In April, the New York Times published a nearly 8,000-word story about what James Comey was thinking last year while overseeing FBI investigations into both sides of the 2016 presidential race. Through interviews with the former FBIShow More Summary

How Reality Crumbles

Halfway through Karin Tidbeck’s new novel Amatka, a woman named Vanja begins an office job. She spends her first day paddling through a sea of paperwork, filing page after page of documents attesting to the most mundane developments in the lives of those around her—births, deaths, educational milestones, retirements. Show More Summary

She Dined on Black Pudding

In 1969, Helen Gurley Brown was still riding the wave of her blockbuster debut, Sex and the Single Girl, as well as her stunningly successful transformation of a dowdy, 80-year-old general interest magazine into the insouciantly racy Cosmopolitan. Show More Summary

Famous Last Words

“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight,” Samuel Johnson remarked, “it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” The same can be said of the terminally ill. Johnson’s word, concentrate, suggests why the rest of us often seek wisdom from people facing this terrible sentence. Show More Summary

The Hunger to Stop Hurting

Roxane Gay’s new book—the “most difficult writing experience of my life,” she admits on Page 4—is called Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. Those parentheses seem designed to call the ownership of her body into question. They announce the...Show More Summary


According to a hoary legend of the book publishing world, Bennett Cerf, one of the founders of Random House, was once asked if he could discern any formula for a best-seller. Reasoning that books about Abraham Lincoln, doctors, and dogs...Show More Summary

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