The Critical Vault

Here is my collection (in no particular order) of favorite articles on criticism and other smarty-pants topics:

“A Conversation with James Wood”

Isaac Chotiner interviews James Wood, and they discuss the state of criticism today, how book critics love to understand the mechanisms of stories and language, and the effects of technology on arts journalism:

“Why Taylor Swift Offends Little Monsters, Feminists, and Weirdos”

Riese offers a complete and cogent analysis of Taylor Swift’s early music, why it was wildly successful, and why you should not encourage any young women to absorb its harmful messages:

“Does It Matter if Theatre Critics Have Conflicts of Interest?

Lyn Gardner muses in The Guardian about the relationship between critics and the artistic communities they work and socialize with:

“Upside of Distraction”

Benjamin Nugent writes in the New York Times about how he learned to balanced the “ideal” writer’s isolated life with a life actually lived:

“The Scourge of ‘Relatability'”

Rebecca Mead writes for The New Yorker about the reductive and self-involved expectations of consumers who insist all works of art be “relatable”:

“Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre Fiction is Disruptive Technology”

Lev Grossman writes for TIME magazine about “how science fiction, fantasy, romance, mysteries and all the rest will take over the world”:

Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre Fiction Is Disruptive Technology

“Just Write It!”

Laura Miller writes a great piece in The New Yorker about George R. R. Martin and the new challenges facing the popular contemporary writer, including a very close and constant connection with very impatient fans:

“Against Enthusiasm”

Jacob Silverman writes for Slate on the “The epidemic of niceness in online book culture”:

“A Critic’s Case for Critics Who Are Actually Critical”

Dwight Garner writes for the New York Times Magazine:

“The Case for Positive Book Reviews”

Laura Miller writes for Salon that “Misguided nostalgia drives a call for negative literary criticism. No one needs middling reviews of mediocre books”:

“How to Write a Bad Review”

J. Robert Lennon writes for Salon: “A cruel New York Times piece shows how not to pan a book. But there is a way to do it, without appealing to trolls”:

“With Clarity and Beauty, the Weight of Authority”

Katie Roiphe writes for the NYT’s Book Review about why criticism matters:

“Whither the Hatchet Job?”

Clive James offers his view in the NYT:

“Burying the Hatchet”

Lee Siegel responds to James in The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog:

“This Guy Thinks We Shouldn’t Have Negative Book Reviews. Two Thumbs Down!”

Isaac Chotiner tears Siegel down in New Republic:

“On Smarm”

Tom Scocca writes a meandering piece for Gawker:

“Critical thinking #4: Daniel Mendelsohn”

David Wolf conducts for Prospect “An interview with the author, essayist and critic Daniel Mendelsohn.” Be sure to check out the other interviews in the series:

Critical thinking #4: Daniel Mendelsohn

“Why Aaron Sorkin’s Woman Problem makes the Newsroom so Boring”

Alyssa Rosenburg succinctly sums-up in Slate how a good writer’s work can stagnate when obsessed exclusively with the cultural assumptions of previous generations.

There are so many interesting articles to keep up with, it’s impossible to comment on them all. Here are some recent pickings that really caught my eye:


“Her Stinging Critiques Propel Young Adult Best Sellers”

Alexandra Alter writes about the legendary Julie Strauss-Gabel, and the role she has played in popularizing YA reading for consumers and critics alike:


“Despite Damning Report, Rolling Stone Will Continue “To Do What We’ve Always Done.” Are They Serious?”

The incisive Hannah Rosin calls out Rolling Stone magazine for its lousy wrap-up of the bungled-story of an alleged rape at a UVA fraternity:


“Sexual Paranoia Stikes Academe”

Laura Kipnis argues against university rules banning relationships between students and professors, and asserts that today’s students play the “trauma card” far too often:

“Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach One”

Writing for The Stranger, Ryan Boudinot dishes what he sees as the T about writing programs, the star and dud students that populate them, and what your MFA instructor really thinks of you:


“My Saga, Part 1”

The bestselling author and Norwegian viking Karl Ove Knausgaard writes about his banal travels through America. The photographs are beautiful, even if the writing isn’t:


“Drag Isn’t Like Blackface. But That Doesn’t Mean It Is Always Kind To Women”

Drag queen Miz Cracker addresses Mary Cheney’s assertion that drag is as unacceptable as blackface:


“How Drunk is Too Drunk to Have Sex?”

Amanda Hess tackles the thorny issues of drinking and “meaningful consent,” and the role these two elements play in university sexual assault cases:


“Making Space for Theatre in Boston”

Trip Venturella writes an amazing cultural history of Boston theatre:


“The Problem With That Cat-Calling Video”

Hanna Rosin comments on the viral Hollaback! video, and provides an awesome alternative video:


“A Hidden Camera Reveals How Women Are Constantly Harassed on the Street”

Amanda Hess’s points out men’s reaction to the the viral Hollaback! video:


“Find Your Beach”

Zadie Smith writes for The New York Review of Books about what it means to live in Manhattan and sociopathically pursue “a reality shaped by our own desires”:


“Meet The College Women Who Are Starting A Revolution Against Campus Sexual Assault”

Vanessa Grigoriadis writes for New York Magazine about Emma Sulkowicz (“mattress girl”) and the growing activism against campus sexual assault:


“With Video of Killings, ISIS Sends Medieval Message by Modern Method”

David Carr writes for the New York Times about the disturbingly sophisticated media techniques of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS):


“The Scourge of ‘Relatability'”

Rebecca Mead writes for The New Yorker about the reductive and self-involved expectations of consumers who insist all works of art be “relatable”:


“Ivy League Schools are Overrated. Send Your Kids Elsewhere”

William Deresiewicz writes for The New Republic about the new generation of well-“educated” and woefully underprepared college hopefuls:


“In Gaza, Epithets Are Fired and Euphemisms Give Shelter”

Jodi Rudoren writes for the New York Times on the role of rhetoric in the Gaza conflict:


“Amazon, a Friendly Giant as Long as It’s Fed”

David Streitfeld writes for the New York Times about what Amazon does and could do for writers, if they are willing to submit to whatever the company wants:


“The French Do Buy Books. Real Books.”

Pamela Druckerman writes for the New York Times on the French custom of fixed book prices, and how the practice may save a publishing industry about to be swallowed whole by Amazon:


“Please Stop Worshipping the Superstar Professor Who Calls Students ‘Boring Idiots'”

Rebecca Schuman writes for Slate about the priggish Slavoj Žižek:


“The Case for Reparations”

The award-winning article by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the historic plight of African Americans and what may amend centuries of oppression:


“Why it’s So Hard for Men to See Misogyny”

Amanda Hess writes for Slate that “Men were surprised by #YesAllWomen because men don’t see what women experience”:


“Condi’s Lesson”

Maureen Dowd writes a fascinating op-ed piece about what is lost amidst commencement speaker disinvitations:

“A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love'”

Gordon Marino makes a great argument that “our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation”:


“Every Little Byte Counts”

Evgeny Morozov reviews The Naked Future and Social Physics for the NYTs Sunday Book Review:


“Woman at the Top of the Masthead”

Amanda Hess writes for Slate that “The media called her ‘brusque’ and ‘polarizing.’ But to young women at the New York Times, Jill Abramson was everything”:


“Why We’re in a New Gilded Age”

Paul Krugman’s lauded review of the best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty:


“Shakespeare’s Greatest Play? 5 Experts Share Their Opinions”


“Needs Improvement”

Rebecca Schuman writes for Slate on how “Student evaluations of professors aren’t just biased and absurd—they don’t even work.”:


“Frank Delaney Fans, Rejoice!” 

Interview of the man himself by Lynne Nolan for the Dublin Writers Festival:

“García Márquez Liberated the Spanish Language from the Tyranny of the Past”

Paul Berman’s obituary of García Márquez for The New Republic:


“Literary City, Bookstore Desert”

Julie Bosman writes for the New York Times that “Surging rents force booksellers from Manhattan”:


“Stefan Zweig, Wes Anderson, and a Longing for the Past”

Richard Brody writes in the New Yorker about Stefan Zweig’s autobiography The World of Yesterday, Wes Anderson’s recent film The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), and George Prochnik’s new book The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World:


“Playing by Ear, Praying for Rain: The Poetry of James Baldwin”

Nikky Finney writes in Poetry Magazine: “Baldwin was never afraid to say it. He made me less afraid to say it too…”


“The Dark Power of Fraternities”

Caitlin Flanagan writes for The Atlantic on frats and the smooth and unsung systems that prop them up and keep their engines purring:


“Cheap Words”

George Packer writes for the New Yorker that “Amazon is good for customers. But is it good for books?”:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s