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Literary theory and practice.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay “Jimmy Gatz” Gatsby.

When examining a canonical novel, one that is generally thought to be among the pantheon of greats in American literature, it is appropriate to view the novel from today’s standards in order to determine if the story has any “problematic” elements. This is to say that we should be concerned about whether or not time has revealed any flaws with regard to the perspectives, prejudices, or opinions of the time and era and culture of when it was written.

At first glance, it seems that The Great Gatsby may have some problematic elements. …

Alexander “Jay Gatsby” Rodriguez.

As the 2020s dawn and as The Great Gatsby — the novel that also serves as a chronicle of the American “roaring ‘20s” — enters the public domain, it seems fair to look around and see if the American landscape has produced any parallels to the eponymous character from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s canonical classic, if only to inform a guess as to whether we have another “jazz age” coming. Some might say, perhaps, that we should look toward the frenetic pace of Wall Street for our parallel — Jordan “Wolf of Wall Street” Balfort, maybe, or Bernie Madoff or Maria…

Daisy B, docked green light aficionado.

John William De Forest coined the term “the Great American novel” in an 1868 article in The Nation, while claiming that as of yet, no one had written one. According to De Forest, such a work of literature would provide “the picture of the ordinary emotions and manners of American existence.” He found fault with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great novel The Scarlet Letter for dialogue that did not provide a true American voice, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s outstanding work about race, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for creating characters who were not authentic.

It is arguable that Herman Melville accomplished what De Forest…

Mr. Wolfsheim would like to see you, sir.

What exactly is “The Great American Novel” anyway? The answer to that question lies at the heart of a kind of game we’ve been playing in literary circles (full disclosure: I spent sixteen years as a college English professor) for almost two hundred years. To some extent, that game might be said to have originated with Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was among the first Americans to call for a literature that would specifically reflect the American character, a literature separate and distinct from its European forebears. The term was codified, however, in an essay by a minor and mostly forgotten…

Man wearing protective mask.
Man wearing protective mask.

It was cold, raining, and dark, as Pittsburgh mornings often are, when a dude with long blond hair and a red trucker hat approached me on Forbes Avenue and asked me a question. He was the fifth person who had recently asked me about the same thing, so I immediately suspected the universe was up to something.

As a professional risk manager, I’m used to peeking around corners, sensing potential impacts. In this case, I’m sensing a need for some basic disaster-prevention tips coming from someone with a qualified opinion.

Either that or the universe is just messing with me…

Writing Teacher: Never use the second-person narrative, even in essays. Never. Never ever.

Me: Why not?

Writing Teacher: Just don’t. Trust me. I said never ever!

Me: (Side-eyed, sotto voce) Hold my beer.

Writing Teacher: Wut?

Me: Nothing.

When you’re a fan of J.D. Salinger, you eventually get to David Foster Wallace through Buddy and Seymour Glass and, if you’re lucky (and New Jersey-adventurous), Kenneth Caulfield. If you’re a Wallace fan, you eventually get to Virginia Woolf because of your lasting grief over his early and permanent retirement from the scene, which leads you to rabbit-hole watch every interview of…

We’re on the verge of the 2020’s and that got me thinking back to 1999, when everyone was talking about the millennium and being on the verge of something totally new, something out of a science fiction story or a danceable Prince song. It was a cool year in the American cultural landscape. Movies that came out that year included American Beauty, Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, The Blair Witch Project, The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, and Eyes Wide Shut. …

Virginia Woolf is simultaneously one of the most influential and misunderstood writers of all time. Her most famous works include the novels, Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and Orlando (1928), as well as her book-length essay A Room of One’s Own (1929). A Room of One’s Own contributed significantly to the continuation of first-wave feminism, as it depicts the social restraints and barriers that women and female artists faced during Virginia’s lifetime.

Woolf’s most recognizable writing style was stream-of-consciousness, a style that involves the continuous writing of thoughts without pause or interruption. This style allows readers to experience…

All right, let’s do some analysis of “The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allan Poe. First, let’s establish a rule, though. We need to have one rule in place about author intention. We’re throwing author intention right out the window. For the purposes of these analyses I do not care about author intent; I don’t care what Poe intended. If I come up with a Theme Theory and Edgar Allan Poe were here and alive somehow, by some metaphysical process of revivification, he would say, Frank, that’s wrong! That’s not what I intended at all! I’d be like, well, here’s my…

On the Future (and Radical Potential) of Audiobooks

We now live in the Earbud Society. You see them dangling from ears in cars, all over college campuses, in Starbucks, and even the workplace (especially on elevators.) Social avoidance has never been easier, and yet research is showing that this audio-revolution is a great boon to society. And audiobooks, as a subset of “earbud content,” are only getting started as an art form.

The new masters.

Back in the dark ages of 2006, when I was attending broadcasting school, we didn’t have an agreed-upon name for them. The most established phrase was “books-on-tape,” which had a pretty good vernacularic run of it…

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