N1BR: Issue 3

May 2009

Considered in the most cynical light, the American system of education as it now exists is a status machine, absorbing young citizens, sorting them according to rigid criteria. Walter Kirn’s new memoir comes tagged with the catchphrase “Percentile is destiny in America.” The book takes the form of a confession, as Kirn deploys his experiences to expose a sham. More…

This God- and sin-haunted man and the writing he produced so meticulously over the course of a half-century have come to stand, in our collective literary consciousness, for dullness, complacency, and an utter lack of relevance. This spring’s double-barreled canonization at least allows us finally to pose the question: Was Cheever great? More…

When Edgardo Vega Yunqué died last year, the Times ran a couple of eulogies on its website. He was described with quaint admiration—a local writer who found his inspiration in the Lower East Side. Many who knew him, however, posted less-than-fond memories to the website. Posthumous insults are usually directed toward the rich and famous, and Vega was neither. More…

November in Astana—Kazakhstan’s new marble and glass capital in the middle of the empty steppe—is blisteringly cold, and distractions from the harsh wind that whips across the desolate landscape are welcome. Standing outside of the airport one evening, I shared a beer and cigarette with a young man from the south of Kazakhstan, on the lengthy way to Moscow. More…

The pages in Proust’s long novel describing a first-ever telephone call are often admired for their rare sensitivity to the experience of a new technology. It has no equivalent in any contemporary fiction I know when it comes to an account of a first email read, or first social networking profile posted. More…

An angled picture gracing the book’s jacket shows Rudd bellowing into a megaphone—the image that gave Garry Trudeau the character of “Megaphone” Mark Slackmeyer in Doonesbury. From the memoir, it is clear that Rudd has almost entirely lost this booming self-confidence. More…

It becomes clear upon reading the first few chapters of this fast-paced, exhilarating novel—fingers fumbling to turn page after page after page, the urge to consume growing greater and greater, the desire to finish becoming with every sentence more acute—that How to Sell is not really about a conman selling jewelry. It is instead a novel written during a crisis in print culture about selling the novel. More…

Image: Andre Kertesz. From On Reading