The Perils of the Millennial Addiction Memoir

“One of the most striking characteristics of drug takers,” writes the psychiatrist and writer Theodore Dalrymple, “is their intense and tedious self-absorption; and their journeys into inner space are generally forays into inner vacuums.” Empty self-absorption has been a central feature of the addiction memoir and its many derivations, from Thomas De Quincey’s hallucinatory “apocalypse … Continued

Books, Culture

A Really Tedious Book about “A Really Good Day”

It’s been more than a decade since lawyer and author Ayelet Waldman confessed, in an essay in the New York Times, that she loved her husband, novelist Michael Chabon, more than her kids, and enjoyed a happy marriage and an enviable sex life with him—”always vital, even torrid” (unlike the poor, sexless moms in her … Continued

Books, Culture

The Revenge of “Poshlost”

In a 1967 interview with Paris Review, Vladimir Nabokov was asked to elaborate on the Russian concept of “Poshlost”—a kind of smug philistinism that he had first discussed in his collected Lectures In Russian Literature. “Now if we want to pin down poshlost in contemporary writing,” Nabokov observed, “we must look for it in Freudian … Continued


Zsa Zsa: A Testament to Current Kardashian Culture

After school during the 1970s, you’d find me most days curled up in front of the family RCA, snacking on some Ring Dings (washed down with Sprite) and settling in for two hours of talk-show fun: Merv Griffin first, followed by the Mike Douglas show. Week after week, I absorbed a parade of seventies grand … Continued


Before the Kardashians, There Were the Mitford Sisters

In the winter of 1949, Nancy Mitford wrote a letter to her friend, the novelist Evelyn Waugh, declaring: “I am having a lovely life—only sad that heavenly 1948 is over—except for Bobo’s death which I MINDED—one of the happiest years I ever had.” (Bobo was her nickname for her notorious Nazi-friendly sister Unity, who referred … Continued


What Shirley Jackson Can Teach Us About the Virtues of a Messy Life

Shirley Jackson loved children, eating and drinking, sports cars, big old houses, cats, smoking, books, and writing scary tales and domestic memoirs. Her unsettling 1948 short story, “The Lottery,” first published in The New Yorker, would become one of the most anthologized stories in the history of American literature. She was also a miserable, sad … Continued


JT Leroy and the Limits of Postmodern Deception

In the early 1980s, my family and I, living in Newton, a suburb of Boston, were victims of a hoax. A scruffy, boyish young woman, wearing a red hockey jersey emblazoned with the letters “CCCP,” her hair cropped and uneven, “popped out of nowhere,” in my father’s words, while he was conducting a practice for … Continued