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File: Very Good Paragraphs

Very Good Paragraphs
2017-02-20 :: dave

Haven’t done one of these in a while. This one’s from Gary Greenberg’s stunning review of Charles Foster’s Being a Beast and other recent learning-from-animals books in the Jan 2017 Harper’s (cutting the first sentence as it’s mostly gluework from the prior ¶): …As civilization fails to provide sufficient balm against our loss, as its […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2015-11-03 :: dave

From Benedict Carey’s How We Learn, which is the best collection I’ve found of recent (and historical) findings in cognitive science that explain how our brains work and how we might treat them better as a result. This bit specifically is Very Good because of how it articulates a problem with beginning writers that I’ve […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2015-06-21 :: dave

From Andrew Hacker’s piece on tech workers in the 9 July 2015 New York Review: Contrary to such alarmist demands [from Obama et al that we need to add more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) graduates], Falling Behind? makes a convincing case that even now the US has all the high-tech brains and bodies […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2015-04-27 :: dave

From Justin E.H. Smith’s “The Joke”, an essay from the April 2015 Harper’s: It is exceedingly difficult these days to call attention to the dull-minded policing by academics and online activists without being ridiculed in return as a frightened, ignorant old man who bemoans “political correctness.” We do not wish to be assimilated to those […]

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Comedy + Very Good Paragraphs
2015-02-23 :: dave

This one’s from Jim Gavin’s incredible story “Elephant Doors” in his debut collection, Middle Men. I recommend this book to anyone who likes stories that continually run the border between funny and sad. “Elephant Doors” is about a PA on a Jeopardy-like quiz show who also does standup open mics around LA. If there’s ever […]

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Books + Very Good Paragraphs
2015-01-15 :: dave

Last year I memorized some paragraphs that had for years meant a lot to me as a writer and also as a person. I thought I’d stick with this practice and find something to memorize this year. Glad I found it early in Vol 2 of Knausgaard’s My Struggle. I liked the first volume better, […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2014-11-25 :: dave

I downloaded an ebook app to my phone now that I’m not flipping through Twitter when I have toilet- and elsewhere-based downtime. These days I’m going through the Mary Roach Best American Essays anthology, and yesterday in my chiropractor’s office I came across this gem, about a carp-catching festival for avowed rednecks in Bath, Illinois: […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2014-11-17 :: dave

This paragraph showed up in Kiese Laymon’s title essay from his collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America precisely at the moment I needed it to: This isn’t an essay or a woe-is-we narrative about how hard it is to be a black boy in America. This is a lame attempt at […]

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Announcements + NF + Very Good Paragraphs
2014-11-14 :: dave

Why would someone bother memorizing two paragraphs from an old Joan Didion essay? Answers here and here. This is a post to say I’ve done it. Typed from memory, from what I like to think of as the center of Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”: Of course the activists—not those whose thinking had become rigid, but […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2014-09-18 :: dave

I’m teaching some Montaigne essays next week. Reread this passage today, from his “On the education of children”: Be that as it may; I mean that whatever these futilities of mine may be, I have no intention of hiding them, any more than I would a bald and grizzled portrait of myself just because the […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2014-06-14 :: dave

From Jonathan Dee’s shrewd and unassailable review of the new Updike biography in this month’s Harper’s. More of a review of Updike and his career. Sadly it’s for subscribers only: If there’s a category-buster in Updike’s vast oeuvre, it’s the tetralogy of Rabbit novels, which on its face is both realistic and nonautobiographical. Updike, in […]

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NF + Very Good Paragraphs
2014-01-21 :: dave

From “The State of Nonfiction Today”, the opening chapter in Phillip Lopate’s To Show and To Tell, a piece whose insight has saved me from having to write at least two different essays so far. This graf comes right after a lengthy one summing up George Steiner’s “Ten (Possible) Reasons for the Sadness of Thought”: […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2013-11-29 :: dave

From Lauren Collins’s piece on chilis in last month’s New Yorker food issue, which piece I wasn’t going to read because I’m not historically interested in capsaicin, but it’s been writing like this that’s kept me going. Look at how this graf moves! Chiliheads are mostly American, British, and Australian guys. (There is also a […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2013-10-15 :: dave

From George Packer’s piece on Silicon Valley’s forays into political activism in the my-birthday edition of The New Yorker (I’m behind): It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty tears old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up. Mostly it’s impeccably timed.

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Very Good Paragraphs
2013-09-19 :: dave

From Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son”: All of Harlem, indeed, seems to be infected by waiting. I had never before known it to be so violently still. Racial tensions throughout this country were exacerbated during the early years of the war, partly because the labor market brought together hundreds of thousands of ill-prepared people […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2013-07-22 :: dave

Yet another example of Willa Cather nailing the experience of living in the Plains. From her letters (as quoted in Hermione Lee’s piece on them in the New York Review): “Bigness” is the subject of my story. The West always paralyzes me a little. When I run away from it I remember only the tang […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2013-06-19 :: dave

From Paul Bloom’s essay on the amoral results of empathy in the 20 May 2013 New Yorker: Newtown, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, was inundated with so much charity that it became a burden. More than eight hundred volunteers were recruited to deal with the gifts that were sent to the city—all […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2013-03-21 :: dave

From “Statements and Poems” in the collection of poet William Stafford’s writing on writing, Crossing Unmarked Snow Each [essay] is a miracle that has been invited to happen. But these words, after they come, you look at what’s there. Why these? Why not some calculated careful contenders? Because these chosen ones must survive as they […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2013-03-14 :: dave

From Sam Anderson’s email profile of Anne Carson in the Times: I was e-mailing with Carson on the occasion of the publication of her new book, “Red Doc >” (that angle-bracket is, yes, a part of the title: “Red Doc >” was the default name Carson’s word-processing program gave to the file, and she stuck […]

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Very Good Paragraphs
2013-02-09 :: dave

From this piece in the Guardian on the joys of anthropological writing, written by Will Self, who is becoming every time I read or read about him my total literary crush. I probably reread Lopez’s book about every couple of years. Arctic Dreams is a more or less perfect example of a tendency in my […]

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