The Iconic Typewriter

If you have ever watched Madam Secretary on CBS and stayed tuned through the closing credits to the very end, you may have noticed the logo for the show’s production company. It appears for about a second and shows the name of the company, Barbara Hall Productions, in typescript within a pen and ink drawing […]

Willa Cather

I confess — I never liked Nebraska. When I moved from Chicago to Denver I drove several times on Interstate 80 which cuts through the flat state like a silver knife. Nebraska’s endless miles of emptiness, the monotony broken up now and then with cows, a lonely-looking farm house, rows of corn, made this city […]

Salinger at Princeton – Part 2

For the most dedicated Salingerites, much of the material in the collection is familiar, available in old copies of literary magazines from the 40’s – never republished, but nonetheless out there. However, the real jewels of the collection are the typewritten manuscripts for several unpublished works, including the legendary ‘The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls.’ […]

Mr. Snodgrass and the Maid of Orléans

Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass was one alias of a man who used many names (like W. Epaminondas Adrastus Blab, for example). Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835, the American writer is best known as Mark Twain—the nom de plume attributed to his renowned novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Yet […]

Top 10 Reasons to Visit the American Writers Museum Today

The American Writers Museum was recently voted the top attraction in the state of Illinois by a USA Today 10Best online poll, as well as one of Fodor’s 10 Best New Museums. In honor of that achievement, in no particular order here are the top ten reasons (plus one bonus reason) to visit the American […]

Ways the West Was Won

If there is one unique genre the United States has contributed to world literature, it is the Western. The expansion of the country across the frontier to the Pacific was a defining feature of American history and politics until the end of the 19th Century, and this theme continues to be addressed in American literature […]

Rereading the Work of Shirley Jackson

I have a lot of literary kindred spirits, most of them women. They are authors who are not necessarily similar to me in writing style or subject matter, but for whom I feel a kind of emotional connection. These are women writers whom I wish I could have over for coffee, to pick their brains, […]

The Relevant Novel

So-called Great American Novels examine the American identity, refusing to merely entertain. Yet notably few top bestsellers’ lists. They are a small sliver of an already pressed industry fighting with TV, the Internet, movies, and our smartphones for attention and relevancy. How can the next great novel be relevant in modern America when it’s competing […]

Against the Odds: Three American Novels of Survival

As I was cleaning out my bookshelves recently, I happened to find three books that I had not read in years. They are: The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George and Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. All three novels feature characters younger than the age […]


Totality is rare these days. A constantly on-the-go society has little time for completion. Even our thoughts and interactions are limited to 140 characters, not quite enough for a thought to fully develop. Hashtags. Text lingo. Sentence fragments. The closest thing approaching totality I’ve done recently is binge-watch an entire season of Silicon Valley in […]