Archive | February, 2012


Why Bother With the Past?

I’ve just reread the darkly splendid Sacred Hunger so as to fully enjoy its recently published sequel The Quality of Mercy. Over the years, I’ve read five of Barry Unsworth’s historical novels, each of which cleave mind and sense so seamlessly that it’s possible to forget that they are ever at odds. In this lecture […]


A Free Artist

As a doctor, Chekhov sometimes had the power not only to diagnose illness but also to cure it. As a creative writer and co-inventor of the 20th century he had to content himself with the diagnosis alone, perhaps not even that. In a letter to Aleksey Suvorin, Chekhov responds to his criticism of a recently […]


More Chekhov on Writing

In Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free, biographer V.S. Pritchett writes that his subject was careful to “unself” himself in his stories. Pritchett quotes Chekhov directly as telling publisher Aleksey Suvorin that a writer “must speak and think in [the characters’] tone and must feel as a fellow-spirit, otherwise the image will become blurred.” In an […]


The Arab Spring Issue

What role has Lebanon played in the Arab uprisings? Why did revolution break out in Tunisia? Libya? For some answers, browse the the Arab Spring-themed issue of MainGate and read my latest work, including a feature on feminism in Lebanon, a profile of a Tunisian doctor who’s taken the pulse of the revolution and a […]


Art Imitates Life

Even cut free from its roots, Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard carries with it, as freight, the tragedy overhanging its author’s life. Chekhov’s tuberculosis progressed with such exquisite slowness that it resembles a metaphor of itself, a dim, gloomy background that – first intermittently, then increasingly – intruded onto Chekhov’s determinedly cheerful foreground. By the time of […]


1904: Peter Pan

Image: The original poster from the debut 1904 production of Peter Pan at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London. Click on the image to read a review of the production originally published in The Manchester Guardian on 28 December 1904.


Friday Fun: Chekhov’s Gun

In 2010, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Chekhov’s birth, The Guardian recalled his “brilliance in brief,” not only his own accomplishments but the advice he offered to other writers, the dictates he handed down: The most famous of these is commonly known as Chekhov’s Gun, which he defined in a letter to […]


Define: Great, Bibliomania and Shuhada

That’s David Orr introducing the lists contained within The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books. Probably a book I’m more likely to page through in a bookstore than buy, but I enjoyed the taste test from Brainpickings and it’s not like I lack for reasons to ponder the meaning of great when it comes […]