Every week at work, a bunch of us spend one lunch discussing a preselected piece of writing. We’ve read essays, short stories, poetry and just about anything that might provide an hour of heady conversation. This previous week we read a series of interconnected pieces that had it all: a there-in-the-moment experience, a nasty literary takedown, a cerebral yet heartfelt rejoinder, and a welter of intellectual allusions—many of which you don’t really have to know to be engaged in the piece—all making for a polemical slugfest in which it’s hard for the reader not to take sides.
Reading three interconnected pieces was unprecedented for our little klatch, and so maybe I’ve been inspired to do something unprecedented for Vocabulary Wednesday: choose something that was written before some of you were even in grade school. But the question—what is the role of the novel and the novelists—resonates every much today as it did sixteen years ago and as it is sure to do years from now.