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A bi-weekly column from a promiscuous reader.
To Be a Ghost Life in the shadows can be challenging, but not all ghostwriters struggle for credit.
Leave James Joyce Alone! James Joyce wasn't perfect, but you don't have to run his entire family through the wringer.
Psyched Out Are problems of love all in the mind?
Murder Charges Men are violent beasts! Women are abused innocents! Right?
Walk Like a Man When it comes to gender expression, men don't have a lot of wiggle room.
The Posthumous Star Why do some artists find fame after death, and others fade away? A savvy family helps.
Book Report I went to see the carnage at the Public Library Association's annual conference, but the public librarians let me down.
What Makes You Happy? Marion Milner provides a model for discovering what one really likes. It's a seven-year path, but a path nevertheless.
Sick and Tired I want to go out and see the entire world. Can I ever stop looking back over my shoulder?
The Baby Market International adoptions can be ugly or even illegal. But when it comes to babies, some families don't care.
Are You There, God? Did the Virgin Mary appear, or was it just a lantern? When it comes to religious relics, the truth might not matter.
Must Love Kids What we talk about when we talk about a woman's success as a woman.
Don't Hate the Player In life, Cosima Wagner had few allies. In death, she just has me.
Personality on the Page Sweeping histories of peoples across time and place often include too much of one person: the historian.
Made to Disorder From hysteria to multiple personality disorder, mental afflictions often spread like wildfire.
Taking up a Collection What drives people to collect? That's hard to say — even for the author of Flea-Market America.
The Ugly Truth Pursing beauty is risky, but that doesn't stop girls from trying. Or writers from pushing.
The Economy, Stupid Want to change the world, or maybe just your workplace? Be prepared to explain the financials.
Old Boys Club Women have been left out of art for centuries. Do we rewrite art history or forge a new art future?
What's in a Word? Feminism is not dead, says Sylvia Walby. Perhaps not the concept, but the word...?
On the Road Again Travel is supposed to be a transformative agent, but sometimes you go someplace new, see some different things, and come home the same person. And that's OK.
The Sopranos We can identify four types of opera fanatics. A more difficult question: Why opera?
Take My Mistress We scorn the other woman for breaking up marriages. But who decided that marriage is the only way to love?
I Have My Reasons The world may not have ended May 21, but that doesn't mean magical beliefs don't have a place in our lives.
The Female Body The Killing may be a new hit show, but the dead girl at its center is a decades-old trope.
A Sea of Words Take the explosion of MFA programs, throw in a bunch of self-publishing, and what do you have? A ton of lousy books to slog through (and too few adverbs!).
Life Stories The desire to understand the lives of philosophers as distinct from their philosophies is all the rage. I blame our modern obsession with happiness.
Women in Art The Post-Feminist Anonymous Woman Reclamation Act is in full force, and no group is as ripe for the reclaiming as all those faces staring out from the canvas.
Reading Mumbai in Berlin Cities can be difficult to grasp. I want to understand Berlin better; reading Mumbai Fables offers surprising help.
Where There's a Will... Two things contribute to success: the amount of control you have, and the amount of control you think you have.
Art Handlers We often debate who should own a piece of art. We rarely consider the human stories behind it.
Daily Bread Life Is Meals reminds us that one day follows another. And each is filled with food.
I've Got a Secret How do we decide what to share and what to keep private?
Teenage Confusion Teenagers hate being teenagers, but adults tell them it's the best time of one's life. Such a stark perception difference is dangerous.
Alternative Education From the Bauhaus to the MFA workshop, artists can learn in different ways. But the creator of the Ballet Russes provided one-of-a-kind training.
The Freedom World I don't have a problem with Freedom — I didn't even read it. My beef is with the Must-Read Book.
The Home Front I agree with the fundamental beliefs behind a book like Radical Homemakers. But what if I don't own a farm, or a garden, or even a balcony?
Lady Trouble If you want to know why so many women became killers in 1930s Chicago, you need to look past the roaring jazz and pretty outfits.
Celebrities Today! Elizabeth I was the world's first celebrity. Some YouTube tween is its latest.
The Culture of Sex You can only get so clinical about sex. Some of it is just way too dark and messy.
Old Girls' Club Love is universal, no matter who it's between. So why do bookstores still have a ''Gay/Lesbian'' section?
The Wise Men (and Women!) Who knew a book titled Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience would bring out my ugliest beliefs in mankind?
Plotting Along There are plenty of gaps in women's experiences for fiction to fill. So why be lazy with storylines?
Always Searching I am drawn to books with ''Meaning in Life'' somewhere in the title. Especially on those really hard Sunday mornings.
National Treasures When it comes to cultural objects, who owns what? It's a question as old as cultural objects themselves...
Beauty and the Beast Not everyone is drop-dead gorgeous, but everyone is intent on pointing that out.
Call Me Crazy... Everybody wants a scientific explanation for the workings of the mind. That just doesn't feel right.
Memory Lapse There are tons of memoirs. But how many people can successfully be artist, muse, and model?
In English, Please? Edith Grossman is furious over translation's poor lot in life. But let's face facts, Edith...
City Views Everyone wants to recreate Bohemian New York. But they want the process to be smooth and agreeable, which misses the whole point.
In Defense of Elizabeth Gilbert Everybody trashes Elizabeth Gilbert. Me, I kind of like the idea of someone trying to figure out a way to be.
The Foreign Service Want to hear the nation's crickets all at once? Release Best European Fiction 2010 here.
Filet of Soul 2009 was the year we realized money won't buy happiness. Will 2010 be the year we learn what can?
Half and Half There's a battle between the brain's hemispheres. The winner is always changing, but the left is up right now.
Monster Mash We've come to love the sea and be fascinated by outer space, but we just can't stop fearing monsters.
Being There It's incredibly difficult to deal simultaneously with work we admire and the atrocities of the people behind it. Polanski and his films, Heidegger and his politics, Berlin and its past...
Timing Is Everything With manufacturing slipping away, America needs something to export to the rest of the world. How's about our conception of time?
Code Blue Death panels. Public options. Obesity. Organic. Why is no one talking about mental health care reform?
Maugham's the Word? Somerset Maugham died in 1965. So why is he getting the TMZ treatment today?
My Kind of Book Unlike almost every other American city, Chicago has no single defining storyline. So how do you write a history of it?
Book 'Em Is there any more relatable criminal than the rare book thief?
Digital Drama Can we move beyond the doom and gloom of new technology, please?
Central Booking Anyone can be a writer in the digital age, but how many people actually want to write?
Town Crier Why is everyone so romantic about the American Small Town? Because nobody really knows what one is.
Good Times We've long believed that to be kind was to be weak. Yet the value has its advantages...
Beating Hearts The problem with love is that it's often an endpoint, and not a beginning. Enter A Vindication of Love.
Medical Drama With violence back in the abortion debate, we reconsider the definitive history of the pro-life movement.
The Wages of Sin The old way at looking at sin was to avoid it at all costs. Now? Embracing sin is its own form of spiritual evolution.
Pill Poppers What triggers depression? One camp blames the culture, the other, the depressed themselves.
Infinite Wisdom We think of math as fairly straightforward, but its history is tangled with mysticism and religion.
Birth Rights Women can't fix everything, but empowering them sure helps. There is data on this.
Middle Ground Need to feel some 'at-home-ness in the universe'? Scientists in the 19th century did, too.
Body Snatchers I'd love it if people felt better about their looks, but I'm not sold on the whole body-fluids-as-perfume thing.
Mind Games College offers excellent exposure to philosophy. A Beginner's Guide to Philosophy does not.
Trog Want Book!!! Human evolution is amazing, but maybe we need a bit more to handle planes, subways, and modern life in general.
Well, Are You Happy Now? Simple directions work for IKEA furniture and onion-soup dips. Happiness (thankfully) is a bit more complex.
Cult Classic It's easy to sensationalize what happened at Jonestown. The hard part is figuring out how it happened.
Quitting Time Addiction memoirs are like opinions on how to cure addiction: Everybody's got one.
Home Alone Who'd guess that a homemaking guide from 2008 would have a narrower world view than one from 1861?
Help Wanted I really want self-help books to work, but there are only so many affirmations I can write on my mirror.
Let's Talk About Sex We have come to think of gender as a spectrum. Is it time to do the same for sex?
Bewitched Witch hunts are grouped with other mass killings, but it was the only widespread execution of an entire gender.
Frankfurter Were publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair worried about the industry? I don't know — they seemed more concerned with booze and sex.
Porn Maze Porn has many critics. Their days, however, are numbered.
God's Words Why does everyone who's had a spiritual experience feel the need to write about it?
Bedtime Story Nobody knows why we sleep; it's unsurprising, then, that Insomniac can't say why we don't.
Marrying Type The American wedding is a superficial pageant, but so are the books that attempt to expose it.
Only the Lonely Anti-loneliness advice may be treacly, but it beats the circle of hell that is feeling all alone in the world.
Safety First What we can learn from 1940s sex-ed classes.
The Bio Sphere We're in a period of biography overkill, with the James family its latest victims.
Pillow Talk Who ever thought sex memoirs could be so boring?
War Stories For those who've lived in war zones — from Afghanistan to Ireland — memoir can be a powerful exorcism.
Women's Studies There are how-to guides, and then there are how-to guides for women. Why the distinction?
Fully Booked The brain did not evolve to develop a written language. But learning to read will not change you; it's what and how you read that will.
Man Overboard In blaming TV, booze, and pornography, books like the The Broken American Male miss the mark.
Veg Out It's fine that vegans don't want to eat meat. But do their cookbook recipes have to taste so bad?
The Forest and the Trees Americans are ambivalent about nature, but that doesn't meant all nature writing has to be depressing.
The Depression Book Blues Against Happiness, Eric Wilson's defense of melancholia, is just...sad.
How to Shop Women need to be told what to wear. At least that's what the glut of fashion guides suggests.
The Second Sex, the Second Time The Second Sex? You know, that thing you were supposed to read in your Women’s Studies class? Considering de Beauvoir in a self-help age.
Atheism Is the New Black Have books on atheism already jumped the shark? A new response by theologian John F. Haught suggests both sides have it all wrong.