Good Letters

Unstaged Irish


My father was dead and I did not miss him. —Joe Queenan When I say I’m writing a book about my Irish American family (the reason I’ve transitioned to occasional guest posts for Good Letters), I receive reading suggestions. First on the list is usually Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, which, alas, I found unreadable. “Why?”…

Spirits in a Material World, Part 2


Continued from yesterday. The stories that make up the New York Times’ One in 8 Million are not video vignettes, like Lynch’s Interview Project, but mini slide shows featuring sharp, black and white photos reminiscent of famous photos of dead presidents in crisis. For example, Freda Degannes—the “Walking Miracle”—who suffers from a rare blood disease…

Spirits in a Material World, Part 1


With this post, we welcome David Griffith to the Good Letters blogging team. Interviewing, in the journalistic sense—the art of extracting personal statements for publication…. The major interview is a carefully constructed transmitting device, a medium, a mirror. —Edward Price Bell, Major Interviewing: Its Principles and Functions, 1927 Lately I’ve been meditating on how incomplete…

Accept the Mystery


There’s an envelope full of cash on Larry Gopnik’s desk. He didn’t put it there. But he can guess who did. A student in Larry’s physics class has been begging him for a good grade. This money looks like a bribe. Nevertheless, when Larry goes seeking a confession, he’s given a confounding answer…. “Accept the…

Giving Thanks


Dear Readers of Good Letters: As it is Thanksgiving Day, I thought I might take this opportunity to pop out from behind the curtain and share a few brief words with you, including a bit of news and a word of thanks. We’re now a year and a half into this literary experiment—less a blog…

Perpetual Adoration


The other day I got an email from a high-school boyfriend, which drove me headlong into remembrance of a time in my life I’ve tried to forget. My husband is the only person I know who enjoyed high school, so I don’t harbor any delusions that my unhappiness made me unique among teenagers. In fact,…

Fire in My Bones


The irony is lost on no one—except, of course, for Elder Beck himself. He’s in full fire-and-brimstone mode, locked into a trance-like cadence and sounding a bit like a man possessed, even as he busies himself decrying the demonic nature of rock and roll. It’s the devil’s music; it’s leading the young people astray; it’s…

The Desert City


Until I get to the middle of the process—it’s horrific. It’s like I don’t know what I’m doing but I know how to do it, and it’s very strange. —Belgian painter Luc Tuymans, on the artistic process As I’ve noted before, I often struggle with writing, as I labor with the new life I’ve undertaken…

Caught in the Light


“Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it.” —Simone Weil For most of my adult life, I’ve been resistant to allegiance—to people, to places. The latter may seem strange, since I’ve lived in northern New England on and off since 1972. In many ways, Maine’s iron…

Never Forget


I was twenty-three and living three blocks from the dome of the U.S. Capitol—or, as my dad soon took to calling it, “the Bull’s Eye of the Western world” —on September 11, 2001. When the plane hit the second tower, I watched the impact on a scratchy analog TV from my desk at my first…

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For the humanists of the Renaissance, literature mattered because it was concrete and experiential—it grounded ideas in people’s lives. Their name for this kind of writing was bonae litterae, a phrase we’ve borrowed as the title for our blog. Every weekday, one of the gifted writers on our blogging team will offer a personal essay that makes a fresh connection between the world of faith and the world of daily life, spanning the gap between theology and experience and giving language a human shape.

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