When I was a teenager, my mother was buying and selling antiques. She reported the income as coming from both herself and my dad because, having worked for the feds and before that for a college, he did not have many years in the Social Security system. In other words, he qualified for a federal [...]



I could pretend to love The Left Hand of Darkness, but I never did. I could acknowledge that I do love many other novels such as Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed, Vonda McIntyre's Dream Snake, and Molly Gloss's The Dazzle of Day. But my favorite science fiction novel is Rite of Passage by Alexei [...]


A student wrote to me the other day to thank me for assigning Mountains Beyond Mountains when she was  junior in my class. The young woman is in her third year of medical school and credits Tracy Kidder's true story of Dr. Paul Farmer for inspiring her ambition. It was not the only nonfiction I [...]


What to do and how to live. 1. SMILING. As a very young girl I read in one of my mother's magazines—Redbook?—that smiling was the secret to forming friendships. I was a lonely child, but I learned that lesson that most girls are taught from a magazine. Too many girl and women have been told [...]


I began writing fiction in 1990 when I was hired to teach English at Seaside High School. I believed myself wholly unqualified to teach English (and others have agreed), but I had taught art in an elite prep school for three years, picked up a Social Studies endorsement through exam, and substituted in the Seaside [...]


Last fall, I read the memoir Hillbilly Elegy and I struggled with its view of poverty. The man suffered, but suffering does not necessarily make us wise. I both recognized that he was reporting his personal experience, and felt concerned that his view of his own life was limited by his selfish political point of view. This [...]