When Emily Dickinson found her first real book as a child, she experienced a moment of pure joyful recognition. “This, then, is a book!” she exclaimed. “And there are more of them!” the atlantic he would continue to publish Dickinson’s poems; Perhaps more importantly, he introduced her to a lifelong mentor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson. After Dickinson read his article “Letter to a Young Fellow” in the April 1862 issue of the atlantic, he wrote to her, beginning a decades-long correspondence. Higginson would eventually help put together the first collection of his poetry. Looking back, I am grateful for that early and euphoric meeting of readers and reading material. This, then, is a book!
Many of us have had that moment, that realization of a world that exists, silently, almost secretly, within a collection of pages. Read about books can have a similar revealing effect. To read an essay on a writer’s work is to enter into an intimate tripartite relationship between critic, author, and reader. It is a space of communion in which the book in hand becomes a shared object worthy of sustained and profound attention.
That quality of literature, and the criticism that helps make sense of it, is a big part of why we’re excited to expand book coverage on the atlantic. Since its founding in 1857, this magazine “of literature, art, and politics” has been home to excellent writing on the seminal books and literary debates of the day. He has championed generations of essayists, novelists, and poets (although, in a gross oversight, he did not publish Dickinson until after his death). And it has published stories by James Baldwin, Kurt Vonnegut, Louise Erdrich, Alice Munro, and Lauren Groff, to name just a few. Building on this strong foundation, we’ll bring you more than we always have, as well as some new offerings. Expect more book reviews and essays, plus provocative arguments, reported stories, profiles, original fiction and poetry, and of course, recommendations for all your reading needs.
Because right now? At first glance, books may not seem very apt to keep up with the many challenges of our time. But paradoxically, we might find ourselves turning more and more to books. because They demand a lot of our attention. Literature has the unique quality of slowing us down even as it broadens our horizons. That makes it a particularly fantastic vessel for our age of distraction. Books are also a vehicle for the free expression of ideas, a value that this institution shares and that is under cultural and political siege. One of the roles of the atlanticAs our managing editor Cullen Murphy once said, telling “the big untold story behind the smaller ones that are told” is a must. Books also fulfill this role.
The current literary landscape is full of such enterprises. Novelists are creatively grappling with the climate crisis, alleged predatory behavior, the future of work. The poets are addressing crucial questions of identity. Anthropologists are rethinking our assumptions about human social history, in a big way. Earlier texts too, when reviewed, can offer historical context that resonates poignantly decades later. Reading can show us, again, the forces that shape our institutions, our beliefs, and our sense of self. It can expand the way we see the world around us. In the atlanticour goal has been, and will be, to introduce readers to such books, old and new, and to engage with the ideas in them in a critical and inquiring way.
Reading can also, as Dickinson discovered, incite almost inordinate forms of joy. Many of my favorite books (and I’ll bet many of yours) don’t have a utilitarian use: instead, they might feature invented languages that lay bare the audacity of the writer’s mind, or feature sui generis characters that seem cut off. of whole cloth, and are simply magical in their charm or absurdity. They might stop us in our tracks to admire the clarity of a single sentence. And they remind us, in ways both big and small, of what makes us human. At a time when books are under threat across the country, reading and writing about literature, and in the process, perhaps better understanding ourselves and others, becomes increasingly important. I hope you will join us in that effort.