A. N. Devers' Top 5 Bathtub Longreads of 2011

A. N. Devers‘ work has appeared online in Lapham’s Quarterly, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and in other publications.  Her most recent essay, about poet Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House in Carmel, California, is in the Winter 2011 issue of Tin House. She is the founder and editor of Writers’ Houses, a website dedicated to literary pilgrimage.

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Maghag (n.): 1. A compulsive reader and hoarder of periodicals and magazines to a magnitude that endangers the well-being of the hag’s housekeeping ability, family relationships, and punctuality. Identified by a pruney skin that develops from spending an inordinate amount of time in the bathtub 2. Writer and procrastinator known as A. N. Devers.

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1. I always go for Scientology exposes. I’m cheap that way. “The Apostate” by Lawrence Wright for The New Yorker, with its heroic fact-checking effort, is so Xenu-shattering that it inspired a rebuttal from the Church of Scientology in the form of a poor-executed satire of The New Yorker.

2. My fandom of Paul Collins goes back a ways. His work exposes my periodical-weeding inability. If you came over to my apartment and demanded some Paul Collins, I’d be able to run to dusty stacks and the file cabinet and deliver a dozen essays of awesome. So I’m not surprised that his piece about the disappearance of child-writer Barbara Follett in the Lapham’s Quarterly Celebrity issue is perfectly constructed story of intrigue and wonderment, mystery and disturbia.

3. Anything I can say about Hungarian industrial designer and ceramicist Eva Zeisel’s Prison Memoir (A Public Space, issue 14) of being arrested in Stalinist Russia doesn’t do her charm and intellect justice. Just listen to this voice: “He put a number in front of my chest and I thought, This will make me look like those pictures of criminals one sees, Wanted for Murder. Then they took me to be fingerprinted, one finger rolled in the ink after the other, and again I thought, It’s like the movies. Again, we walked through many courtyards and the funny thing was that I did not see anybody. It was all empty. Finally, I was in my cell, and I still did not know what it was all about.”

4. Once upon a time, I was a professional archaeologist. Freelance survey and excavation work paid some of my bills my last year of college and my first couple of years out of school. I was waitlisted for a PhD to study caves with a famous spelunking archaeologist at Washington University and had determined if I didn’t get in I’d go a different route. By then I realized that archaeology and literature have more in common than people realize—and I love them for the same reasons. They are both, I believe, about our need to seek and excavate truth. But archaeologists, like many breeds of scientist, aren’t natural storytellers, and I am always glad when a writer happens upon archaeology and finds a way to explore the people and projects of a fascinating field. John Jeremiah Sullivan does this in his wonderful Paris Review essay, “Unnamed Caves” (purchase req.), and it’s now in his excellent collection, Pulphead. Go spelunking with him. Here’s a bonus: another favorite writer of mine, Elif Batuman, dug into Turkish archaeology in her essay, The Sanctuary” for The New Yorker (sub. required). She visits the world’s oldest temple and deftly unravels its history and mythology.

5. I would be lying by omission if I didn’t admit to reading a ton of celebrity dish in the tub. I think my favorite this year was “Lowe, Actually,” the excerpt in Vanity Fair of Rob Lowe’s memoir. I don’t really have a thing for Rob Lowe. Never have. (For instance, I loved West Wing but for the overuse of pancake makeup on Lowe’s face.) But I spent 6th grade idolizing S. E. Hinton for The Outsiders. And I was hooked again when I finally got to see the movie. So, yes, Rob Lowe had me at his mention of Ponyboy. Stay gold, y’all. 

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