Longreads Member Exclusive: Contest of Words, by Ben Lerner


This week’s Longreads Member pick is “Contest of Words,” Ben Lerner‘s October 2012 essay from Harper’s Magazine. Lerner is author of the award-winning 2011 novel Leaving the Atocha Station and three books of poetry: The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw and Mean Free Path.

The story comes recommended by Matt O’Rourke, a longtime Longreads community member and creative director for Wieden and Kennedy in Portland (he also runs the Twitter account @fuckyesreading). Matt writes:

Ben Lerner has such an easy way with words that you almost lose sight of the fact that the guy is clearly a genius. He takes incredibly complex observations, and delivers them in a way that makes you feel like he’s hardly working at it at all.

‘Contest of Words,’ which I discovered in Harper’s last year, is about Lerner’s experience with language as a member of his high school debate team. It’s a piece of writing I re-read every few weeks, as a reminder that the smartest person in the room is only relevant if they can get everyone else to listen. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I have.

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