The Slow Burn: an Introduction

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Friendship and reading take time, but I tend to be pushy with both. I'm a voracious, perhaps violent reader of novels, and a voracious (hopefully not violent) cultivator of new friendships; I blaze through books in single sittings, and similarly, crave those day-into-night, coffee-into-beer conversations where you learn everything about a person in one heady rush. This isn't necessarily a good thing. Both of these impulses are surely born out of a brutish impatience to reach some certain knowledge of what will happen, to get to the end. It's hard to force myself to slow down and relish the meandering delights of getting to know a person or a novel.

And I suspect that this is true of many of us whose work it is to rapidly generate readings and writings. Summer, then, seems the ideal time to take up that challenge. Given this pause from the academic schedule, can we stretch this time out? Can we luxuriate in the unique pleasures of leisurely writing, of savoring a text, of conversing more deeply - of willfully loitering in the very things that we rush through during the school year?

So, for the next few months, we at Contemporaries will attempt to give ourselves - at least to some degree - the liberty of taking that time and extending those pleasures. The Slow Burn is an experiment in what I've been thinking of as "slow-form criticism": readings that happen on the back burner while your mind is mostly elsewhere, that, in their extended simmering, develop a different richness and depth over time from a quick-fired review. In lieu of stand-alone articles, we will embark on a summer-long reading project - or, as we've been thinking of it, a good old-fashioned book club - by correspondence. The correspondents are a novelist, Katherine Hill, and three academics, Merve Emre, Jill Richards, and myself. Over the course of the summer, we will discuss Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels, translated by Ann Goldstein: My Brilliant Friend (2012), The Story of a New Name (2013), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2014), and this year’s The Story of the Lost Child (2015).

This experiment in slow reading will be both long-term and collaborative, elements that are as essential to our project as they are to Ferrante's novel cycle. Just as Ferrante's novels examine two characters intertwined in a lifelong dialogue (about each other, themselves, and the world they live in), so too will our readings of them emerge out of conversations over time, as we write for and to each other. And along the way - as Ferrante's characters Lila and Lenù do - we will contemplate what it means to dwell in books, with the stories of our lives and others, both alone and together.

IN THIS SERIES:

My Brilliant Friend: Jill, June 22

My Brilliant Friend: Katherine, June 23

My Brilliant Friend: Merve, June 25

My Brilliant Friend: Sarah, June 26

My Brilliant Friend: Katherine, July 1

My Brilliant Friend: Merve, July 6

My Brilliant Friend: Sarah, July 11

The Story of a New Name: Jill, July 17

The Story of a New Name: Merve, July 20

The Story of a New Name: Merve, July 30

The Story of a New Name: Katherine, July 31

The Story of a New Name: Sara Marcus, August 6

The Story of a New Name: Sarah, August 9

The Story of a New Name: Marissa Brostoff, August 10

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Katherine, August 20

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Merve, August 21

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Lili Loofbourow, August 26

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Jill, August 27

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Cecily Swanson, August 28

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Amy Schiller, August 30

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Sarah, September 1

The Story of the Lost Child: Merve, September 16

The Story of the Lost Child: Katherine, September 18

The Story of the Lost Child: Jill, September 21

The Story of the Lost Child: Sarah, September 25