My work

RECENT HIGHLIGHTS

Hello Goodbye“: The author of a best-selling abstinence manifesto is reconsidering the lessons he taught to millions.  (Slate, August 2016)

Memo to Parents: Back Off, and Children Learn More“: Book review, “The Gardener and the Carpenter” (New York Times Book Review, August 2016)

Tiffany Trump’s Sad, Vague Tribute to her Distant Father” (Slate, July 2016)

I Talked to the Kid Whose Mom Used Craigslist to Find Him a Feminism Tutor, and It Got Weird” (Slate, April 2016)

Other selected pieces:

RELIGION

How Did Trump’s Speech to Evangelicals Go on Tuesday? Not Great” (Slate, June 2016)

America Needs More Imams” (Slate, December 2015)
“What the United States needs to combat Muslim extremism is more high-stature Muslim leaders, not fewer.”

Why Hold a Child Hostage to My Doubts?” (November 2015)
“Although I was raised evangelical, somehow the gruel-thin texture of my adult faith has never troubled me. Or at least not until this summer, when my infant daughter careened into my life—including my spiritual life, such as it is.”

The Scholarly Study of Scientology” (JSTOR Daily, November 2014)
“There are two big reasons for the dearth of academic interest in Scientology. First, it has been an unusually secretive movement from its inception. … And second, ‘it has been probably the most litigious religious movement in American history.'”

Evangelical college’s contraception lawsuit proves divisive” (Al Jazeera America, October 2014)

How a Megachurch Melts Down” (TheAtlantic.com, November 2014)
“Mars Hill’s demise can be read as an object lesson in the dangers of building a church—or any brand—on a single magnetic leader.”

Gay Sex, Hookups, and Porn: What Would Jesus Do?” (Al Jazeera America, April 2014)
“NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Prominent evangelical Christian leaders met here this week to discuss a topic that’s typically taboo in Sunday church: sexuality.”

Can the evangelical church embrace gay couples?” (the Boston Globe, January 2014)
“If there is going to be change in the orthodox Protestant approach to gay people, this is what the beginning of that transformation will look like.”

How Catholic Fashion Got That Way“: Q&A with Sally Dwyer-McNulty, the author of a book on the history of Catholic clothing in America (The Boston Globe, May 2014)

Q&A with Bart Ehrman, author of “How Jesus Became God” (The Boston Globe, April 2014)

Can Megachurches Deal With Mega Money in a Christian Way?” (TheAtlantic.com, March 2014)
“Mars Hill [Church] paid at least $210,000 to a California consulting company to boost [Mark Driscoll’s book] Real Marriage onto best-seller lists. … Where is the line between a pastor promoting his own career and promoting the ministry of his church?”

The Strange Saga of ‘Jesus Calling,’ the Evangelical Best-Seller You’ve Never Heard Of” (The Daily Beast, February 2014)

The Evangelical Celebrity Machine” (Slate, December 2013)
“For a powerful leader, [Mark Driscoll] is unusually attuned to his critics, and for a man who promotes the virtues of strength, he is quick to emphasize his victimhood.”

Essay: “On Finding, and Losing, a Church” (Perspectives journal, May/June 2013)
“I don’t believe in signs or that God is interested in arranging a church’s musical schedule just to pluck my heart strings. It was a coincidence, just like it was a coincidence that I happened across the newspaper article about Daniel and the homeless men on the church steps.”

Losing Fashion, Finding God” (The Cut, New York magazine, June 2013)
“As a slice of Christian culture’s much-discussed ‘modesty movement,’ [former models] represent modesty at its sexiest and most successful.”

Re-evangelizing New England” (Slate, November 2012)

Conflicted Generation: Millennials and the war on terror” (US Catholic magazine, cover story, September 2012)

A Shunning in Seattle” (Slate, February 2012)
“Is Mars Hill’s PR drama a lesson in how even the best institutions will have disgruntled critics, or a case of an increasingly powerful organization abusing its members’ trust?”

Come, All Ye Faithful: America’s first megachurch and its celebrity pastor” (The Daily, October 2011)
“The term [megachurch] coalesced into its present definition in the early 1990s, but one of the first American churches to fit the contemporary definition sprouted up more than 125 years earlier in Brooklyn, N.Y.”

CULTURE

Against YA” (Slate, June 2014)
Related: My appearances on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” and on NHPR’s “Word of Mouth”

These Happy Golden Years“: Book review, “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” (Slate Book Review, November 2014)

Is Marijuana Good for Public Health?” (JSTOR Daily, October 2014)
“A growing body of research suggests that marijuana may replace alcohol or hard drugs in many people’s lives. Other recent studies suggest that looser restrictions on weed decrease traffic fatalities and even the suicide rate.”

Baby’s First Photo: the Unstoppable Rise of the Ultrasound Souvenir Industry” (BuzzFeed Ideas, September 2014)
“How did ultrasound images become so ubiquitous?”

Meet the People Who Still Write Letters to the Editor” (the Awl, September 2013)
“But not all writers of peculiarly enthusiastic letters to the editor are fake. I know because I spoke with four of them.”

Modern Wit” (the Poetry Foundation, October 2014)
“Even at a distance of four centuries, Laetitia Pilkington is recognizable as a type that still confounds many people today: an ambitious and righteously angry woman who refused to lose her sense of humor.”

Self Made” (Poetry Foundation, May 2014)
“[Florence Ripley Mastin] called herself a poet, and then she made herself one. And her story illustrates an important but easily overlooked chapter in the story of poetry in the 20th century.”

“‘My Life Is a Waking Nightmare’: Why do parents make parenting sound so god-awful?” (Slate, February 2014)
“My Facebook feed is an endless stream of blog posts and status updates depicting the messy, tedious, nightmarishly life-destroying aspects of parenting.”

Too Much Happiness“: Essay on Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize win (Slate, October 2013)
“Alice Munro didn’t need the Nobel Prize, but she deserved it, and she won. It’s a straightforwardly happy and uncomplicated ending—the kind she never would have gone for in her stories.”
RELATED: My cross-stitch portrait of Alice Munro (!) featured on Slate and on The Hairpin

Mystery Man“: Profile of little-known but influential 1930s poetry editor Ronald Lane Latimer (the Poetry Foundation, September 2013)
“In his old friend [Wallace] Stevens’s words, Latimer was ‘an extraordinary person who live[d] in an extraordinary world.’ But his extraordinary story has never been told in full.”

Nuptial Matters” (the Poetry Foundation, May 2013)
“How did reading poetry become an essential part of so many American wedding ceremonies—and why is it still so hard to choose a wedding poem of one’s own?”

Q&A with Melissa Mohr, author of a book on the history of bad language: “4,000 Years of Oaths, Curses And Obscenities” (the Boston Globe, May 2013)

To the People” (A conversation with 2013 inaugural poet Richard Blanco, the Poetry Foundation, January 2013)

Lettering the Stage” (A conversation with playwright Sarah Ruhl, the Poetry Foundation, December 2012)

Opening Up”: A conversation with Mary Karr (The Poetry Foundation, September 2012)

Nostalgia Fact-Check: How Does Murphy Brown Hold Up?” (Vulture, New York magazine, May 2012)
“In a moment when TV is overflowing with girls, Murphy Brown is unmistakably a woman.”

Interview with “For Better or For Worse” cartoonist Lynn Johnston (the Grindstone, April 2012)

What Anne Sexton Told Her Therapist” (the Boston Globe, March 2012)
“[Sexton’s] poetry wasn’t the only thing to survive her death: Her therapy did, too.”

A ‘Poetry-Fueled War‘” (A conversation with Faith Barrett, the Poetry Foundation, November 2012)
“There’s a kind of immediacy of impact, that poetry is actually, I suggest, shaping events, not just responding or reflecting on them.”

FEATURE STORIES IN THE BOSTON GLOBE’S IDEAS SECTION:

How many animals are really going extinct?” (the Boston Globe, October 2014)
“Actual documented extinctions are vanishingly rare.”

The great historic house museum debate” (The Boston Globe, August 2014)
“Some preservationists are now making an argument that sounds downright blasphemous to defenders of these charming repositories of local history: There are simply too many house museums, and many of them would be better off closing.”

Gambling: an American love/hate story” (the Boston Globe, July 2014)
“In the country’s earliest years, many forms of gambling were banned and morally condemned—but others were so well established that they helped finance major American institutions, including prominent universities and public works.”

Taking notes? Bring a pen, skip the computer” (the Boston Globe, May 2014)

How the American playground was born in Boston” (the Boston Globe, March 2014)
RELATED: My appearance on NHPR’s “Word of Mouth”

Why scholars can’t resist the uncrackable Voynich manuscript” (the Boston Globe, February 2014)
“The greatest code breakers of the last 100 years have failed to decipher the Voynich manuscript’s ornate script, or even agree on whether it says anything at all. ”

For pregnant women, two sets of rights in one body” (the Boston Globe, February 2014)
“Thanks to a patchwork of state court decisions and laws passed to protect pregnant women, punish abusers, promote public health, and discourage abortions, fetuses have steadily been gaining legal rights in American courts—rights that often conflict with those of the women who carry them.”

Can buildings be too young to save?” (the Boston Globe, December 2013)
“Will City Hall and the Prentice Women’s Hospital someday look as glamorous as old photos of Penn Station look today?”
RELATED: My appearance on WBUR’s “Radio Boston”

Bring Back Home Ec: The case for a revival of the most retro class in school” (Boston Globe, October 2013)
RELATED: My appearances on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Kathleen Dunn Show”
and WBUR’s “Radio Boston”

How ‘Fanny Hill’ stopped the literary censors” (the Boston Globe, June 2013)
“The era of mainstream literary censorship is over in America. And in some ways, we have the eccentric, exuberant—and yes, erotic—’Fanny Hill’ to thank for it.”

Boston’s Marathon Memorial: How much should we save?” (the Boston Globe, May 2013)
“The kind of preservation effort surrounding the memorial for the Boston Marathon bombings is something relatively new: an attempt to save everything associated with a civic tragedy.”
RELATED: My appearance on WGBH’s “Greater Boston

What Baby Names Say About Everything Else” (the Boston Globe, April 2013)
“Picture the moment a pair of new parents gazes into their newborn baby’s face and proclaims her Olivia. That creation of an Olivia—which happened 17,169 times in 2011, and will almost certainly happen a few dozen times today—says something not just about these particular parents and child, but about the time and place they live in, social influence and trends, and even the economy.”

Boardinghouses: Where the city was born” (the Boston Globe, January 2013)
“Cities today—filled with apartments, condos, and tightly packed houses—have all but forgotten their boardinghouse heritage.”

Hidden in Notes, the Secrets of History” (The Boston Globe, November 2012)
“After disregarding them for generations as the side matter to more significant work, academic researchers are increasingly focusing their attention on the bits of writing that appear around, before, and underneath the text of books and other supposedly finished printed products.”

Margaret Fuller, lost Transcendentalist,” (the Boston Globe, February 2012)
“Fuller is in the midst of a revival. … What is being unearthed is a portrait of one of the most powerful intellects of the 19th century.”

OLDER & OTHER

The Joys of a Wood-Burning Stove” (Wall Street Journal, January 2014)
“When the power goes out, we don’t worry about freezing; we just throw another log on the fire.”

A turning point for offshore wind energy?” (Al Jazeera America, November, 2013)
“VolturnUS is a milestone in the long struggle to turn offshore wind into a significant source of energy in the United States. After decades of planning and spending and arguing, are Americans ready to start building?”

Q&A with the author of “Coming Up Short: Working Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty” (the Boston Globe, August 2013)
“To her surprise, hard-won emotional self-management was often viewed with as much pride as diplomas or marriage certificates.”

Mass Hysteria in Upstate New York” (Slate, January 2012)
“Victims of mass hysteria are so often female that gender imbalance is one clue doctors use to differentiate hysteria from poisoning.”

The Fading of Fall: Why the bright red leaves of New England are in danger” (Slate, October 2011)

Members of Congress Whom I Would Have Preferred to Have Tweeted Photos of the Nouns in Their Last Names,” (The Awl, June 2011)

 

TheDC Review: Rick Sanchez’s ‘Conventional Idiocy’ Is Idiotic” (The Daily Caller, October 2010)
“’Conventional Idiocy’ is a pile of gibberish so unreadable that we must consider the possibility that Rick Sanchez wrote it himself.”

Read My Furry Lip: Is America ready for a mustachioed commander in chief?” (The Wall Street Journal, October 2010)
“The United States has not had a president with facial hair since a clean-shaven Woodrow Wilson won the election of 1912 and replaced the mustachioed William Howard Taft.”

Church Review: Redeemer Presbyterian Church” (Perspectives, October 2009)

“The Hallowed Ground of Lincoln(s)” (New York Sun book review, June 2007)
“Everywhere Mr. Ferguson travels, he finds Americans who want to make Lincoln ‘relevant’ by making him average, or who look at the great emancipator and manage to see only a reflection of themselves.”

“Going Trendspotting” (New York Sun book review, October 2007)
“Unfunny, flabby prose is a staple of business writing. But one would hope Mr. Penn would at least ace the polling.”

 

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