Hi, I'm Becca. I am (very soon to be) the non-fiction book critic at the Washington Post. In the meantime, I'm an essayist and literary critic, a contributing editor at The Point and The Boston Review, and a PhD candidate (albeit one on hiatus) in philosophy at Harvard. I'm currently putting the finishing touches on an essay collection about maximalism, tentatively titled All Things Are Too Small, to be published by Metropolitan Books in the US and Virago in the UK. To keep up with my writing/rantings, subscribe to my substack here.
I hold a first-class MPhil in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge and a B.A., summa cum laude with high honors, from Dartmouth College, where I studied philosophy & German (and cultivated an enduring distaste for fraternities). These days I live in Cambridge, MA, with this person, whom I love.
As a writer:
I contribute essays, book reviews, and the occasional art review to publications like The New York Review of Books, The TLS, The Nation, The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Liberties, Bookforum, Art in America, The Baffler, and more. I am the winner of the first annual Robert B. Silvers Prize for Literary Criticism (see more here).
I'm also a two-time finalist for The National Book Critics Circle's book reviewing prize (2016 and 2018), and in 2017, I was a finalist for a National Magazine Award in the essays/criticism category (my nominated essay, "Ladies in Waiting," was subsequently collected in the 2017 Best American Magazine Writing anthology, available here). In 2018, my essay "Rhapsody in Blue" was included on the Notable Essays and Literary Non-Fiction list published in the 2019 Best American Essays anthology. When I write criticism, I write mostly about "world literature," especially Eastern European or German language literature with a Jewish bent, but I also review contemporary fiction sometimes. A few authors I especially love are Joseph Roth, Italo Svevo, Henry James, Henry Green, Heinrich von Kleist, Marie de France, Simone Weil, Antal Szerb, and Norman Rush. You can read my interview with the National Book Critics Circle here and my interview with Lit Hub for their Secrets of the Book Critics series here. My wonderful agent is Anna Sproul-Latimer of Neon Literary. (You can stalk her and her agency here.)
As a philosopher:
I am primarily interested in aesthetics (especially aesthetic value and its relationship to other types of value), the philosophy of love and sex, and the history of German philosophy, especially Martin Heidegger, although I have increasingly consuming secondary interests in political philosophy. In my second-year paper, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," forthcoming in the British Journal of Aesthetics, I defend aestheticism, the view that aesthetic value is sometimes a partial grounds of moral value. (A draft is available upon request.) If I ever get around to writing it, my dissertation will be about some combination of the following: what it is to be a beautiful person, why evolutionary psychologists are wrong about human beauty, the ethics of exclusionary romantic/sexual/aesthetic preferences, and what role the state should play in ameliorating inequitable distributions of intimate "goods."
I receive many emails asking for advice about graduate school applications. I have answered some frequently asked questions on this page. As I note there, I do not consider myself an expert in how to write a successful graduate school application, and I urge all prospective grad students to consult resources online, as well as supervisors who have served on admissions committees, rather than me!
Before the pandemic, I followed Hegel in regarding nature as geistlos, but now, like any good Heideggerian, I am a big fan of hiking. Here I am in the Berkshires, which I love
A malcontent in Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” voices a familiar complaint when he confesses, “The more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular.” The man speaking believes himself capable of great humanitarian feats, but he falters when it comes to the prosaic business of enduring other people. “I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days,” he whines. “In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate even the best of men: one because he takes too long eating his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps blowing his nose.”Marriage is a kind of exposure therapy for Dostoyevskian misanthropy, and, according to the author and advice columnist Heather Havrilesky, it works—not because it erases our aversion to human particularity but because it teaches us to love in spite of our inevitable aggravation. “Our culture tends to zoom in on those first locked eyes, that first passionate kiss, and then fade out just as things are starting to get interesting,” she writes in her wise and mordant new memoir, “Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage.” “I say skip over that stuff and show me your first conversation about recurring minor digestive issues, your first long car trip across unremarkable terrain, your first encounter with each other’s least emotionally stable relative.” In other words: show me your ability to withstand a man loudly blowing his nose, not for two days but for the rest of your life. Read more here.
In recent years, it has become fashionable to claim that a person needs special license to write about herself — that she must be extraordinarily famous, unusually rich or fantastically traumatized if she is to venture one of those embarrassing indulgences, a memoir. A person who insists on documenting an uneventful life is guilty of self-importance and so, accordingly, it has become fashionable to blame the defects of a book on the defects of its genre. Common wisdom has it that a work of autobiography is by nature doomed to insularity.
In point of fact, a book is justified by its quality, not its subject. “Home/Land,” a new book by the New Yorker staff writer Rebecca Mead, does not falter by virtue of belonging to the reviled species of memoir; rather, it flails because it is insufficiently interested in the external world. Despite its many arresting images and diverting anecdotes, it reads like a very smart person’s very well-written diary.Read more here.