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
The Irish novelist Sally Rooney is a normal person. Or so she is always insisting, often with a trace of defensive desperation. Never mind that she published her debut novel, Conversations with Friends (2017), at the tender age of 26, or that her second novel, Normal People (2018), was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. Never mind that she is the youngest-ever recipient of the Costa Book Prize. No, Rooney protests, her many accolades and immense popularity notwithstanding, she is just like everyone else. Here she is in Vanity Fair: “I do think it’s very possible I’ll look back on this period of my life when my books were being talked about on Twitter and think, ‘Wow, what a crazy thing to happen to a just totally average person.’” And in O, The Oprah Magazine: “I feel pretty much like everyone else.” And in the Belfast-based literary journal the Tangerine: “Everyone has a life. I haven’t had a particularly interesting one.”
Of course, genuinely normal people do not have the chance to advertise their normalcy in Vanity Fair or Oprah’s magazine. Would Rooney still be so eager to downplay her achievements if there were any risk that she would actually succeed in deflecting attention? I have to say, I hope not. Read more here.
5/4/2020 09:44:37 pm
I found this review for The Point after twitter exploded over the infamous Cory-Wright review of Normal People. I found your review to be very engaging. It's hard to critique really popular media when so often the criticism is deflected by broader discussions that move the conversation far away from the text itself. Particularly if said media is progressive and written by a woman. Most people seem ill-disposed to believe any criticism is being made in good faith. However I found this sound and entertaining without being needlessly mean spirited. From there I went on to read your your Baffler article on 'immoral men' and found it equally captivating and confronting. Fantastic stuff. I look forward to reading more of your work in the future. Good luck with the rest of your PHD!
5/5/2020 06:56:47 pm
Thank you very much!
8/12/2020 07:14:40 am
I enjoyed this review enormously. Very perceptive. I got here by googling "Sally Rooney 50 shades". As I read Normal People recently I was struck by how much of it chimes with both Twilight and 50 Shades in a lot of places. That thought hadn't occurred to me when I read Conversation with Friends a couple of years ago but it's interesting to see how much of that story plays on similar themes once it's laid out in your essay.
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