1. Miss Havisham presides over Great Expectations like a great, ill-willed fairy queen. She is, by turns, the novel's resident corpse, its ghost, its fairy godmother, and "the Witch of the place"—a fury dressed up in a tattered, yellowed wedding dress. She stands, in the Dickens pantheon, alongside Scrooge, the Artful Dodger, and Uriah Heep as one of his most memorable characters.

  2. In the middle years of the 1930s, when everyone was unhappy and the history books have pictures to prove it, my father rode the rails from coast to coast and town to town learning to hate the many and varied relations on whose charity he lived. He started out a boy of eight, holding onto a small sister with one hand and a smaller dog with the other, and ended a boy of twelve.

  3. Last week, I finished writing a book about Nikola Tesla. That sounds impressive, right? Except for the part where I churned the manuscript out in eight days and sent it to some guy in New Jersey who’s going to slap a male pseudonym on the cover and rake in the profits from the Kindle sales. The Tesla book will be the sixth work of historical nonfiction I’ve sold in the last six months.

  4. When Bessa is nine her hair turns gray. Well, to be fair, it is more silver than gray. Some blame it on the abnormally high tides, others on the dismal blue crab harvest of that year, but most claim it is the island itself that has turned her hair that vibrant, glinting shade—that it has done so as it slowly slips into the warm, milky waters of the Chesapeake. You see, the island is sinking.

  5. Sandy knows she’s sentimental. She knows she has weaknesses. In her first solo song, she sings that she’s “out of her head” over a fantasy. For all the talk of Sandy’s naivety, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” is a remarkably self-aware song. But it’s self-aware self-pity. There is nothing more grating to Rizzo than self-pity -- especially over a boy.

  6. A play is a movie that can spit on you.

    A play is a screaming book.

    A play lowers night cholesterol and decreases your risk of standing.

  7. When we were sailing I felt borne up by wings capable of taking me much farther than I’d ever thought possible, to places where I could watch the storm petrels glide before the rising and falling walls of waves. Where a calm night’s watch was spent watching the swirling bioluminescence in our wake while trying to think of the ways and whys I could and should steer my professional life away from the noise and…

  8. When you’ve written to your representative and carved some money from the grocery budget for UNICEF, but your heart still feels like one big bruise, where’s a soul to turn for respite? I would like to share an unlikely source of peace and hope with you.

    No, it is not a religion. Well, not yet. It is the Penzeys Spices catalog.

  9. They asked me what it was like to be a freelance writer, and I asked them what it was like to start a college. Not everyone at the table was involved with Outer Coast, but a few of them were part of the planning team. They were all planning other things, too; that night the room was full of plans, with me as a reminder that plans can take you somewhere unexpected.

  10. The Lady is a British magazine that was introduced to me by my dear friend Victoria, and something that I’m sure many of you are familiar with already. But oh how my life has improved since reading it.

  11. My great-grandparents once had a homestead near Burns, in the shadow of an extinct volcano named Glass Butte for the obsidian flows on its slopes. The land is part of a ranch now and there’s nothing there anymore, if there ever was much of anything. But I wanted to see that scrap of nothing which is, when it comes down to it, one of the reasons I exist.

  12. Every Sunday afternoon for two or three years, my parents took a long drive across town to attend Chinese church.

    We were guests in the building, renters. The hymnals and Bibles of the church’s own congregation stayed in the pews. Every week, an usher hauled in the church’s box of books, with the name of our church written in marker.

    Sometimes I suspected we were guests in Christianity, too.

  13. Anya came home to an apartment that smelled the way it always did when her mom was gone—a little sweet, a little organic. Her mother was up north with a tourist group. She was a translator; whenever she left, there was less music, less cigarette smoke, less warm food in the apartment. The afternoons passed soundlessly into night.

  14. As the two people who usually read and respond to Toast submissions, we the Nicoles thought it would it be fun to come up with a short list of our favorite freelance pieces this year.

  15. I. Tradition I always wanted the kind of holidays you see in Publix commercials, ones stuffed with family sitting around a mile-long table that’s covered with dishes all lovingly made. I imagined waking on Thanksgiving to frosted windows and a house already warm from the oven. Aunts and uncles and cousins would stagger in throughout the day, some early enough to watch the parade while the air slowly turned savory; some just in time…