The Death of Max Jacob

From The Paris Review: In late December of 1943, Max Jacob went to Orléans and Montargis to buy Christmas gifts for the children of the village of Saint-Benoît. He stayed for five days as a guest in the house of one of his doctor friends in Montargis, where he enjoyed the warmth of a cheerful … Read more

Hellacious California!

From The Los Angeles Review of Books: NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICAN CRITIC Hinton Rowan Helper left a lasting impression on how Californian culture is still viewed to this day through one mordant comment: I will say, that I have seen purer liquors, better segars [cigars], finer tobacco, truer guns and pistols, larger dirks and bowie knives, and … Read more

Why Can’t Publishers Handle the Truth?

From Publishers Weekly: When Carmen recounted waking up to the prodding batons of U.S. border guards after fainting from exhaustion during her third attempt to enter the United States from Mexico via the Rio Grande River, I remained speechless. By 2012, I’d spent seven years and hundreds of hours interviewing women like Carmen who survived … Read more

What We Aren’t Seeing

From The Paris Review: How appropriate that a museum show devoted to the unicorn—a mythical animal whose name has come to mean something so rare and elusive that it might or might not exist—should have failed to materialize. “A Blessing of Unicorns” was slated to bring the fifteenth-century unicorn tapestries from the Musée de Cluny … Read more

Fiction Favorites of the Espionage Pros

From Writers in the Storm: Writing espionage is a balancing act between being authentic and being so accurate that we embarrass political leaders, get people killed, and/or end up with some angry FBI Special Agents on our doorstep. As a general rule, while the non-violent embarrassment of political leaders who are asking for it can … Read more

‘Twilight of the Gods’ Review: A Blood-Soaked Peace

From The Wall Street Journal: A tale-telling axiom holds that complex narratives—whether from a writer’s quill, the pulpit or a Hollywood storyboard—are best broken into threes. From Sophocles to Coppola, the trilogy has thrived as a means to carve an enormous meal into manageable courses. World War II, history’s most complex bloodbath, often seems to require such … Read more

The Vanishing Half Finds an Audience in Turbulent Times

From The Wall Street Journal: “The Vanishing Half,” a critically acclaimed novel about identity and race, is on track to become not just one of the bestselling books of the year, but a 352-page cultural phenomenon. Initial print sales of the book by Brit Bennett suggest it is becoming a blockbuster with staying power. More … Read more

The Churchill Complex

From The Wall Street Journal: The special relationship—or, as they write it in Britain, the Special Relationship—between the United States and the United Kingdom is one of those partnerships that everyone talks about but few understand. Ian Buruma’s stimulating and highly readable “The Churchill Complex: The Curse of Being Special, From Winston and FDR to … Read more

The mother load

From The Guardian: Never in my life had I been so high. I’d just given a reading in Amsterdam after which the gracious hosts of the evening took me out for drinks. Three young women asked me questions about sex and love and desire as though I were an expert and it was nice but … Read more

Iron Empires

From The Wall Street Journal: The public image of the robber barons has always been a barometer of how America thinks about wealth. Were they financiers or swindlers? Builders or monopolists? In the Progressive Era, the muckraker Ida Tarbell cast John D. Rockefeller as a ruthless monopolist, and Matthew Josephson’s compelling but one-sided Depression-era tome, … Read more

Wordsworth at 250

From The Wall Street Journal: It’s time to celebrate the great Romantic poet William Wordsworth, born 250 years ago in a picturesque market town in northern England. One way to size up his achievement is to venture backward, beginning in the present day and drifting past the postmodernists, the modernists, the Edwardians, the Victorians, until we … Read more

The Allure of the Celebrity Outlaw

From The Wall Street Journal: Near the midpoint of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” director George Roy Hill’s 1969 buddy movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, the outlaws barge into the office of a Wyoming sheriff. Anxious to evade the hard-charging posse tracking them after a pair of train robberies, the duo beseeches … Read more

7 Books About New York City’s Drastic Economic Divide

From Electric Lit: It’s been said many times already that the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the dramatic economic inequality in New York City—which of course ties into deeper systemic issues around race. But to pretend those inequalities haven’t been obvious before this time—to pretend they haven’t always been part of the city’s history—is a … Read more

8 Anti-Capitalist Sci-Fi and Fantasy Novels

From Electric Lit: Karl Marx may be famous for his thorough, analytic attack on capitalism (see: all three volumes and the 1000-plus pages of Das Kapital), but let’s be real: it’s not the most exciting to read. What if, just as a thought experiment, our works that reimagined current structures of power also had robots? Speculative … Read more

The Lockdown Lessons of “Crime and Punishment”

From The New Yorker: At the end of “Crime and Punishment,” which was completed in 1866, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s hero, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, has a dream that so closely reflects the roilings of our own pandemic one almost shrinks from its power. Here’s part of it, in Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s rendering: He had dreamed that the … Read more

Shanghai’s Past, Hong Kong’s Future

From Public Books: Sometimes, when a city changes, residents are suddenly forced to ask themselves hard questions: Should we stay, or cut our losses and leave to start afresh somewhere else? Will this place still be enough like the community we love in a year or a decade to make it worth sticking it out? … Read more

Publishing Needs to Face Its Ableism Problem

From Publishers Weekly: “This is not a remote position. Candidates are expected to perform work on-site in our office,” is a line that I look for in every job posting before I decide whether or not to apply. I’m disabled; I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and I’m autistic, and working remotely is a reasonable accommodation that … Read more

Hermeneutics and the Framing of “Truth”

Introductory comment by PG: PG regards himself as reasonably intelligent and possessing a vocabulary that is larger than that of the average homo sapiens in the year 2020. That said, he did not recall knowing (PG is at the age where there is a very occasional gap between knowing something and recalling that he knows … Read more

Helping youngsters confront their fears in our lockdown era

From The LittleHampton Gazette: Samuel and the Monster has been self-published by Alexia Pinchbeck at £9.99. . . . . Alexia, aged 38, who lives in East Wittering, said: “Samuel and the Monster, a picture book for two to five-year-olds, is a short, simple story with brightly coloured, bold illustrations that overnight put a stop … Read more

Watchwomen

From The Los Angeles Review of Books: What if we remembered Jack Kirby not for Captain America or Galactus, but for the romance comics that he and Joe Simon produced during the late 1940s and early 1950s in their wildly successful titles Young Romance and Young Love? Kirby’s work in the genre, which he and Simon invented, are … Read more

Why Writers Are Prone to Depression

From Everyday Health: From “Sophie’s Choice” author William Styron to poet Sylvia Plath to J.K Rowling, the mastermind responsible for the Harry Potter series, the list of famous depressed writers — many of whom have documented it in their prose — is expansive. Though there are no firm statistics on how many writers experience depression, researcher Kay … Read more

Why Am I Reading Apocalyptic Novels Now?

From The New York Times: A man and his son trudge through the wasteland into which human civilization has devolved. Every night, they shiver together in hunger and cold and fear. If they encounter someone weaker than they are — an injured man, an abandoned child — they do not have the resources to help, … Read more

Quarantine Reads: Dhalgren

From The Paris Review: I started reading Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren, a prismatic, nightmarish work of speculative fiction, in New York City a couple weeks ago, when the coronavirus had just begun to spread into the West. Italy had fallen and the threat in the United States was imminent, but the real panic and anxiety still hadn’t … Read more

Red Herrings in Contemporary Crime Literature

From Crime Reads: When plotting a tale of suspense, any writer worth her salt understands the importance of distraction—intriguing details that lead the reader down a path of uncertainty, false clues intentionally planted to mislead, and of course the phenomenon of the unreliable narrator. This is why the red herring is a staple in mystery … Read more

Why Do Some Characters Live On Beyond The Book?

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books Why is it that some characters just don’t disappear?  The book is finished, the edits have been completed, the next work is in progress and yet… a particular character is still refusing to rest or retire or whatever it is that characters do when the writer has finished the book. … Read more

The Legend of Limberlost

From Smithsonian Magazine: My dear Girl:In the first place will you allow me to suggest that you forgethereafter to tack the “ess” on to “author”, because one who writesa book or poem is an author and literature has no sex.–Gene Stratton-Porter, letter to Miss Mabel Anderson, March 9, 1923 . . . . Yellow sprays … Read more

Love Ray and Daddy: The Toohey Family Letter Collection

From The National World War II Museum: When I read a collection of personal correspondence, I sometimes take for granted that I’m reading someone else’s mail. Maybe it’s because I know most of the people in those letters have passed on. Or maybe subconsciously, I tell myself that placing them into a shoebox for 75 … Read more

The biology of love

Perhaps an aid for character development. Or not. In any case, PG found this fascinating. From Aeon: An infant is born. The radiant mother holds the baby in her arms and immediately begins to scan the infant’s face, softly caressing the little fingers while uttering repetitive sing-song vocalisations, her face lighting up in an affectionate … Read more

The Fashion of Jane Austen’s Novels

From The Millions: Dress in the Age of Jane Austen has been a long time coming. It started out as a chance comment in 2013 from Professor Aileen Ribeiro, author of foundational books on dress history such as The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750 to 1820. We were standing chatting in the snowy grounds of … Read more

Smorgasbords Don’t Have Bottoms

From N+1 Magazine: For the first time since 2011, when Borders shut down, or 2007, when Amazon launched the Kindle, or maybe 1455, when Johannes Gutenberg went bankrupt immediately upon printing his game-changing best seller The Bible, the news about book publishing has seemed less than dire. A June 2019 New York Times article captured the … Read more

N. K. Jemisin’s Dream Worlds

From The New Yorker: Several years ago, N. K. Jemisin, the fantasy and science-fiction author, had a dream that shook her. In her sleep, she found herself standing in a surreal tableau with a massif floating in the distance. “It was a chunk of rock shaped like a volcanic cone—a cone-shaped smoking mountain,” she recalled. … Read more

Ten Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About C.S. Lewis

From The Millions: C.S. Lewis gained acclaim as a children’s author for his classic series The Chronicles of Narnia. He also gained acclaim for his popular apologetics, including such works as Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. What is more, he gained acclaim as a science fiction writer for his Ransom Trilogy. Furthermore, he gained … Read more

Don’t Start Copyright Battles You Don’t Understand

From The Illusion of More: Every once in a while, a copyright litigation story makes a fine cautionary tale for users of social platforms, and this is true partly because the conflict tends to spawn misleading headlines or comments that add fuel to an outrage already borne of ignorance.  In this case, I am referring … Read more

YouTube Adpocalypse is No Surprise

From The Illusion of More: YouTubers call it the adpocalypse.  It’s a word is used to describe the steady erosion of YouTube’s support for small and independent creators by demoting or demonetizing their channels in favor of more traditional, mainstream material.  Julia Alexander at the The Verge wrote in April of this year … “Between 2011 and 2015, YouTube was a … Read more

Like a fine whine

From The Times Literary Supplement: “Looking back over my career to date, and at all the people I have insulted, I am mildly surprised that I am still allowed to exist”, wrote Auberon Waugh in 1980. For the remaining twenty-one years of his life he took pleasure in adding to his list of victims. Feminism … Read more

The Ethics of Hiding Your Data From the Machines

From Wired: I don’t know about you, but every time I figure out a way of sharing less information online, it’s like a personal victory. After all, who have I hurt, advertisers? Oh, boo hoo. But sharing your information, either willingly or not, is soon going to become a much more difficult moral choice. Companies … Read more

The Currency of Tears

From The Paris Review: One day in nursery school, when I was five I think, I cried. My teacher, in her floral apron with gigantic pockets, handed me a paper cup. She handed me a paper cup, and told me to collect my tears as they slid down my face and drink them. “And when … Read more

Amazon Has Ceded Control of Its Site. The Result: Thousands of Banned, Unsafe or Mislabeled Products

From The Wall Street Journal: Many of the millions of people who shop on Amazon.com see it as if it were an American big-box store, a retailer with goods deemed safe enough for customers. In practice, Amazon has increasingly evolved like a flea market. It exercises limited oversight over items listed by millions of third-party … Read more

Olga Tokarczuk’s Novels Against Nationalism

From The New Yorker: The Warsaw Book Fair takes place each May in the National Stadium, a basketlike structure flecked with the red and white of the Polish flag. On a bright Saturday morning, hundreds of orange balloons given out by an audiobook company bobbed from children’s hands, and crowds of readers browsed the booths … Read more

On the Existential Fear of Losing Your Online Persona

From The Literary Hub: I keep a bulging plastic bin under my bed filled with diaries I’ve had since elementary school. They are an archive of my life, literal baggage I tote around from apartment to apartment as an adult. The notebooks are proper diaries covered in girlish stickers and locks, extra composition books from … Read more

How to Write a Captivating Opening Paragraph

From Medium: When I was a little kid, I fell in love with a book and read it so many times that I nearly memorized the first page. Here’s the book’s opening line: “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. Do you know … Read more

My Ability to Trigger Millennials Is Insane

From The Guardian: Poor Bret Easton Ellis. For someone I imagine to be rather fastidious – years ago, a friend of mine visited his New York apartment, where he was a little surprised to be told not to touch any of its owner’s CDs – this can hardly be the easiest of Monday mornings. For … Read more

Little Red Riding Hood Too Sexist for School

From BookRiot: A school in Catalonia has withdrawn from its library 200 classic children’s books such as Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood because of their depiction of sexist stereotypes. After analyzing the contents of its library for children up to the age of six, the management of Taber School in Barcelona found that … Read more