Barry Latzer’s The Rise And Fall Of Violent Crime In America

One of the great mysteries of 20th century America is the steep rise in violent crime that began in the 1960s, ravaged the country for nearly three decades, and then suddenly and drastically declined by the late 1990s. For those born, […]

William H. Gass’ Finding A Form

As I write this, birds are chirping outside my window, heralds of the long-awaited spring, and that feels profoundly appropriate, for reading Gass after a long absence renews my sense of the possible and awakens me once more to the beauty […]

Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia

Clive James, Australia’s foremost cultural critic, is living on borrowed time. In 2011, he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and in 2011 doctors pronounced his condition fatal – and yet he lives on, conscious every day of his good […]

Robert Pinsky’s The Sounds Of Poetry

I first read Robert Pinsky’s The Sounds Of Poetry more than a decade ago, and in the intervening years have found no better guide to the music of verse. This little book was first published in 1998, while Pinsky was serving as Poet […]

Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower

We have an understandable but misguided fascination with people, with strong leaders we perceive to be imposing their wills on the world, but ideas, not human beings, direct the destinies of men. Hitler had his part to play, to be […]

Mark Twain’s The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn

America has undergone incredible changes in the 100-plus years since the publication of Mark Twain’s Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn in 1885, and yet opening this book transports us unfailingly to the antebellum South, to a time of steamships and slavery, of […]

Walter Jackson Bate’s John Keats

If I were asked to recommend a single poet to a total neophyte wondering what all the fuss is about, I would hand them a volume of John Keats’ poetry, confident that, if they found nothing in Keats to love […]

Sven Birkerts’ Changing The Subject

My introduction to Sven Birkerts came with his 1994 eulogy to reading, The Gutenberg Elegies, which posited that the advent of the internet was severing us from our literary heritage. More than two decades removed from his initial hypothesis, Birkerts […]

Charles Bukowski’s The Roominghouse Madrigals

There is a popular image of the poet as tortured soul, constitutionally at odds with existence itself, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol and tapping out poetry on a typewriter between hangovers. The poets themselves are often at least partially to […]

Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint

More than a decade has passed since my first reading of Portnoy’s Complaint, and while much of that initial experience remains vivid in my memory, new discoveries have heightened my appreciation for Philip Roth’s most controversial novel. When it first […]