W.H. Auden’s Forewords And Afterwords

Of all writers, poets have the poorest prospect of earning a living by their work alone. The market for verse is very small, and shrinking, and the patrons of yesteryear – the Roman general, the medieval monarch, the Church – […]

Salman Rushdie’s Imaginary Homelands

Thirty years ago this month, a fanatical cleric in a foreign country openly called for the murder of a British citizen, a humble novelist born in Bombay, for the “crime” of blasphemy. The author was Salman Rushdie, the cleric the […]

Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down

In the spring of 1993, two years into the Somalian Civil War, the United Nations launched UNOSOM II, a joint venture between the U.N. and the United States military to stabilize the country and deliver much-needed food aid. UNOSOM I, […]

Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes

Twice now, in the span of as many months, I have been bowled over by a book. The first was John Williams’ Stoner, and the latest is Frederick Exley’s novel-memoir A Fan’s Notes. The two works are united in their […]

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

An unintentional theme uniting my reading, of late, has been greatness unacknowledged or unappreciated. Leonard Gardner’s Fat City and John Williams’ Stoner deserve far more acclaim than they have won, and certainly more than they knew in the lifetimes of their authors. […]

Lionel Trilling’s Prefaces To The Experience Of Literature

Of the many great literary critics of the 20th century now dead and unfashionable, I feel the loss of Lionel Trilling most acutely. A consolation: he passed away in 1975, before the universities of the Western world turned against their […]

Erich Fromm’s Escape From Freedom

Is freedom to be feared? What a cruel irony it would be, if the centuries-long process of human emancipation – from tyranny, from god, even from privation – resulted not in our ultimate happiness but in our ultimate isolation. How […]

Anthony Burgess’ One Man’s Chorus

I recently came across Milton’s famous lines, from “Areopagitica,” about a good book being “the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.” Neither time nor overly enthusiastic quotation of those […]

Frank Dikötter’s The Cultural Revolution

Fittingly, the third and final work in historian Frank Dikötter’s trilogy of history books on modern china, The Cultural Revolution, was released exactly 50 years after Mao set the Cultural Revolution in motion, inaugurating a miniature civil war that would […]

John Williams’ Stoner

How does a literary masterpiece pass into obscurity? Blame the critics, the times, the society that had the good fortune to receive it first but lacked the judgment to cherish and champion it. In hindsight, it’s understandable – though no […]