Sam Quinones’ Dreamland

Like many people, I was vaguely aware that America was in the midst of an opiate crisis, but the scope of the problem eluded me until I read Andrew Sullivan’s excellent New York Magazine exposé, “The Poison We Pick,” which begins […]

Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies

Like so many other children of the British Empire, I was introduced to Hilaire Belloc by my mother, who read to me from his Cautionary Tales For Children snatches of his moralizing verses (“A trick that everyone abhors / In little […]

Joseph Brodsky’s On Grief And Reason

When societies tip into totalitarianism, the poets and the comedians are always the first to go, for their very métiers involve them in the kind of criticism and encouragements to self-reflection that absolute power cannot tolerate. The Russian poet Joseph Brodsky was […]

John Gardner’s On Becoming A Novelist

Fiction writing, for all its pretensions to being a craft like any other, has a quasi-mystical element to it that should not be underestimated by even the most scrupulously rational of aspirants. In the first place, your material is not […]

Leszek Kolakowski’s Modernity On Endless Trial

Leszek Kolakowski came of age under the Nazi occupation of Poland, when the usual Polish school system was suspended and an underground network of tutors and impromptu teachers took on the responsibility of educating Poland’s youth and passing on Polish […]

Philip Roth’s American Pastoral

Philip Roth passed away late last month, some six years after officially retiring from fiction writing, and the deluge of tributes and commentary, reflections and reminiscences, give some indication of what his life meant for American letters. America in the […]

Edward St. Aubyn’s At Last

The fifth and final book in the Patrick Melrose quintet takes place on the day of Patrick’s mother’s funeral. Up to this point, he has survived: being raped and abused, repeatedly, by his father; a lengthy heroin addiction, followed by […]

Edith Wharton’s The Age Of Innocence

In attempting to explain the sexual morality of the contemporary world to older family members – for whom Facebook and YouTube are mysteries, not to mention Tinder or Snapchat – I have often declared, in exasperation, that the dating world […]

Mordecai Richler’s Belling The Cat

My only personal connection to literary greatness is with Mordecai Richler, via my grandparents, who were friends and neighbours of his in the Eastern Townships, Anglophone Montreal’s quondam country retreat. As a child, I read personalized copies of his celebrated […]

J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting For The Barbarians

With the passing of William H. Gass late last year, there is a vacancy in my heart for the title of best living English writer, but with Waiting For The Barbarians, first published nearly 40 years ago, South Africa’s J.M. […]