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Flannery Will Get You Nowhere

June 13, 1993

If Flannery O'Connor had read your review (May 30) of the novel, "Goldman's Anatomy," in which O'Connor is given credit for writing Carson McCullers' "Ballad of the Sad Cafe," she probably would have remarked, "A good reviewer is hard to find."

MERRILL JOAN GERBER, SIERRA MADRE

In your May 30 review of Glenn Savan's new novel, "Goldman's Anatomy," you refer to the book as a "hip, funny version of Flannery O'Connor's 'Ballad of the Sad Cafe.' " It would have to be hip, indeed, to be any kind of version of such a hybrid. When we have read one 20th-Century Georgia woman writer, we have not read them all. You owe a mea culpa to Carson McCullers.

DONALD SCHWARTZ, SANTA ANA

TAKING ISSUE WITH VIDAL

Jonathan Raban's review of Gore Vidal's "United States: Essays 1952-1992" (May 23) struck me as an uncritical endorsement of Vidal as the voice of not-so-sweet reason in a world of hypocrisy. In particular I challenge the apparent agreement with Vidal's portrayal of monotheistic religion as "the greatest unmentionable evil at the center of our culture. . . ."

Raban describes Vidal as "cogent" in this regard. Not so. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are human religious institutions as well as popularly held beliefs. As such, they are flawed, often seriously, as are human systems of civil government. But they are not therefore evil incarnate. To damn Christianity, for instance, is to write off the hospitals, the schools, the care for the poor, the art and the music along with the Grand Inquisitors.

And "the past (Vidal) appeals to" won't wash either: it is disingenuous to praise "the sexy, literate, secular society of Rome before the later Caesars corrupted it with their tyranny." At best, this is warmed-over Edward Gibbon. That society led to and brought about that tyranny, a truth both Vidal and Raban ignore because of its inconvenience. Intellectual shame on both of them.

GEORGE NIEDERAUER, WEST HOLLYWOOD

ISRAEL'S WRITING CLASS

Benjamin Netanyahu's book, "A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World" (Bantam: 1993), is perhaps a classic exposition of Israeli conservatism. In his country, future generations may come to venerate it in the same light as the English statesman Edmund Burke's "Reflections" did nearly two centuries ago in shaping subsequent English thought as to the consequences of the French Revolution.

This work is a polemic about the political state of the Middle East, on Israel's place in it and about the kind of practical plan that could establish a permanent peace there. There is no doubt that Gershom Gorenberg in his review of "A Place Among the Nations," (Book Review, May 23) has every right to disagree with the author's ideas, and to recommend alternative concepts that address those in the author's book that the reviewer has found wanting.

But that is not what Gorenberg does. He proceeds to attack Netanyahu personally, then he depicts the Revisionist Zionism of Vladimir Jabotinsky as extremist, and lastly, to complete the picture, Gorenberg assails the peace plan Netanyahu offers in regard to the Palestinians in effect as being undemocratic.

None of this is engaging in a dialogue with Israeli conservatives. Perhaps liberals in the Western world are so wrapped up in their own dogma, that anyone who disagrees with their Holy Writ is a heretic.

Incidentally, an unspoken truth Gorenberg does not mention, that was made by New York Times columnist Abe Rosenthal several weeks ago, is that "the writing class in Israel, read abroad, favors Labor." Given Gorenberg's smug contempt for Netanyahu in his book review article, he fits perfectly Rosenthal's own observation about the writing class in Israel. And that is because he is the archetypal representative of that class.

NORMAN F. BIRNBERG, LONG BEACH

IT'S THE SIXTH ROBICHEAUX

The review by Fred Schruers in the Sunday Book Review of April 18, 1993, indicated that the subject book by James Lee Burke was the fifth in a series featuring New Orleans ex-cop Dave Robicheaux. The subject book is actually the sixth in the series. The others are:

1. "Neon Rain"

2. "Heavenly Prisoners

3. "Black Cherry Blues"

4. "A Morning for Flamingos"

5. "A Stained White Radiance,"

and now,

6. "In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead"

Looks like Burke may have just about reached the maximum number of words that can be put on a dust jacket and still be visible to the naked eye on the bookstore's shelves. Having lived in New Orleans for a number of years, I can attest to the fact that no one captures the sights, smells and sounds of that unique area better than Burke.

ROBERT S. DRAGER, HUNTINGTON BEACH

RAILWAY ARTIFACTS SOUGHT

The Scenic Mount Lowe Railway Historical Society is gathering artifacts, photos, anecdotes, etc. in preparation of a new guidebook on the railway and for display at the centennial observation on July 4, 1993. Anyone wishing to contribute is encouraged to contact:

PAUL R. AYERS, 1847 Lobdell Place, Los Angeles, Calif. 90026

19TH-CENTURY L.A. COUNTY

I am helping to curate "Photographers of 19th Century Los Angeles County," a special exhibition planned to open at the Whittier Museum this fall. I would like to hear from people who have pictures, cameras and other materials and information related to this topic. I am especially interested in talking or corresponding with anyone who can more shed light upon (so to speak) the life and work of Samuel Hobson, Whittier's first professional photographer. Hobson lived in the struggling new Quaker settlement from May to August 1888, when he left for greener pastures in Oregon.

This exhibition will be mounted in conjunction with publication of a new directory of the same name by Barbara Dye Callarman. This photo-illustrated book will be the first comprehensive guide to our county's pioneering photographers ever published.

CHARLES ELLIOTT, Whittier Museum, 6755 Newlin Ave., Whittier, Calif. 90601

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