November 4, 2007 |
IN his 1928 essay "The Critic Who Does Not Exist," Edmund Wilson surveyed the landscape of American criticism and didn't like what he saw: an abundance of factions with narrow agendas to push, little coteries gathered around H.L. Mencken or T.S Eliot, each speaking its own language, but no one critic or common tongue that might transcend the babel of competing voices. "What we lack . . .
April 22, 2007 |
ONCE, I was sent $5 by a reader miffed that I'd left a Los Angeles taco stand off a list of my favorites. Because the amount wasn't large enough to consider pocketing, I sent it back, but it was a reminder of the passions that can arise around food. Whether discussing tacos, pizza or barbecue, we as a nation go at it with a zeal that matches the French in the matter of rillons versus rillettes. But do we write with such passion?
March 25, 2007 |
THOSE who've sat through high school productions of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" might find it amusing to learn how daring the play seemed when it premiered in 1938 on Broadway. Yes, the old chestnut was once considered avant-garde. But that shouldn't come as a complete surprise: Devoid of props and realistic scenery and indulging more in direct address than dialogue, the play departed radically from the naturalistic model that had dominated mainstream theater since the late 19th century.
February 25, 2007 |
I encountered Saul Bellow in the flesh only once. It was at a small afternoon gathering in a town house on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Wide planes of wintry light slammed down from floor-to-ceiling windows, catching sycophants, dust motes and laureate in the slant. At one point I sat on a sofa, conversing with a young child (mine), whom I had been urged by my hostess to bring. I looked up and caught the novelist's steady stare taking in the small tableau of us: Madonna and kvetch.
October 8, 2006 |
THE Library of America's new collection of the greatest American political speeches is illuminating for many reasons -- and yet it may leave something of a bitter aftertaste. In the current media noise-scape, our political leaders' urge to be heard often leads to a free-fall into the muck of crude invective and insinuation, high-concept negative punch lines ("Where's the beef?") and "gotcha" insults.
June 4, 2006 |
HERE'S my favorite story about William Faulkner: In 1925, while living in New Orleans, he became friendly with the wife of Sherwood Anderson and persuaded her to pass along his first novel, "Soldiers' Pay," for the older writer to read. Anderson is reported to have grumbled, "I'll get it published if I don't have to read it," and the book came out the following year.