Ruben Castaneda may be the nicest crack addict in the history of the drug. His worst transgression seems to be missing his brother's wedding-rehearsal dinner. He also, in the grips of his disease, began to call people near and far saying he'd lost his wallet, and showed up for work disheveled and reeking of booze.
William Deresiewicz begins his blistering, arm-waving jeremiad against Ivy League colleges and their dozens of emulators, which are creating a caste that is ruining itself and society, with the insistence that the book is a letter to his twenty-year-old self.
It is both reassuring and unnerving to recall the Cold War as conducted with books rather than tanks. Both the CIA and the KGB implicitly endorsed Maxim Gorky's proclamation that "books are the most important and most powerful weapons in socialist culture."
From our current vantage, it's not hard to acknowledge that one of the presiding spirits of early-twenty-first-century art is Ray Johnson's. Collagist, painter, poet, and the originator of mail art, Johnson took up the appropriative strategies of Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns, infused them with John Cage's ideas about Zen and chance, and energized the mix with his own brand of deadpan Conceptualism.
Genet's work might have taught the young Hervé Guibert to connect violence and desire, or maybe the wunderkind figured it out for himself. With or without tutelage, he quickly discovered how to worship a beautiful body while also wishing to despoil it.
If I chose to look at my life through a particularly self-critical lens, my personal narrative would boil down to the story of a woman who spent her entire adulthood trying to get good at something, anything. Beginning in my twenties and with no noticeable talent besides writing, I took classes in a string of leisure-time activities that I hoped would turn into something to love.
Two new books—David Van Reybrouck's Congo and Dayo Olopade's The Bright Continent—take a fresh look at the African past and future. Both escape the constant need to treat Africa as a problem, the tedious compulsion to explain what has gone wrong or to prescribe how to fix it, that plagues so much writing about the continent.
In the 1920s and '30s, the Vienna-born biographer and fiction writer Stefan Zweig was the best-selling author in the world. His emotionally charged books captured a culture that was about to fracture beyond recognition. With the rise of Hitler, Zweig, who was Jewish, fled that world to watch it crumble from afar—moving to England, America, and finally Brazil, where he committed suicide in 1942. Seventy years later, his books are still popular and still inspire a range of responses: admiration, sympathy, and, in some cases, loathing.
This charming collection of very personal essays by writers, artists, scholars, and filmmakers does the great service of offering no generalizable advice. Once you finish the forty or so short pieces, you will certainly like these interesting and accomplished people. But if you are considering grad school, you will not find your answer here. And that's a good thing.