Roddy Doyle, in an interview published in The Guardian, was quoted as saying, "I still live in the same neighborhood where I grew up, and I still have to face the milkman and the neighbors if they don't like what I write." I read this, and all I could think was, ye gods, Doyle's milkman reads modern
Forty-eight hours after learning of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Susan Sontag delivered herself of a statement that was composed entirely of an indictment of the US government's response to the horrifying event. The gist of the piece, published in the New Yorker, was her disgust with
It's still too early to tell what part of America died in Iraq. Our grandchildren, it's safe to assume, will still be debating this point. But one loss seems already quite obvious: Can one imagine an American leader using the rhetoric of American values—the pursuit of freedom and democracy—to
Algeria's "war on terror" began in 1992, when a conclave of generals canceled the country's first-ever democratic national elections to forestall an Islamist victory. Islamic extremists reacted to the brutal crackdown that ensued by taking up arms against the state for over a decade. Terrorist
Kirk Varnedoe was invited to deliver the Fifty-second A.W. Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art in the spring of 2003 just months before his death, in mid-August of that year. Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock is, essentially, a transcript of the six lectures, prefaced by his
Two years ago in Amsterdam, a twenty-six-year-old Dutch man named Mohammed Bouyeri shot, stabbed, and slit the throat of newspaper columnist and filmmaker Theo van Gogh. The victim, a great-grandson of Vincent van Gogh's brother, was Holland's foremost provocateur, a self-proclaimed "village idiot"
It's now downright obligatory for a critic reviewing a memoir to begin by offering a brief assessment of the genre, always including a disquisition on recent fiascos, the faddishness of the publishing industry, and the unearned capital inherent in words like true, tragic, and redemptive when modifying
"I was talking with my therapist today," my girlfriend tells me. "I deny myself pleasure," she says, with wistful resignation. Midforties, attractive, relationships but never the white dress ("divorces without the wedding," she calls them), my girlfriend has enticing men circling the nest—the
There's a certain kind of Victorian society novel that always makes me feel like an unreconstructed Communist. Yes, I get swept up in the story, plow through the pages like potato chips. But as I do, I am waging a small, private, fearsome debate with the consumptive heroine (and her creator, and, by
The known risks of laughter, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, include dislocated jaws, cardiac arrhythmia, urinary incontinence, emphysema, and spontaneous perforation of the esophagus. None of this, I suspect, will be news to readers of Lorrie Moore, who has never taken laughter lightly. In her work, humor is always costly and fanged.
One night in Naples a number of years ago, the mother of an old friend who’d recently expatriated herself to southern Italy from Florence invited us over for a small dinner party. A worldly and glamorous figure under normal circumstances, that night she had her arm in a sling and apologized repeatedly
In 1999, Jenny Offill published her first novel, Last Things, written in the voice of a girl caught between her passive scientist father and her mother, an increasingly unstable fabulist who takes her daughter on the run to nowhere in particular. Startlingly assured in inhabiting a child’s perspective,
A conundrum informs Olivia Laing's heartfelt and melancholy alcoholic travelogue: Why, in America especially, are the production of literature and the consumption of destructive quantities of alcohol so intimately intertwined? Which came first, the bottle or the typewriter?
Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel A Wrinkle in Time—one of the best-loved and best-selling children’s books of the past sixty years—was initially rejected by at least two dozen publishers. The story goes that later on, whenever L’Engle attended a literary event, she would carry the rejection
Five years ago, anticipating the birth of my first child, I went to the hospital (my wife came along, incidentally) with only one book tucked into the suitcase: P. G. Wodehouse’s Lord Emsworth and Others (hereafter L.E.A.O.). Its very title suggested grab-baggery, lighter-than-light reading—just
What do we make of the adjective poetic when applied to prose fiction? While meant as praise, the modifier often sways backhandedly—as eclectic does for a menu—warning that what’s ahead may prove puzzling at best or downright indigestible at worst. Certainly the description indicates the presence
When I was in Chile in the summer of 2001 I stupidly asked a taxi driver, in my bad Spanish, if Pinochet were dead. “No,” he said, and by the way he looked over his shoulder I could see the question made him nervous. “No, he is still alive.” He showed me the National Stadium as we drove
The insanity of ideology—including religious fundamentalism—is the subject of James Meek’s best-selling 2005 novel The People’s Act of Love. Set in 1919 in a desolate corner of Siberia, the story coheres around a battalion of Czech soldiers waiting patiently for the Red Army to come and finish them
By now, we know the George Saunders tool kit: his favored verbs, such as to “wonk.” His stylistic tics, such as “such as.” The arbitrarily capitalized phrases, copyrighted and trademarked: I CAN SPEAK! TM And we know the concerns those nouns and verbs betray: the encroachment of advertising