Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life

Hawthorne: A Life by Brenda Wineapple My rating: 4 of 5 stars What is the good of literary biography? I am not a great reader of the genre, possibly because every example I've ever read has had a passage like this in it, from Brenda Wineapple's popular and absorbing 2003 life of Nathaniel Hawthorne: Like … Continue reading Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life

I. F. Stone, The Trial of Socrates

The Trial of Socrates by I.F. Stone My rating: 4 of 5 stars If the independent left-wing journalist I. F. Stone had lived to write this 1988 bestseller in 2019 instead, he might have expressed its thesis this way: Socrates was an alt-right troll redpilling young men with corrosive irony and anti-democratic sentiment; therefore, democratic … Continue reading I. F. Stone, The Trial of Socrates

Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment

Du Bois's Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment by Juliana Spahr The first thing to be said about this book is that it is brave. Poet and critic Juliana Spahr does not make her startling argument in general, nor does she make it in unreadably dense jargon that could only be followed by academic insiders. … Continue reading Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment

Wesley Yang, The Souls of Yellow Folk

The Souls of Yellow Folk by Wesley Yang My rating: 4 of 5 stars It was once a pop-socio-psychological commonplace of American foreign-policy commentary that terrorism on behalf of political Islam was motivated less by ideology and more by an intractable reality of gender: young men with no prospects in their societies will inevitably become … Continue reading Wesley Yang, The Souls of Yellow Folk

Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag My rating: 3 of 5 stars Susan Sontag's oeuvre is a long palinode. Identified for years with the positions she took, or at least appeared to take, in the 1960s, she seemed to spend the rest of her life strategically retracting or at least clarifying and qualifying … Continue reading Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

Q, Conspiracy, and the Novel; or, Why Portraits and Ashes Should Be Your Summer Read

Readers who perceive an esoteric subtext to my writing and who therefore keep a paranoiac tally of my cryptic allusions will recall that I have mentioned the "Q" or "Qanon" conspiracy theory twice. Both references occurred in the context of paranoiac fictions: Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 and Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. But … Continue reading Q, Conspiracy, and the Novel; or, Why Portraits and Ashes Should Be Your Summer Read

Gore Vidal, The City and the Pillar

The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal My rating: 3 of 5 stars A little over a decade and a half ago, Gore Vidal was one of the most urgent voices on the American left: challenging empire in the era of neoconservatism, challenging religion at the height of evangelical power, he seemed to speak … Continue reading Gore Vidal, The City and the Pillar

Tom Wolfe, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers

Radical Chic & Mau Mauing The Flak Catchers by Tom Wolfe My rating: 3 of 5 stars It's a tiny bit arrogant of people to go around worrying about those less fortunate. —Whit Stillman, Metropolitan Stop me if you've heard this one before: it is a year or two into a conservative presidential administration—one that … Continue reading Tom Wolfe, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers

Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country

Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America by Richard M. Rorty My rating: 2 of 5 stars Richard Rorty is a Pragmatist philosopher: he believes that ideas and actions should be judged on their effects rather than their metaphysical or ontological status. Don't ask whether it's true, whatever "it" may be, ask only if … Continue reading Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country

My Year in Books, 2017

But let's start with movies. Ten years ago, the Scottish musician and critic Momus observed that one of the most acclaimed films of 2007, Guillermo del Toro's Spanish-Civil-War fantasy Pan's Labyrinth, was morally and politically simplistic and (or because) artistically complacent. He gave ten objections to the film; I will quote the first two: 1. The … Continue reading My Year in Books, 2017