Literary Review

Reimagining The Beatles

magic_circles_beatlesMagic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History
by Devin McKinney (Harvard University Press, 2004)

What do toilets, holes, mutation, meat and Yellow Submarines have in common? In the mind of Devin McKinney, these are the overarching themes of The Beatles' journey, both performed and recorded, from Liverpool to Hamburg to Liverpool to America to Japan to the Philippines to America and back to England. And what's truly extraordinary is, he makes an excellent case. Read more »

All Things Must Pass

the_leopardThe Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (Pantheon Books)

Rejected as being unpublishable, The Leopard, a short book written from a perspective of privilege concerning a time of change, seemed destined to be lost with the death of its author in 1957, at the age of sixty. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, an urbane Sicilian, a prince with a palace in Palermo, lived in Paris and London, but always maintained a strong love and association for the island of his birth. Read more »

Pop Art Goes Bang!

valerie_solonas_scumFame as an afterthought to madness. Valerie Solanas 1936-1988.

Once upon a time, and not so very long ago, things took slower turns and more leisurely dives. Fame was usually a gradually developing state of grace or disgrace. Celebrity consisting largely of being noticed and the need for that desire to be fulfilled. It was about doing something worthy of note. It now consists of of shameless bravado. The right dress, the wrong drug or sex tape. Feeble-minded efforts at being seen or commented upon. Blame Madonna or the Spice Girls, Michael Jackson or Britney Spears. Or simply blame fame. Read more »

That Always Fatal Waltz with Time

diana_athillSomewhere Towards the End
by Diana Athill (Granta)

Age is not a popular topic in literature. When young, it seems too distant, once old it looms too near, so it is sparingly used, the full picture being perceived as too grim and too painful for prolonged attention. There is also the distinct likelihood that being caught up in the process, one is rendered incapable of annotating the experience. Read more »

A Dose of Rock 'n' Roll


Nancy Lee Andrews  
A Dose of Rock 'n' Roll
(Dalton Watson Fine Books)

In 1969, Nancy Lee Andrews worked for the world renowned Ford Modeling Agency. "I was the tall, All-American dark girl, different from Penelope Tree, my contemporary, who was edgy." Andrews' entry into the music business soon followed. The Fillmore East had just opened in the East Village, featuring acts like The Association, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Leon Russell, Freddy King, The Cream, Hendrix, and a close friend mentioned they could gain access to the club through the back door.

Read more »

Poet, Bum and Fool

joe_goulds_secretJoe Gould's Secret
by Joseph Mitchell (Vintage)

Some characters are a writer's once-in-a-lifetime gift. In Joseph Mitchell's case, his came in the bedraggled guise of Joe Gould, a Harvard-educated Bowery bum and panhandler. At times a likeable rogue, at others a Grade A pain in the ass, Gould was served well by the generous attention that Mitchell afforded him. Read more »

My Tolstoy Year

war_and_peaceTwenty-five hundred pages or so later, I sit at the end of the year dumbfounded as to how I'm supposed to concoct a best of 2007 list. I'm obsessed with the best of 1868 or of 1873 or 1855 -- or, should I say, of ever. And I'm not alone. By dint of Kismet, it seems I wasn't the only one having a Tolstoy year in 2007. Something about the soundbiting and youtubing of our collective sensibility sent others to the Count. This fall marked the publication of a massive, drum roll please, lauded, heralded, dissected and mightily worthy, translation of War and Peace by the indefatigable husband and wife team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Read more »

50 Years On the Road!

on_the_road.jpgDear Jack, 

Hey, man, 50 years, and On the Road is still going, still selling, still talking in your own special bebop prose to the young at heart. It's a classic. And you, of course, have long gone to the great beyond with Janis and Jimi and Elvis, and all the other cool lost souls of excess; too much talent, too little control.

Life is so filled with ironies. It took you years to sell that book that has now sold in the millions. Publishers kept turning up their collective noses. The draft you completed in 1951 didn't come out until the fall of '57. Read more »

Norman Mailer, R.I.P.

norman_mailer.jpgThe lion silenced. Norman Mailer roared over the literary scene forever and now he's gone. He spat out words like the boxers he so loved sprayed punches, but no more. He ran for mayor of New York City, and he could have been mayor of the world. He talked shit and wrote like an angel. A son of Harvard he enlisted to be a combat grunt in WWII so he could get material, and it worked. Read more »

Elegy to a Lost City

skin_lane.jpgSkin Lane
by Neil Bartlett (Serpent's Tail, paperback)

Neil Bartlett's new novel is a strange elegy to a lost city, a lost trade, and in many ways the manner in which time tramples all that was once important to the lived and spent. We are all destined to leave detritus. All that mattered will mean little to future eyes. The loves, the losses, the passions that burned so fiercely, become invisible with the savage progress of existence. Read more »

Behind Every Great Woman...


Song Without Words: The Photographs and Diaries of Countess Sophia Tolstoy by Leah Bendavid-Val (National Geographic Society)

Count Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Death of Ivan Ilych, and so many other masterpieces (to use an overused, but totally apt word) seems like he should have lived in another eon. Surely he must have hung out with Socrates, or Aeschylus, or, at the very least, Shakespeare. But he didn't. If not quite of our time, he did manage to live into the 20th century (1910 to be exact), and there are films and photographs of him. Read more »

"By George, Wilfred got it"


The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty

by Wilfred Sheed (Random House)


There's a story towards the end of this crackling essay cum history that could sum up the bittersweet but ballyhooing tonality of the entire glorious screed. We see an aging but still-in-fighting-trim Yip Harburg, leftie songsmith of the golden age, the Gershwin age, as he's regaling the '60s radical Father Berrigan and his gang with a rousing rendition of his "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime." Read more »

High School Unconfidential


I Love You, Beth Cooper

by Larry Doyle (Ecco)

The big question any writer attempting a tome on secondary school must face: is high school more pathetic or more hilarious? The fact is, it is pathetic when you're going through it -- a hormonally exploding biology experiment in an all-expense-paid cage. But afterward, when as an adult humor writer you tackle it, is it funny? Read more »

Poison Pixel Letters from Life

cynthia_kaplan.jpgThe incessant "I, I, I," of the essay form, not to say the memoir tsunami that has washed over reading for the past ten years or so, has created a din that can make one hunger for some good old third-person omniscient narration (hello Dickens, hello Tolstoy) -- but more on that in another post. The fact is, I have enough dirty -- and slightly soiled -- laundry of my own to keep me busy. (And there I go, using the dreaded "I" -- it can't be helped. Mea culpa.) But having said that, when writers uses their own experiences as a window to subjects beyond how their parents used to beat them with heroin syringes while they were converting to fundamentalist Christianity and performing root canals on themselves, the form can't be beat. Read more »

Mark Harris November 19, 1927 - May 30, 2007

mark_harris.jpgMark Harris, who died Wednesday from complications of Alzheimer's Disease, made his mark on American literature with four baseball novels. The most famous of them, the second in the series, Bang the Drum Slowly, was filmed twice. First came a television performance in 1956 (the year the novel was published) on The U.S. Steel Hour, with Paul Newman playing the role of Henry "Author" Wiggen, star pitcher of the NY Mammoths and narrator of the series. (Wiggen anticipates the real-life ballplayer/authors Jim Brosnan and Jim Bouton.) Then in 1973 came the movie (screenplay by Harris), with Robert DeNiro -- in just his tenth role -- as terminally ill catcher Bruce Pearson, a part that, along with DeNiro's appearance in Mean Streets the same year, established him as an acting force. (Danny Aiello makes his first film appearance in a minor role.) Read more »

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