That Crazy Stagecraft

  Like you, of course, I wait for the sold-out house to chant my name before taking the stage. We may be doing it all wrong, though: He knew how to make an entrance – or rather, he probably didn’t, and it came naturally. Frank Sinatra has the same technique, but in his case it […]

Hello Madrid

  One aspect of my philistinism is a lack of rapport with poetry. (Apart, I suppose, from an increasingly temperamental and tonsorial inclination toward Philip Larkin.) I mostly don’t get it.   So I was surprised to like very much Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. It’s the story of a young man struggling to write poetry […]

Independence Days

I’m reading Congo: the Epic History of a People by David Van Reybrouck. I learned of it from this intriguing New York Times review, which opens with Maréchal Mobutu’s “both Pythonesque and distressing” foray into space exploration: (The above uncharitably reminds me of the joke about the proposed subtitle for the film about Wernher von Braun, I Aim at […]

The Word Problem From Hell

“Unimaginable,” like “incredible,” is an adjective that seems seldom employed accurately. This sentence gets it about right, though: For nine unimaginable months he was one of a group of eighteen prisoners of whom nine were shot dead each morning and replaced by nine others. It’s from Joseph O’Neill’s investigation of his grandfathers’ (completely unrelated) internments in World […]

“All I Ever Meet …”

  Last week I did exit interviews with students about the best books they read this year. To model the behavior, as we say in the business, I stood before each class and interviewed myself about The Catcher in the Rye. To describe its broad appeal, I mentioned an experience reading it for the first time. While I waited […]