Burying the Lede

  John Noble Wilford knew that he was writing one of the most important stories of the century: The first human landing on another world. His article — for the front page of The New York Times on July 21, 1969, needed to begin with a sentence that conveyed the immensity of the moment. And […]

Right Said Fred

I don’t know if it’s the pandemic or what, but the above tweet had some resonance. (NB in the Walter Mitty sense; I have neither the interest nor, probably, disposition to be an assassin.) I’ve been working on a short story and remain displeased with the opening sentence. It’s fine and all, but it ain’t […]

Man, Interrupting

“Tell me I’m not your man from Porlock. I’d never forgive myself.”   I read that in David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue and was like: huh? So I looked it up. Jeepers! Shared it with my friends, and one one of them, Jim, proposed the term be employed à la Good Will Hunting badinage, e.g. “I […]

Shows Effort

… [Jean-François] Champollion had been fascinated with the ancient Near East; he had a gift for learning languages and went on to study, among others, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Aramaic, Syriac (a form of Aramaic), and even Chinese. But his passion soon became Coptic, the language still spoken by a religious minority in Egypt. During his […]

African MiGs

I developed an interest years ago after seeing one take off in Guinea. The first volume, alas, I left at my quarantined school, but here are three interesting sentences from the second: Canada, keen to gain a foothold in Tanzania since 1963, took the place of West Germany and in 1965 launched a project worth […]

1979

  There’s a list of books I mean to write, and this one is somehow on it, even though I couldn’t bear to write it, let alone research it. It would be about how in one year three of the world’s worst tyrants – literal madmen – lost their jobs. In Equatorial Guinea, Macías Nguema […]

Cabul

  One is reading the Bible. It’s frightfully good, you know. -VS Naipaul   I’ve been reading the Bible, and doing it the way they say you shouldn’t do it, reading it straight through. It’s tough going, and there’s a lot I don’t get. I may break down and get one of those “How to […]

Doom! Shake the Room

  1. Apart From That, Mr. Brzezinski At 3a.m. on 9 November 1979, [National Security Advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski was telephoned at home by his military assistant, William Odom, who told him that he had just heard on his communications net that 200 Soviet missiles had been launched against the United States … He told Odom […]