From the December 24, 2001 issue: Charles Dickens's triumph.Dec 24, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 15 • By J. BOTTUM
This essay is reprinted in The Best Christian Writing 2002, edited by John Wilson (HarperSan Francisco).
IT'S ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE not to know how it opens. "Marley was dead: to begin with.
The art of speaking to yourself.Dec 17, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 14 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
The Assassin's Cloak
An Anthology of the World's Greatest Diarists
edited by Irene and Alan Taylor
Canongate, 684 pp., $35
AN ANTHOLOGY of diary entries may seem a silly idea, rather like an anthology of everything. But, in fact, diaries are not infinitely varied. Some are to-do lists in living color. Others are extended brags, storing up triumphs against future blue episodes. Still others are exercises in esprit de l'escalier, meant to guard the writer from repeating his most egregious social blunders and committing those of others.
The enduring appeal of group mystery novels.Dec 17, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 14 • By JON L. BREEN
Yeats Is Dead!
A Mystery by 15 Irish Writers
edited by Joseph O'Connor
Knopf, 256 pp., $23
Naked Came the Phoenix
edited by Marcia Talley
Minotaur, 320 pp., $24.95
devised by William Bernhardt
Ballantine, 192 pp., $23.95
A MULTIPLE-AUTHOR NOVEL is the equivalent of an old-time theatrical benefit: There's little or no money for the performers, but they are honored by being chosen to participate. Usually, it's in a good cause: a charity or a professional organization.
The surprisingly admirable life of Mary Shelley.Dec 17, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 14 • By MARGARET BOERNER
by Miranda Seymour
Grove Press, 655 pp., $35
MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT GODWIN SHELLEY clinched her name in history at the very beginning of her womanhood. She was born in 1797 and at the age of sixteen, she eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley. At the age of nineteen she wrote "Frankenstein." She never did anything else as memorable.
But she was always a thoroughly admirable individual, and she lived a hard life.
A book and a movie explore the Long Island cliche.11:01 PM, Dec 5, 2001 • By DAVID SKINNER
IT REACHED ITS PEAK in the early '90s, when Amy Fisher shot Mrs. Joey Buttafuoco: the decades-long transformation of Long Island into a laughingstock. The setting for "The Great Gatsby" became known as a cultural valley of the ashes, home to loud girls with big hair and the Guidos who married them. A recent novel and a newish movie, both of which garnered significant critical praise, do almost nothing to defend the honor of this unusual, punchy, and wonderful place.
Which would hardly matter if their stories simply took place on Long Island.
Coming to the end of the novel about journalism.Dec 10, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 13 • By JASON SHOLL
by Jeffrey Frank
Simon & Schuster, 237 pp., $22
The Grim Pig
by Charles Gordon
McClelland & Stewart, 259 pp., $24.95
ANYONE WITH AN INTEREST in the popular press will probably have ferreted out a few unfortunate truths about journalists: that they occasionally get their facts wrong, that their opinions are often affectations, and that many of them aren't above betraying confidences or distorting the truth for personal gain. Media criticism can capture the surface of the media circus, and journalistic memoirs can yield certain insights.
English literature's best unrediscovered woman writer.Dec 10, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 13 • By ALAN JACOBS
IN RECENT YEARS, "neglected women writers" have been much in vogue, with publishers bringing out series after series of them. Yet Dorothy Osborne, the most remarkable of that company, has been overlooked by literary archaeologists--and it is a scandal that her work is not more widely available.
Don DeLillo weighs in on September 11 and comes up short.11:01 PM, Nov 25, 2001 • By DAVID SKINNER
TWO WEEKS AFTER September 11, while the whole world was still checking in with itself, the New York Times called up a bunch of novelists. The paper of record wanted to see if their jobs still had any meaning.
Columbia University's faculty senate wins a Sontag; "The Mike Hammer Collection."Nov 19, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 10 • By
This week's Susan Sontag Certificate--The Standard Reader's way of acknowledging inanity by artists and intellectuals--goes to the Columbia University faculty senate, which voted 46 to 0 to "reaffirm open discourse as a prime value in our community." Almost anywhere else, we'd applaud this affirmation of free speech. But the senate did it because, it claimed, "some student members of the Columbia community have felt pressure to curtail their opinions of the national response to the Sept.
The artistic ambivalence of Jonathan Franzen.Nov 19, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 10 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
by Jonathan Franzen
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 568 pp., $26
JONATHAN FRANZEN HAS THE SORT of ambition rare for an American novelist these days. His aim is to write great and enduring books that grapple with large social issues even as he offers minute dissections of the day-to-day lives of their characters.
To this end, he has endured penury, writer's block, and the indifference of the New York Times.
The Butcher of Baghdad writes a romance novel that (figuratively) sets the Iraqi literary establishment on fire.11:01 PM, Nov 7, 2001 • By ELIZABETH ROYAL
SADDAM HUSSEIN HAS BEEN ACCUSED of many things over the years, but a recent report suggests he's clearly been misunderstood. If the Iraqi dictator is guilty of anything, it's hopeless romanticism. Yes, underneath a seemingly tyrannical nature, there lives a passionate soul yearning to share his deepest, most delicate and intimate thoughts.
The beat doesn't go on.Nov 5, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 08 • By THOMAS M. DISCH
by Ekbert Faas
University Press of New England, 513 pp., $35
POOR ROBERT CREELEY. Few poets can have led a drabber or more justly disgruntled life, winning a position at the very top of the B-list of his generation--only to be rewarded by a biography riddled with betrayals.
Born in 1926, Creeley was blinded in his left eye at the age of two and lost his father soon thereafter. The family income plummeted from Dr. Creeley's $30,000 a year to Nurse Creeley's $3,000.
Damien Hirst and his newest critic; Frantz Fanon.Nov 5, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 08 • By
LIFE GOES ON
Over a dozen readers sent in to The Standard Reader articles about Emmanuel Asare, cleaning man and unwitting art critic, who, tidying a London gallery on Oct. 16, bagged as trash an expensive installation by Damien Hirst. Of course, Asare was helped by the fact that it was garbage--literally: used cups, dirty ashtrays, candy wrappers, and newspapers spread across the floor. But the cleaner nonetheless deserves credit. Hirst has gained headlines and wealth by immersing sheep, sharks, and cows in formaldehyde, and calling the result art.
The finer points of spelling Arabic names, as taught by Lawrence of Arabia.12:01 AM, Oct 22, 2001 • By RICHARD STARR
IDEOLOGICAL PURISTS HAVE NO DOUBT been wondering if there is a larger political significance to the competing transliterations of the Arabic names now dominating the news. What does it signify when the Fox News ticker refers to Usama bin Laden while MSNBC calls him Osama? Is this a replay of the great Peking vs. Beijing transliteration battles of an earlier era?
Book of the Week: Midge Decter's "An Old Wife's Tale," and more.Oct 29, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 07 • By
THE SONTAG AWARD
BY RIGHTS, the latest Susan Sontag Award--our acknowledgment of inanity by intellectuals and artists--belongs to playwright Tony Kushner, author of "Angels in America." He started by telling the Los Angeles Times, "I'm hoping people will be respectful of the horror--unlike Bush, who led what seemed to be a pep rally on a mass grave. . . .