The Art of Hanging Out

By Dan Wakefield The New York Times, July 21, 1968 Both as a novelist (Run River, 1963) and as a reporter and essayist, Joan Didion is one of the least celebrated and most talented writers of my own generation (“Silent,” B.A.’s circa mid-1950’s). Her first collection...

Monumental Trivialist

By Seymour Krim Harper’s, February 1981 It’s sad to say it, but Frank MacShane’s new biography of John O’Hara (The Life of John O’Hara) is a hell of a lot more interesting for us today, and makes a better novel, than practically all the fourteen novels O’Hara ever...

Agee Unfettered

By Will Blythe The New York Times, June 15, 2008 On May 16, 1955, James Agee, 45, died of a heart attack in a New York City taxicab while on the way to his doctor’s office. Elegized by the critic Dwight Macdonald as a literary James Dean, he left behind an...

Benching Himself

By Will Blythe The New York Times, November 4, 2001 At 59, the novelist John Edgar Wideman has recently given up the game of playground basketball. His new memoir, Hoop Roots, originates in that loss, which is monumental, the terrifying and inevitable fate of every...

Neighborhood Characters

By Joe Flaherty The New York Times, October 21, 1979 Of late, whenever one encounters an urbanbased novel, especially one set in Manhattan (or worse yet, in Greenwich Village), it’s odds on to be a claustrophobic affair; the activity is usually limited to treks to...

Hope and Glory

By Pauline Kael The New Yorker, October 5, 1987 It’s hard to believe that a great comedy could be made of the blitz, but John Boorman has done it. In his new, autobiographical film, Hope and Glory, he has had the inspiration to desentimentalize wartime England and...

The Detective

By Luc Sante Threepenny Review, Winter 1994 We know from photographs and eyewitnesses that René Magritte, throughout his entire career, did his painting in a corner of the dining room, and that he went about his work invariably dressed in suit and tie. The dining room...

The Black Stallion

By Dave Kehr Chicago Magazine, April 1980 The first movie ever made, an 1877 experiment by Eadweard Muybridge, was about horses. And when the movies reached maturity, around the turn of the century, the genre that quickly established itself as the most popular and...

“Literature Isn’t a Moral Beauty Contest”

Philip Roth died a few days ago at the age of 85. My favorite tribute comes from Zadie Smith in The New Yorker: He was a writer all the way down. It was not diluted with other things as it is—mercifully!—for the rest of us. He was writing taken neat, and everything he...

The Purple Decades

By James Woolcott The New York Review of Books, November 4, 1982 The Purple Decades: A Reader   by Tom Wolfe Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 396 pp., $17.50 Not since Garry Wills uncorked his rather fanciful notions on the origins of the cold war in the opening pages of...

Noodles

By Pauline Kael The New Yorker, June 1, 1987 The title Tampopo, which is Japanese for “dandelion,” is the name of a fortyish widow (Nobuko Miyamoto) who is trying to make a go of the run-down noodle shop on the outskirts of Tokyo that her late husband operated. The...