To The Beat

By Will Blythe The New York Times July 8, 2010 If you’re like me, you tend to regard plot summaries as a necessary boredom at best. They’re the flyover country between a reviewer’s landing strips of judgment, revealing almost nothing about the way a book actually...

Dylan Brings It Home: Memoir Is a Ballad to the Beat Village

By Ron Rosenbaum The New York Observer October 14, 2004 Thaddeus Stevens? Who knew? One of the least-understood of Dylan mysteries has to do with influences: His music seems to come from everywhere, and from nowhere but him. You can listen to endless droning folk...

Thriller of the Century: The Third Man

By Ron Rosenbaum The New York Observer January 17, 2000 Wait a minute, I’m not finished. I was just getting started. I’ve got more awards to bestow for Bests of the Century. I was just warming up last month when I named Pale Fire Best English Language Novel of the...

Shakepeare’s Badass Quartet

By Ron Rosenbaum The Chronicle of Higher Learning February 7, 2016 Have you noticed that every few years a controversy arises over a claim that an old portrait found in someone’s attic is the true face of William Shakespeare? Most recently the British...

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...

Vietnam: How the War Became the Movie

By William Broyles Jr. Smart July–August 1990 I have been trading war stories with other Vietnam veterans for two decades. I almost never believe the stories they tell me, any more than you should believe mine. I don’t mean these stories aren’t true, just that they...

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 show...

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...