“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...

Lady Day

By Nat Hentoff From Jazz Is, 1974 Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, at Birdland in New York. Coming down the stairs I heard a crackling, stunning trumpet cadenza, brilliant in content as well as in its reckless virtuosity. And yet it wasn’t Dizzy. I looked at the stand and...

Remembering Roger Ebert

By Peter Richmond Bronx Banter, April 5, 2013 Unlike many of my social-media colleagues who were lucky enough to meet Roger Ebert, I never did. I only knew him a while back as a guy on a TV show, with another guy in the other chair, presuming to tell me whether a...

The Grandeur of Elvis

By Greil Marcus From Mystery Train, 1975 These days, Elvis is always singing. In his stage-show documentary, Elvis on Tour, we see him singing to himself, in limousines, backstage, running, walking, standing still, as his servant fits his cape to his shoulders, as he...

Janis Joplin

By Ellen Willis From The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, 1980 Janis Joplin was born in 1943 and grew up in Port Arthur, Texas. She began singing in bars and coffeehouses, first locally, then in Austin, where she spent most of a year at the...

The Clear Line

By Luc Sante From Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers!, 2004 In a corner of my office, on top of a bookcase, lies a hunting horn—a sort of bugle, curved in the manner of a French horn. It has occupied a place in my inner sanctum wherever I’ve lived since childhood....

French Fries and Sympathy

By James Wolcott Texas Review, May 1982 Coffee and Coca-Cola, the crackling hiss of food on the fry, the ring of laughter in a bustling room—Diner, written and directed by Barry Levinson, is a bittersweet reverie about the pleasures of noshing and chumming about until...

Buster Keaton

By Charles Simic From Writers at the Movies, 2000 Only recently, with their issue on videotape, have all the films of Buster Keaton become widely available. It’s likely one may have seen The General (1926) in some college course, or caught a couple of shorts at some...