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In Other Literary News…

In this posting, I’ll do my best to refrain from mentioning too often the happy news that after ten years of work, my biography of Sol LeWitt will come out this spring, published by Wesleyan University Press. I’ll instead offer some thoughts on some recent books that have illuminated the world in a way that almost draws me away from the White House circus. For example, there is Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, a book so rich in history, wisdom and good writing that it’s hard to imagine how the author had time over the last decade to eat a bagel. (Did I mention that my book, the title of which, by the way, is Sol Lewitt: A Life of Ideas, took ten years to complete?)

Other good reads this year, at the top of the list, include Tara Westover’s stunning memoir, Educated, in which she recounts a childhood off the grid, in which schooling was considered a sin, and western medicine a poison, not to mention the damage caused to humankind by things such as art, history, music, and philosophy. How, then, did Westover overcome this as she danced all the way to Cambridge? A tale beautifully told that lingers in its details even months after a reading. (Just as I hope the Sol Lewitt book will be which, by the way, you can pre-order on a variety of bookstore websites.)

I listened to an audio recording of My Brilliant Friend, as I didn’t read Elena Ferrante (or someone writing as Elena Ferrante) when it first came out, though my wife Suzanne considered it and its sequels to be the essence of intimacy and literary genius. It is those things, certainly, and the new HBO series translates that intimacy and genius to celluloid, particularly in the portrayal of two extremely bright girls growing up in the 1950s amid the grimness of crime-ridden Napoli. (By the way, Sol Lewitt has a lot of work on display in Naples.)

I’m reading Jill Lepore’s “These Truths” now. I wish history had been taught this way when we were young. But then I went to a college sometimes referred to as “Harvard on the Hocking (River),” not Harvard on the Charles (River). (By the way, did I mention that there are large installations of LeWitt’s work at the Yale Art Gallery?)

Fire and Fury and Us

Once, long ago, we consoled each other about the difficulties of starting out in the writing and publishing business. Back then, I learned the curiously Manhattan term, “unspeakable,” from him. Nowadays we are old hands, but Steve Rubin (the slightly older hand), is at the very top of the game, having published Michael Wolff’s blockbuster,Continue Reading

Five Good Reads

1. Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan Read this not so much for its action but for its character development. It’s always tricky to say that a book is character-driven rather than plot-driven. There is, of course, a plot in Jennifer Egan’s novel. But the reader sticks with the narrative largely because of the developing characterContinue Reading

Writing in Future Tense

In 2027, Donald Trump is planning a fourth term as president (he has declared the Constitution illegal) and the Supreme Court can’t do anything about it because it is reduced to one doddering justice who, at more than 100 years old, has forgotten everything she knows. Read about final case to come before the courtContinue Reading

You Go Girl, Title-Wise

Anyone who read Gone Girl, or Girl on the Train, or Girl in the Dark or Girls on Fire, or the Stieg Larsson’s trilogy that began with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that started the girly title trend must know the irony. These are no girls, at least in the sense that, in responsibleContinue Reading

Michael Lewis and the Roundabout Reward

Today Michael Lewis’s new book, “The Undoing Project,” will be published to great fanfare, and for good reason. For writers, this event holds many lessons. One is that the old saw, “Write what you know,” now requires an expanded definition, maybe something like, “What you know is more than you think you know, and lessContinue Reading

Afraid to Live

The patrons of memoir and the players of politics seldom hang out at the same urban street corner, but they certainly do in the cases of a stunning new book by Cindy Brown Austin and the election of Donald Trump. To fully appreciate this intersection, and the potential power of eloquent words in a timeContinue Reading

In a Nutshell, Keep it a Secret

If you become a fan of Ian McEwan’s new novel, Nutshell, and I can’t see why you wouldn’t once you’ve read the very first page, you must do your best to hide your enthusiasm from certain people. As you probably know by now, this narrative is in the voice of a fetus who demonstrates aContinue Reading

All The Light We Can Research

In the back of his blockbuster novel, All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr provides an extensive acknowledgment list. It is not uncommon, of course, for authors to publicly thank those who provided support, but in the novel world it is an element seldom carried out to this extent. Anyone reading the book wondersContinue Reading

William Zinsser, Teacher

The last time I saw William Zinsser was the summer of 2013 at the house in Niantic, CT., where he lived with his wife Caroline during the summer months. He was completely blind by then, a result of severe glaucoma. But, as he sat with the writer Cindy Brown Austin, whom I brought to theContinue Reading