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Good Letters



When my mother-in-law was a bride in 1968, she discovered that one of her new responsibilities was to iron my father-in-law’s army uniform. First she dipped the freshly-washed pants and shirt in a solution of water and starch. Not a can of Niagara, but the powdered kind in a box. She’d squeeze it, then roll…

Why Reading Arthur C. Clarke is like Going to Church


I think Reihan Salam is correct in dubbing the novels of the late Arthur C. Clarke “devotionals,” and his characters are indeed “wooden,” though that doesn’t take anything away from Clarke’s beguiling and seemingly unbounded imagination. This past summer, on whim, I picked up Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and thought it an impressive feat that…

Further Thoughts on Paul Scofield


All will be judged. Master of nuance and scruple, Pray for me and for all writers, living or dead: Because there are many whose works Are in better taste than their lives, because there is no end To the vanity of our calling, make intercession For the treason of all clerks.” —W. H. Auden, “At…

Truth and Memory


O my love, where are they, where are they going The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles. I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder. — From “Encounter,” by Czeslaw Milosz Recently, there has been some interesting and important discussion in this blog about the latest creative nonfiction debacle concerning“Margaret…

Waiting for Godot in New Orleans


When a production of a classic play gets reported by Yahoo News, NPR, The New York Times, and the Seattle Times (off the AP wire), you know something powerful is going on. And so it was with the Classical Theater of Harlem’s performance of Waiting for Godot in New Orleans last November. Setting the play…

An Actor for All Seasons


Other bloggers here at Good Letters seem to be establishing various narrative arcs—about music, fiction, etc. Well, it seems that I’m specializing in obituaries, this being my third in a row. Perhaps it’s my age, but in recent weeks I’ve felt the loss of several greats. Today I celebrate the great British actor, Paul Scofield,…

Maligned, in the Middle


There is something wrong with the bourgeoisie, at least in American film, and there are no small or large charms that can possibly redeem the fault—discreet or otherwise. The middle class is caught in a maelstrom of pettiness, trapped in an imagined propriety, and made heir to a grubby little enterprise meant to stuff its…

The Philanthropist


When NBC announces their prime-time schedule for the fall next month, the lineup may or may not include a show called “The Philanthropist,” on which I will be a writer if it airs. The character in question is a fortysomething Wall Street billionaire who, dissatisfied with checkbook charity, initiates his own one-man humanitarian missions from…

Ears to Hear


Sometimes my worlds collide. I attended a concert this past weekend…a suburban orchestra conducted by a friend of mine. We hadn’t gotten together in a while and it was decided that we’d meet up after the concert for some drinks to catch up. I hadn’t realized that it was a pops concert (not my thing…

Obama, Faulkner, and the Open Wound


“In the same spirit, on Rachel’s principles, I’d been pushed out like a blind finger, to probe a nonexistent space, a whiteboy integrating public schools which were just then being abandoned, which were becoming only rehearsals for prison. Her mistake was so beautiful, so stupid, so American.” Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem “I can no…

Good Letters


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