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Branding Barack

January 4, 2008

Last night, as the results from the Iowa caucuses began to look conclusive, MSNBC’s co-anchor Chris Matthews marveled at the significance of the moment in American history: the people of Iowa (what many in the media have taken to calling “lily-white Iowa”) had chosen “Barack Hussein Obama” as their Democratic candidate. On Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough, Matthews returned to his musing of last night: “I tell you, it’s going to be a headline all over the world: ‘Barack Hussein Obama wins first presidential test in America.’” This is hardly the first time that the cable news channels have expressed fascination with Obama’s name—his full name.


Interesting Times

June 17, 2007

These are interesting times for literary magazines. Don Lee, longtime editor of Ploughshares, recently announced that he is stepping down in order to take a teaching job at Macalester College. Lee's departure leaves the top spots vacant (to my knowle [...]

The Coming Revolution in Book Publishing?

May 25, 2006

Today, BoingBoing has a post on how the lifespan of bestsellers is shrinking. According to a study conducted by, a print-on-demand publisher, the life-expectancy of a bestselling novel has fallen to barely a seventh of its level 40 years ago [...]

Steve Almond Quits Boston College Over Condi Invite

May 15, 2006

In an op-ed in Friday's Boston Globe, Steve Almond resigns his post as an adjunct professor of English at Boston College in reaction to the College's invitation to Condoleezza Rice to be the commencement speaker at this year's graduation. [...]

The Smart Set

March 9, 2006

Before I read Daniel Karlin's excellent new book Proust's English, I had never given a thought to the word "smart" as part of the French lexicon. Either its vogue in French is long passed, as Karlin suggests, or I do not travel in sufficiently "smart" company when I am in France, but I have never heard the word used in French, where it means roughly "fashionable" or, as we might say in English, "chic." It can have this sense in English too although it is not the most common English meaning. I remember accompanying my mother on shopping expeditions when I was a little boy. She had a favorite saleswoman at a clothing store who would say as she surveyed my mother's appearance in a dress she had just tried on, "Angela, you look so smart in that." This usage endured in English far longer than it seems to have done in French. Jane Austen, in a letter of 1805 (when she was nineteen), says, in speaking of a certain Miss Seymour, "neither her dress nor her air have anything of the Dash or Stilishness which the Browns talked of; quite the contrary indeed, her dress is not even smart . . . " The word must still be used this way although I haven't encountered it in some time. Among younger speakers, it may have been replaced, at least for a while, by "cool."


Tom Bissell on Truth in Travel Literature

February 16, 2006

Tom Bissell, a contributing editor to VQR, weighs in on the "truth & nonfiction" debate in a great essay looking at truth in travel literature posted at World Hum. The great nonfiction writer Lawrence Weschler once said to me that there are tw [...]