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book review

<em>Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion</em>. By Michelle Dean. Grove Press, 2018. 384p. HB, $26.</p>

A Girl Like You

In his introduction to the first New Journalism collection, published in 1973, Tom Wolfe lists a handful of reporters from the 1930s and ’40s as “Not Half-Bad Candidates” for the title of progenitors of the form, including John Hersey, A. J. Liebling, and George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway’s reportage from Europe. Subsequent anthologies and textbooks on twentieth-century literary journalism mostly agree—including, from the stacks I’d been browsing, The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight, a family tree sort of account of “the new journalism revolution; the herculean anthology The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism; and True Stories: A Century of Literary Journalism, which essentially unpacks the historical context for this writing.

<em>Transcription</em>. By Kate Atkinson. Little, Brown, 2018. 352p. HB, $28</p>

War and Peace and Nostalgia

Historical fiction—our most inclusive of literary genres—is, by definition, fiction set in the past, typically a bygone era with which we and the writer likely have no lived familiarity. Fascinating period details abound and sometimes notable f [...]

<em>Landwhale: On Turning Insults Into Nicknames, Why Body Image is Hard, and Why Diets Can Kiss My Ass</em>. By Jes Baker. Seal, 2018. 272p. PB, $15.99. </p>

Returning the Gaze

Perhaps the most surprising fact about the recent Women’s Marches is not that they have become an annual event, or that these marches sprung forth all over the globe from Washington, D.C. to Paradise Bay, Antarctica. No, if an alarm should be raised, it’s due to the non-committal response of the patriarchy: a grunt from the woods. 

Male liberal politicians have offered lip service but spent little political capital pushing comprehensive legislation to eliminate the problems that bedevil women’s lives: domestic violence, insufficient health care, and unequal pay. Male conservative operators have predictably been dismissive or patronizing. Media coverage of the marches has consisted of male commentators talking while women are trapped in a small box at the corner of the screen, silenced.

The Fox Was Ever the Hunter. Metropolitan, 2016. 256p. HC, $28.

The Head of the Hunter

In February of this year, I received an e-mail with a strange symbol in the address line, a broken red padlock next to the sender’s name indicating that the message was not encrypted—specifically, that the message, as well as my reply, had been sent without a basic protection known as “Transport Layer Security.” The range and confidential nature of some of the e-mails that came and went this way was troubling: one from an editor about a potential assignment, another from a close family friend and local politician, yet another from my credit card company to notify me about a potential fraudulent charge. I became nervous: How long had some of my messages been unsecured? Who was watching? These questions seem to become only more pertinent as the shadow of the internet lengthens into every detail of our daily correspondence.

This fear of some nefarious, eavesdropping intelligence has deep roots in twentieth-century fiction, much of it European, from the speculative approaches of 1984 and The Trial to novels such as The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Darkness at Noon, which confront this menace through the immediacy of realism. Romanian Nobel laureate Herta Müller’s recently translated novel, The Fox Was Ever the Hunter—originally published in 1992 in her native German and now translated into English by Philip Boehm—is among the best additions to this anxious canon following the Cold War. Müller was hounded for years by her country’s intelligence apparatus: an experience wrought with desperation, fear, and paranoia that she brings to the fore in Fox. For Müller, growing up in a repressive dictatorial regime, the concerns of surveillance were not simply questions of hypothetical snooping, but instead held the highest stakes imaginable, those of life and death.

Under Nicolae Ceau̧sescu, who held power from 1965 to 1989, the Romanian government operated one of the largest and most repressive secret polices in the world, the Securitate. The Securitate led brutal crackdowns on dissidents using a broad network of informants that made organization nearly impossible, while anyone found in opposition would be tortured or killed. Forced entry and bugging of homes and offices was commonplace, leading to the widespread paranoia seen in Müller’s novel

Made to Hear: Cochlear Implants and Raising Deaf Children. By Laura Mauldin. Minnesota, 2016. 224p. PB, $25.

Ear to the Battleground


Of the five senses, vision tends to get the glory. We hail great innovators as visionary, praise writers for their insight, and thank friends for offering perspective. We call prophets seers, but also admire daily perspicacity and seek to avoid myopia and blind spots. Just consider the words spectacles and spectacular, and you catch a glimpse—not a whisper, a glimpse—of the divergence between vision in the optometrist’s office and vision in our cultural construction of it. But while vision gets the glory, hearing has our trust. We want justice to be blind during court hearings.

"The Poet Edgar Allan Poe: Alien Angel," By Jerome McGann

Defending ‘The Jingle Man’

December 2, 2014

  The Poet Edgar Allan Poe: Alien Angel. By Jerome McGann. Harvard, 2014. 256p. HB. $24.95. I hadn’t read any of Edgar Allan Poe’s verse in decades. So when Jerome McGann’s new book landed on my desk, I decided to reacquaint myself with [...]

Like a Novel

April 11, 2013

I recently read KatherineBoo’s 2012 National Book Award–winning portrait of a Mumbai slum, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, with my students in a creative nonfiction class at Dartmouth College. Boo spent a little more than three years in the slum [...]

Concepts of Freedom

Freedom Forgotten and Remembered. By Helmut Kuhn. University of North Carolina Press. $2.50. The Freedom to Be Free. By James Marshall. The John. Day Company. $2.50. The Machiavellians. By James Burnham. The John Day Company. $2.50. "IT IS ludic [...]

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