Some Say Randy Credico Helped Steal the Presidency. I Stole His Book.

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I’ve lived for many years on the shore of a vast morass of scumbaggery and lunacy. Put another way, I know a lot of people involved in New York local politics. One piece of housing legislation I know about was derailed because a key sponsor was arrested for rape; another because the sponsor of the bill brought Pepperidge Farms Milano cookies the day of the vote, but the cookies ran out before they got to a crucial member, who voted no and commented afterwards, “Why didn’t I get a cookie?” I’m always hearing some horrifyingly preposterous or preposterously horrifying story. But my closest encounter with the morass was a time I myself behaved badly: when I stole a book from Randy Credico, a.k.a. Person Two in the Roger Stone indictment; and I think this episode has something to teach us about what it means to be alive in 2019, when the morass appears to be eating the free world.

Before we start, this was not my first outing as a book stealer. It was just my greatest feat as a book stealer; my Sistine chapel, my Mona Lisa. I’ve been stealing books since I was 18, when a guy let me leaf through his copy of The Master and Margarita, then left the room saying, “Don’t steal that book.” And before you close this in disgust: I know stealing books is a terrible thing. But it’s not as if I got involved in political dirty tricks with Roger Stone. Stealing books isn’t murder. It’s more on a par with whistling on the train.

Also, let it be entered into the record that Randy Credico is generally no saint. First, he’s a stand-up comedian from an era where Louis C.K. could pass as normal. In a documentary made about him, Sixty Spins Around the Sun, Randy can be seen tearing off his shirt as he boasts about his 19-year-old girlfriend. Also, even if we believe his claim that he wasn’t Roger Stone’s back channel to Wikileaks, he did work on several campaigns for Stone, sometimes doing robocalls in which he impersonated famous politicians. There was also a murky episode where Stone ret-conned his way into Love Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s fall from power and then reportedly left a message with Spitzer’s 83-year-old father saying “ …you will be arrested and brought to Albany and there’s not a goddamned thing your phony, psycho piece-of-shit son can do about it…” only to claim it was Randy impersonating him, which Randy denies—and there you have Randy’s relationship with Stone in a nutshell.

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J.P. Donleavy’s ‘Fairy Tale’ Lights Up St. Patrick’s Day

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I remember once reading a blurb for J.P. Donleavy’s 1955 novel The Ginger Man—the author’s first—that commended it by saying this was the book that your boozy sister would love.

This made me wonder if your abstemious sister would also dig it. That novel told the tale of Sebastian Dangerfield, a rakehell of an American ex-pat up to various forms of lascivious and licentious gamboling in Dublin, which made a certain amount of congruous autobiographical sense. Donleavy was born in Brooklyn and went to school at Trinity College. The novel, which will split your nerves and tendons from where they are supposed to be fastened, is hilarious. And, like any good comic novel, it’s also deeply sobering. Guts of life and all that jazz.

Donleavy gets lumped in strange categories. He doesn’t get comfortably lumped in with the Irish stalwarts like Joyce, Beckett, Yeats, and attempts to place him with the Kitchen Sink realists of the late ’50s and early ’60s always feels forced. There are not a lot of picaresque realists, but there aren’t a lot of better novels for St. Patrick’s Day than Donleavy’s 1973 effort, A Fairy Tale of New York. It is the book of his that is better than The Ginger Man, a shillelagh to the head that both gives your soul a buzz worthy of a holiday of day drinking, and knocks it sober in fierce epiphany the next morning.

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‘The Godfather’ Is Still Making Us an Offer We Can’t Refuse

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The Mafia is dead. A New York jury said so just this week. A trial in federal court of two men charged with racketeering and conspiracy to commit extortion ended in a verdict of not guilty. Defense attorneys for the two men had argued that the Mafia was destroyed decades ago and that their clients were being unfairly profiled as gangsters because of their Italian ethnicity. The defendants walked.

Long live the Mafia: the day after that jury verdict, a Gambino family mob boss was gunned down in his own driveway on Staten Island, in what history will record as the first gangland slaying ever recorded on video. So maybe the death of organized crime is slightly exaggerated.

In a strange coincidence, amid all this fresh news about the Mafia splattered across the tabloids, Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather turns 50 this month. And here’s a certainty: while we can debate the actual Mafia’s state of health all day long, it is still very much alive and well in the pages of Puzo’s novel—maybe because no one ever accused him of writing realism.

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‘Kushner, Inc.’: Ivanka ‘Thinks She’s Going to Be President,’ and More Batsh*t Bits From the New Trump Book Excerpts

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Behind the scenes? Even more out-of-control.

New excerpts of Kushner, Inc., the forthcoming book by investigative journalist Vicky Ward, describe first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, as clashing with everyone from former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to former top White House strategist Steve Bannon, who reportedly told the first daughter: “Go fuck yourself.”

The couple, reported to be widely disliked by many Trump administration staffers, has been derided for their conflicts of interest and for White House meddling, according to Ward’s book, which will be out March 19.

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Orson Welles Made Renaissance Men Cringe. And He Could Draw.

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Orson Welles could draw and paint quite well. What a shock. Was there anything he couldn’t do? If you told me he designed his own clothes, invented a dripless faucet, or discovered a new planet in the solar system, I wouldn’t bat an eye. He was what we once called a Renaissance man, a term that’s fallen out of favor lately because in this age of specialization, it’s impossible to imagine someone who could, say, paint, write poetry, master mathematics, and design a flying machine, as Leonardo did. Hell, even generalists are in short supply these days.

Multi-talented people do still exist. Latest example: I was plenty impressed just this week while watching the last episode of Russian Doll on Netflix when I noticed that not only did Natasha Lyonne co-create and star in the mini-series but also wrote and directed the last episode all by her lonesome.

But Welles really did outdo everyone. He not only starred on Broadway while still in his twenties but started and ran his own theater company. He mastered radio drama and created the most famous radio play of all time (the 1938 War of the Worlds episode that left more than a few listeners convinced they’d just tuned in to an actual broadcast about an alien invasion). When he went to Hollywood, he wrote, directed, and starred in his first movie, and we all know how that turned out.

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Chicago’s Violence Is an Open Wound That Never Heals

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When he was 19 years old, Chicago resident Ramaine Hill was wounded in a drive-by shooting. Ramaine knew who had shot him; it was a local gang banger nicknamed Pinkie, and, defying the law of the streets, Ramaine decided not only to press charges against Pinkie but to testify against him.

That’s when Ramaine’s life took a truly serious turn for the worse. Pinkie copped to a charge of aggravated battery with a firearm, and was sentenced to 15 years. Almost immediately, Ramaine began getting threatening phone calls: “You snitchin.’” “We’re gonna get you.” Some friends of Pinkie’s offered Ramaine money to recant his testimony. There was at least one attempt on his life and an effort to kidnap him.

This went on for two years. One day, on his way to work, a man wearing a red hoodie and red jogging pants popped out behind some brush and shot Ramaine dead. Several people were witness to the murder, and several knew who the killer was. Not one of them cooperated with the police investigation.

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‘American Carnage’: New Book Set to Peel Back the Curtain on Trump-Era ‘Republican Civil War’

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Another potential bombshell, reporting-heavy book peeking inside the Trump administration is set to hit the shelves this summer.

Politico correspondent Tim Alberta, who has spent years covering the Republican Party, is set to publish American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump, which will include new reporting about the decade-long battle within the GOP leading up to and through the Trump presidency, according to an advance description of the book shared with The Daily Beast.

American Carnage is the story of a president’s rise based on a country’s evolution and a party’s collapse,” reads the press release.

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The Grifters Are Coming: Laura Loomer, Louise Mensch, Sheriff David Clarke All Shopping New Books

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Some of the most outspoken political grifters of the Trump era want to sell you books—if anyone is interested in buying.

The success of political commentary books like Fox News reporter-turned-Trump-booster Greg Jarrett’s The Russia Hoax and tell-alls like Omarosa’s Unhinged have inspired B-list political media celebrities to take time out of their tweetstorms and attention-starved antics to pen the next great American rant.

Multiple sources confirmed to The Daily Beast that far-right political activist Laura Loomer, for example, has been trying to shop a book, and has told associates that there may be interest from major publishers.

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Why W.H. Auden Hated His Most Famous Political Poems

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In his 1960 essay “What’s Become of Wystan?” Philip Larkin made the case that everything which had made W.H. Auden an exceptional poet was inextricable from his themes of economic and social crisis.

“Depression, strikes, the hunger marchers … Spain and China,” Larkin rattled off as Auden’s true muses. He continued, “and above all … not only the age’s properties but its obsessions: feeling inferior to the working class, a sense that things needed a new impetus from somewhere, seeing out of the corner of an eye the rise of Fascism, the persecution of the Jews, the gathering dread of the next war that was half projected guilt about the last.”

This new impetus, at least as Auden saw it, was a combination of Marxist revolution and Freudian sexual emancipation. But once he abandoned his role as the Virgilian herald of these fashionable doctrines of the Thirties and retreated into a more insular literary intellectualism after the outbreak of the Second World War and his expatriation to America, Larkin concluded, Auden ceased to be a great poet.

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How a 19th-Century Frenchman Nailed Love for All Time

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For all of the works of prose that focus on the subject of love—surely the greatest theme and mystery in literature—it’s curious how rarely authors get clinical about the subject. To break it down. To pin it to a dissecting tray, fold back the layers, and say, “see that part over there? That makes for skipped heart beats. This part here, that takes care of the arousal. This middle bit, that’s when you know you’re hooked.”

But if ever there was a born literary dissector, that would be the Frenchman Marie-Henri Beyle, better known as the novelist Stendhal. He went by a lot of different names in France in the first half of the 19th century, being King Pseudonym. He disliked his father, thinking he wasn’t creative enough, and doted on his mother, who died when he was seven.

He dug the military and the theater, serving in Napoleon’s army, engineering a rescue on a river that was much discussed, then sojourning in Italy where he picked up some dandified ways, which played well in Paris, where he went through woman after woman. You might say Stendhal dated serially; or you might say he had a thing for racking up sexual conquests.

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‘Animal House’ Revived Frats—and Their Excesses

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Over 40 years ago the college fraternity system was practically on life support, when the brothers of Delta Tau Chi came to its rescue.

Fewer than 5 percent of male students belonged to frats in the ’70s. Then Animal House was released in 1979, and that film, about a hard-drinking, hard-partying group of tight-knit bros who made toga parties a national craze and were obviously having the time of their lives, contributed to an increase in Greek membership practically overnight.

“When Animal House came out, there became more of an expectation that college was a place to drink,” says Alexandra Robbins, author of the new book Fraternity: An Inside Look At A Year Of College Boys Becoming Men.

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Was Nijinsky’s Diary the Work of a Madman or a Genius?

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The most infamous succès de scandale in the history of the ballet is, of course, the Ballet Russes’ 1913 production of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The production, particularly Stravinsky’s muscular, modernist score, caused a near riot in the audience—sophisticated or not, ballet fans weren’t ready to have their envelopes pushed quite so far.

The choreographer for The Rite of Spring’s debut was in his early twenties and better known as a peerless dancer. Vaslav Nijinsky, a Pole whom most people assumed was Russian, was a diffident man who was much teased, and, away from the stage, thought completely unremarkable. On stage, however, he was to dance what Hendrix was to the guitar and Rembrandt was to painting.

Today, it can be hard to understand why people got so worked up over a ballet highlighting a pagan interlude in which a young maiden sacrifices herself by dancing until she dies. But ballet a century ago was a more genteel affair. It is a little easier, though, to see the difficulties Nijinsky encountered a year before the Rite of Spring explosion when he choreographed and danced the principal role in a ballet set Debussy’s The Afternoon of a Faun, in which he mimed masturbation with a scarf.

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The Female Spy Who Climbed the Alps to Battle Nazis

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The year is 1942, and World War II is raging. Odette Sansom decides to follow in her war hero father’s footsteps by becoming an SOE agent to aid Britain and her beloved homeland, France. Five failed attempts and one plane crash later, she finally lands in occupied France to begin her mission. It is here that she meets her commanding officer, Captain Peter Churchill.

As they successfully complete mission after mission, Peter and Odette fall in love. All the while, they are being hunted by the cunning German secret police sergeant, Hugo Bleicher, who finally succeeds in capturing them. They are sent to Paris’s Fresnes prison, and from there to concentration camps in Germany where they are starved, beaten, and tortured. But in the face of despair, they never give up hope, their love for each other, or the whereabouts of their colleagues. Larry Loftis recounts this fascinating story of resistance and romance in Code Name Lise: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy, from which the following is excerpted:

London

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Dear Howard Schultz, You Don’t Understand the American Dream

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The term “American Dream” gets tossed around a lot. Politicians promise to deliver it. Pollsters poke and prod it, asking for the public’s opinion on its attainability. The American Dream is a handy metaphor for journalists writing on a subject’s upward ascent, and the concept gets namechecked in countless songs across every genre, often with an overtone of aspiration or braggadocio. Yet no matter who’s invoking the American Dream, they almost always misuse it by framing it in material terms: two cars in every garage; exceeding the previous generation’s wealth—owning a home is a perennial favorite, too.

Only last week, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who’s thinking of running for president, provided a fine example of our collective conception of this idea, telling the Morning Joe crew, “I’m self-made. I grew up in the projects in Brooklyn, New York… I thought that was the American Dream.”

Schultz—and most of us—thought wrong, because the original American Dream—that is, the term’s first usage, in author James Truslow Adams’ 1931 history The Epic of America—was far more nuanced, and far more radical, too.

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Is ‘Green Book’ a Rescue Fantasy? Mark Twain Might Disagree

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Despite the Golden Globe and Producers Guild of America awards that it has won, Peter Farrelly’s hit film Green Book is facing political trouble that seems sure to increase by the time of the Academy Awards on February 24. An army of critics has come to see Green Book as perpetuating a dated, racial liberalism that does more harm than good.

Green Book tells the story of the 1962 trip through the Jim Crow South taken by an African-American musician Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and his white driver, Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer at the Copacabana night club, who has time on his hands because the Copacabana has been closed for renovations.

In Green Book, Don Shirley is the one with money and education, but it is Tony with his muscle and smarts who is the hero of the movie. Tony saves Don from beatings at the hands of bigots and corrupt Southern police, and it is this emphasis on Tony that has led critics of the film to see Green Book as a lopsided tale of black-white relations.

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How the Nazis Used the Rule of Law Against Jewish Lawyers

German Federal Bar

“Abraham, Rudolf … 07/01/1901 Berlin – March 1943 Auschwitz”

“Haberland, Kurt Dr. … 10/17/1896 Berlin – 06/05/1942 Mauthausen”

“Landsberger, Egon Dr. … 02/18/1896 Berlin – 01/30/1941 Dachau”

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‘Unexampled Courage’ Is The Civil Rights Book About the 1940s You Need to Read Now

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Americans have begun to talk once again about Atticus Finch, the heroic small town Alabama lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird. The Aaron Sorkin play based on the classic 1960 novel by Harper Lee is the biggest hit on Broadway. It stars Jeff Daniels as the attorney moved by his conscience, human decency, and faith in the rule of law to defend a black man wrongly accused of rape in the 1930s.

Good. We need reminding in today’s America that lynch law—which we like to think is a thing of the past—always had another side: the kind of taken-for-granted easy-to-live-with racism white people were used to in the South of “Mockingbird.” And we should be aware as well that those attitudes never were limited to Southerners. A lot of Donald Trump’s followers clearly wish they could return to a world where white men were men, and all others were something less.

But for all the virtues of Harper Lee’s novel or its new Broadway incarnation, they are fiction. And history can teach us more if the stories are well told and the facts are clear.

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How Orson Welles Nailed a Redneck Cop for Blinding a Black Man

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Who was the South Carolina cop who beat a black U.S. Army veteran and crushed both his eyeballs in February 1946? As Richard Gergel writes in Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring, Hollywood’s enfant terrible Orson Welles mounted a radio campaign to find out. In the first of his broadcasts, reading from Woodard’s affidavit, Welles got some of the facts wrong. (The recording is at the end of this excerpt.) But over the next few weeks the error was corrected and the police chief who blinded Woodard was found.

[On] Sunday, August  25, an exuberant Welles opened his radio broadcast with these dramatic words: “This is Orson Welles speaking. The place was Batesburg. Isaac Woodard thought it happened in Aiken. He was wrong . . . The blame belongs . . . in Batesburg. Batesburg, South Carolina.” Welles then described the work of his investigators in locating a minister and several workmen who had observed the police chief of Batesburg and a highway patrolman pouring “buckets of water over the head and body of a soldier.” Welles reported the officers were “washing away” blood and between each pouring asking the soldier, “Can you see yet?” According to Welles, he simply responded no. That soldier was Isaac Woodard.

But Welles was not finished. He explained that when he brought the Woodard story to national attention, “the name of the guilty policeman was unknown and it looked as though it always would be. I promised to get that name, I have it now.” Welles then dramatically disclosed to his national audience the name of Woodard’s attacker:

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J.D. Salinger at 100: Forever Young, Forever Influential

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New Year’s Day 2019 would have been the 100th birthday of J. D. Salinger. It’s a milestone worth celebrating because Salinger’s literary voice remains so young.           

Salinger is no longer as popular as he once was, but with the passage of time, his impact has become clearer. From Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar to Frank Conroy’s Stop Time to Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, Salinger’s influence dominates modern American memoir.

The opening of Salinger’s 1951 masterpiece, The Catcher in the Rye, set the tone for his writing. “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like… and all that David Copperfield kind of crap,” Salinger’s narrator, Holden Caulfield tells us before adding, “but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”       

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Sherlock Holmes, John Watson and a Christmas gift of friendship

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Every year, at the close of the year, I read Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” and I ask myself a question: Have two characters in literature ever loved each other more than Sherlock Holmes and John Watson did? 

We often find the greatest potency in what I think of as semi-official capacities. An official capacity would be, say, your marriage. That person you are married to is meant to be, so we think, your main “go-to.” We assume there is potency in straightforward, forceful statement. But have you ever noticed that little in this life is more potent than a question, and that a question is always at least one statement? Usually it’s many statements at once. “Do you love me?” can also mean, “You might not love me now,” or “Maybe you once loved me and stopped doing so,” or “It’s conceivable that you’ve never loved me.” What if there’s no greater love than friendship, and it is friendship that is the root of any great love, no matter the form that love takes? These are other questions I ask myself when I read “The Adventures of the Blue Carbuncle” at Christmastime, and it leads to a statement: This is how the best of relationships ought to be.

If you’re not familiar with this story, let us imagine that we are sitting somewhere together—in a tavern, say—and you are about to learn something heartening. The story first appeared in the January 1892 edition of The Strand, Doyle’s standard stomping grounds for his Holmes tales, and was later collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes for book publication in October of that year. 

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Wrestling with the Paradox of Jesus as Human and Divine

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In this secular age, few readers will venture into the recondite pathways of theological discourse, but I would encourage those with the slightest inclination to discover how contemporary thinking about Christianity has evolved to look into the writings of Rowan Williams. As good a way as any to begin would be to read his latest book, Christ: The Heart of Creation, a closely argued meditation on how Christians over two millennia have dealt with the paradoxes of Christian thought, as well as about the relationship between a creator God and creation itself.

Williams is the former Archbishop of Canterbury (2003-2012), the equivalent of the Pope within the Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church in the United States. But that hardly begins to describe him. He’s a first-rate poet, gifted with a rich lyrical style and the ability to think in earthy images that bely a deeply speculative mind. He’s a public intellectual, one who weighs in regularly on a variety of thorny topics, from war and peace to human sexuality. He’s also one of the most serious and compelling theologians of our time.

His theological works range widely, beginning with The Wound of Knowledge (1979), a distillation of Christian thinking about spirituality from the New Testament through the mystical writings of St. John of the Cross. This is one of those inexhaustible texts that demands re-reading: I’ve read it at least four times, and plan to revisit it again soon. He’s written more than two dozen important individual works of theology, including influential studies of Arius and Teresa of Avila. Among his many works, I would especially recommend his concise study of the Desert Fathers of ancient Egypt called (in the British edition) Silence and Honeycakes (2003) or, in an expanded American edition, Where God Happens (2005). More recently, in 2017, he published an erudite collection of essays on Saint Augustine, where he looks closely at this influential autobiographer, theologian and philosopher—a shaping mind in the development of early Christian doctrine.

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Meet the Original Ebenezer Scrooge

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The term “Dickensian” always connotes a kind of plumminess. There is richness in this prose, and richness in the depth of the characters. Even the villains and sad sacks who fund their own misery have a way of doing your soul good.

Of course, we all look to Ebenezer Scrooge at this time of year. That premier skinflint made his debut in 1843, having been conceived in the mind of Charles Dickens while he walked upwards of twenty miles into the Victorian night of his London, the principle seat of his art and a character unto itself in his fiction.

But what you might not know is that nearly a decade before, Dickens had drafted a proto-Scrooge, another character also visited by representatives from the land of spirits who took exception to his wastrel attitude regarding Christmas.

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That Didn’t Take Long: Novelists Tackle Trump

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Standing for months in front of Trump Tower with a “literary” sign—such as WHO WILL GO UPRIVER FOR PRESIDENT KURTZ?—I wondered which American novelists would dare to brave the supposed curse of topicality and treat the famously litigious Donald Trump during his Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now presidency.

The first was the relatively new U.S. citizen Salman Rushdie in The Golden House. In the last month or so, Gary Shteyngart in Lake Success and Jonathan Lethem in The Feral Detective have published novels set, respectively, just before and just after Trump’s election. All three novelists call Trump a “monster” but avoid engaging him directly as a character. They instead make him an off-stage figure, to whom their characters react, and invent Trumpian stand-ins to absorb the writers’ wrath.

Sufficiently enraged to stand in the cold, I hoped for a novel as super-heated, explicitly political, and courageous as Robert Coover’s The Public Burning. About the Rosenbergs’ execution as “Atomic Spies” in 1953 when Richard Nixon was vice president, written in the ’70s when Nixon was president, and featuring Nixon as a major character, The Public Burning is an epic circus that mix-masters fact and fabrication. The novel closes with its superhero Uncle Sam, personification of old white-man anger, preparing Nixon to screw the American public as Sam has prepared all past presidents: by sodomizing him. Scheduled for a Bicentennial release, The Public Burning was delayed by legal challenges and one publisher’s cowardice until 1977.

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‘The Double Helix’ at 50: Discovering DNA Is Still a Miracle

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In 1968, art had no problem being big, bold, and sprawling. Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles unleashed gargantuan double album sets that seemed expressly primed for the blowing of minds, and if they didn’t get the synapses firing enough, there was Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to finish the job. But what we might overlook now, at the distance of some 50 years later, is what is conceivably that year’s best book, a slim volume that is bound to rip the roof off of any head and pour in a whole lot of goodness.

And why is that? Because we’re talking about a book that, oh, I don’t know, explains why we look like we do, why we sound like we do, have the mannerisms we do, possess the health predispositions we come with. Nuts, right? The book in question is The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, by James Watson.

There’s a good chance that the last time you heard Watson’s name you were in an eighth grade science class. There was that other fellow—Francis Crick—and the two of them, with a huge assist from Rosalind Franklin, figured out that what makes us us has to do with what’s essentially the root of all chromosomes, this cool looking doodad shaped like two interwoven staircases. You likely discharged the pair of scientists from your mind after a pop quiz or two and had no idea that Watson could write the hell out of a science book.

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Why the Hell Are We Still Reading Ernest Hemingway?

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As the light industry of books on Ernest Hemingway continue to spill over into the 21st century, we now know everything about the most famous American writer except why we still read him.

Many of Hemingway’s contemporaries—Sherwood Anderson, Thomas Wolfe, Sinclair Lewis—have faded into the twilight realm of the praised but unread while Hemingway is alive and well on the syllabuses of colleges and even high schools. We’ve had studies of his prose style, Hemingway’s Laboratory by Milton Cohen (2012); his war service, The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos and a Friendship Made and Lost During World War I (2017) by John McGrath Morris; his boat, Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life and Lost by Paul Hendrickson (2011); his final trip to Spain, Looking for Hemingway by Tony Castro (2016); and collections of his letters, though he told a biographer of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “I write letters because it is fun to get letters back, not for posterity. What the hell is posterity, anyway?” (Bullshit, of course; if he wasn’t trying to shape his own posterity, why save all the letters?)

This year there are three more Hemingway volumes. Autumn in Venice: Hemingway and His Last Muse by Andrea Di Robilant is a fascinating story about Hemingway’s love of Venice and the affair he had there with a young woman thirty years his junior.

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James Baldwin’s ‘Beale Street’ Is Talking Louder Than Ever

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If Beale Street Could Talk, a movie directed by Barry Jenkins, opens in limited release December 14. The novel of the same name by James Baldwin and on which the movie is based was published in June 1974. It tells the story of Tish and Fonny, two very young (she’s 19, he’s 22) African-Americans in New York City who are in love, engaged to be married, then find the fragile trajectory of their lives thrown off by Fonny’s arrest for a rape he did not commit. The perpetrator of the arrest—of the entire maddening injustice of Fonny’s incarceration—is one Officer Bell, a blue-eyed, red-haired New York City cop who, for no good reason, has it in for Fonny.

Beale Street is a tragedy, not without hope at the end, but a tragedy nevertheless. “You can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride,” is a saying you hear among lawyers of the criminal defense bar, and the ordeal that Tish, Fonny, and their families endure is a very harsh ride indeed.

The same summer that Beale Street was published, I read it far from New York, in a quiet, leafy suburb of what was called in those days “the New South,” and the news that book brought me might as well have come from another planet. I was 16, white, middle class, and had spent exactly one night of my life in New York, at a Holiday Inn. The world Baldwin depicts, a world in which the racist animus of a white policeman could so randomly, lethally be brought to bear on one particular black man, rocked my 16-year-old self back on his heels.

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This Famous Poem About the Pilgrims Is a Real Turkey

Chandler and Joey, Bert and Ernie… Miles Standish and John Alden. We are talking, of course, of the rich history of fictional roommates, if by “rich” we really mean, “huh, there aren’t a lot of them, are there?”

But you know what else there isn’t a lot of? Notable fictional creations pertaining to Thanksgiving, though the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made a dogged—and lucrative—attempt to countervail that set of circumstances when he immortalized the above Puritan duo in a poem—about a love triangle, nonetheless—that still stands as our most notable Thanksgiving-related creation. But should it?

Longfellow had a unique career, and you can make a case that he’s done more harm than good with many of the readers who have encountered him since he composed his narrative poem The Courtship of Miles Standish 160 years ago in 1858. What Longfellow liked to do was read widely, then synthesize, borrowing European poetic forms and giving his American readers some juicy poetical tales loaded with heroic couplets.

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Revealed: Sylvia Plath’s Last Desperate Letters

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Going through a breakup with her on-off boyfriend Richard Sassoon in the spring of 1956 Sylvia Plath wrote to her mother that her doubts about Richard stemmed from his physical inadequacy. “I see now through the boyish weakness of his frame, & the delicate health & unathletic nature, to a soul which is kingly and beautiful and strong.” The all-American good looks of a different beau, Gordon Lameyer, created the opposite problem. Plath was looking for a man to be her partner in life and the father of her children who was her equal in both physical and intellectual vigor. She found him, at a party in Cambridge just a month after writing to her mother about Richard. His name was, of course, Ted Hughes.

Plenty has been committed to paper about Hughes’ betrayal of Plath, when he began an affair with Assia Wevill in the summer of 1962—an affair which stretched on through the winter of 1963, when Plath committed suicide. (Assia moved into Court Green, Plath’s home and gave birth to a daughter by Hughes, named Shura. She cared for Plath’s children and Hughes’s household until Hughes was unfaithful to her, and, in 1969, committed suicide by gas oven, also killing Shura, then four. For more on Assia, read Yehuda Koren and Eliat Negev’s excellent biography, Lover of Unreason.)

Plath’s agony over Hughes’s betrayal is on full display in surviving letters to her friends, her mother, and of course, in her final Ariel poems, which were subsequently collected by Hughes after her death. (Hughes claimed to have burned and/or misplaced Plath’s final journals.) But then, at the end of 2016, came a startling discovery: 14 never-before-seen letters from Plath to her psychiatrist, Dr. Ruth Beuscher, detailing Plath’s struggle after Hughes’s infidelity. These gut-wrenching letters are published for the first time in the second volume of Plath’s letters, edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil. The volume bears a foreword from Plath’s daughter, Freida Hughes, recounting her difficult decision over whether the letters should be published.

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How Edgar Allan Poe Got Kicked Out of the U.S. Army

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In discussions of great American writers who were also military veterans, the name Edgar Allan Poe is unlikely to come up. Yet it should: the iconically doomed poet and inventor of the modern detective story served as a soldier for several of his formative years. Furthermore, in considering a life often marked by painful loss and failure, it might surprise many readers to learn Poe was something of a successful and motivated soldier—that is, until he wasn’t.

After leaving the University of Virginia without a degree (and with significant gambling debts) Poe enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1827 under an assumed name: Edgar A. Perry. It’s unclear why he fudged the official rolls but he may have been reluctant to use his real name for the lingering sake of propriety. “Enlisted soldier” was not a profession typically undertaken by honorable young men in the early 19th century, a time when, paradoxically, Revolutionary War heroes were being venerated by the same dominant culture that looked with scorn upon real-life grunts. Relatively small by today’s standards, the army’s ranks at the time were disproportionately composed of immigrants, many of whom spoke little English: Germans, Irish, and others.

Poe’s exact reasons for wanting to join this motley crew are lost to history. Most likely his motivations were various and complicated, as people’s tend to be. He did not get along well with his foster father, John Allan, who refused to continue supporting him financially. His first book of poems, published the same year as his enlistment, was far from a commercial success. He was a young man in want of a glorious and paying career, and as a boy he would have heard stories of his grandfather David Poe, a major in George Washington’s army. The elder Poe was semi-famous in Baltimore and was remembered and liked by such luminaries as General Lafayette. There is evidence from “Private Perry’s” letters that Poe bragged of this association.  

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The Saintly Sister Who Found Art and God in The Big Easy

Handout from Jason Berry’s collection

In 1957, the state of Louisiana built a four-lane vertical lift bridge on North Main InfoClaiborne Avenue over Industrial Canal, streamlining access from New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, a vast semi-rural area of mostly poor people. That year, two African American evangelists moved downriver to the Lower Nine, and Sister Gertrude Morgan became a Bride of Christ. She wrote:

He has taken me out of the black robe and crowned me out in white.

We are now in revelation, he married me, I’m his wife.

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How Basketball’s Fight Over Racial Equality Remade the Game

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Dr. James Naismith’s final student before he retired from the University of Kansas was John McLendon, the pioneer of fast-break basketball, the full-court press, and the four corners offense. Yet McLendon never received the credit he deserved, because the majority of his work was accomplished at historically black colleges and universities when basketball was still segregated in the United States.

Long before civil rights legislation began to rid America of the scourge of segregation, McLendon was utilizing basketball to break down racial barriers. In March 1944, McLendon orchestrated a “secret game” between his team, North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University), and a collection of white former college basketball stars from Duke University Medical School, who had handily beaten the Duke varsity team in a scrimmage. McLendon planned the game for a Sunday morning, when most people would be in church. The medical students borrowed cars from friends and drove a circuitous route to the school to avoid being detected, arriving with their jackets pulled over their heads. They hustled into a locked gym, where McLendon’s Eagles trounced them 88–44. There were no spectators.

“Coach Mac” went on to mentor countless African American coaches, among them Southern University coach Ben Jobe, Clarence “Big House” Gaines (who led Winston-Salem State University to a Division II NCAA championship in 1967 on the strength of a young guard named Earl Monroe), and former Georgetown coach John Thompson, who became the first African American coach to win a Division I championship.

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Susan Orlean Dissects the Catastrophic LA Library Fire

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Susan Orlean had recently moved to Los Angeles and was taking a tour of the main branch of that city’s public library when the man guiding her around took a book off a shelf, cracked it open, and smelled it. “You can still smell the smoke in some of them,” he said, to which Orlean responded, “Because the library used to let patrons smoke?”

“No,” he said, “smoke from the fire.”

“The fire?” asked Orlean. “What fire?”

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