Books
Spain, the False Nine

Spain, the False Nine

The original title for Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s detective novel, Off Side, is El delantero centro fue asesinado at atardecer which translates to “The center forward was murdered at dusk”. The title comes from a series of florid notes sent to FC Barcelona: “Because you use your centre forward to make yourselves feel like gods who can manage victories and defeats, from the comfortable throne of minor Caesars: the centre forward will be killed at dusk.” More»

Creating Susan Sontag

Creating Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag created Susan Sontag. The first volume of her journals and notebooks, Reborn, made that clear. As her son and the journals’ editor David Rieff writes, the entries show a young person who “self-consciously and determinedly went about creating the self she wanted to be.” The recently published second volume, As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh, reinforces the notion that she – and, by extension, we – can consciously create our identities, or at least personas. More»

De-“Randing” America

De-“Randing” America

It’s easy to ignore Ayn Rand. The extremity of her views makes it easy to write her followers off as fringe characters in the already-far Right. However, ignoring Rand and her Objectivist philosophy has in fact facilitated her movement from the fringes toward the mainstream. Now, thirty years after her death, it’s dangerous to ignore her. More»

Prison Makes You Christian

Prison Makes You Christian

Two weeks ago, I went to an awards dinner together with several students. We work on an education project in an Arizona prison. The hotel dining room was filled with hundreds of people, nearly all of whom were religious volunteers engaged in prison ministries. More»

Imperial Aftertaste

Imperial Aftertaste

“Mushroom soup, bitter greens with tomatoes the size of peas, rare roast beef sliced as thin as paper, noodles in a green sauce, cheese that melts on your tongue served with sweet blue grapes” — Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen’s first meal in the Capitol is not distinguished by arcane preparation but the availability of high-quality ingredients. More»

Legitimating Colonial Violence

Legitimating Colonial Violence

Nathan Englander’s new collection of short stories normalizes bad politics. The author’s inability to engage with critical difficulties within American Jewish and Israeli culture leaves key stories littered with futile symbolism. It’s too simple to suggest that Englander lacks courage. More»

Literary Game

Literary Game

The English debut of Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich is a major literary event, despite the book’s restrained ambitions. Because the author’s posthumous fame shows no sign of abating, this disconcerting tale is bound to reach a much larger audience than the specialized nature of its subject matter would otherwise suggest. And deservedly so, for it provides ample evidence of Bolaño’s brilliance. More»

Sunbelt Justice

Sunbelt Justice

When newspapers first disclosed that one percent of the US population was imprisoned or on probation, credible reports allege that prosecutors at Maricopa County Attorney’s office celebrated with cheers and calls to “Go for two percent!”  That is what team spirit looks like in this age of mass incarceration. More»

Solidarity Is All Around

Solidarity Is All Around

When The Coming Insurrection was first made public, it read to me like wishful thinking. Although rooted in Europe’s struggle to cope with the realities of multiculturalism, the uprisings that inspired the book seemed uniquely French. How could they be the model for an international movement? More»

Camus Played Baseball

Camus Played Baseball

For the last decade, I’ve taught courses in critical thinking at a US college. When I first interviewed for the job, I was asked why I thought I was the best candidate. I responded that the answer was in the syllabi I’d used over the years. I’ve always made every effort to tell students to question things, irrespective of the topic in question. More»
Insanely Great Asshole

Insanely Great Asshole

Steve Jobs should have been a rock star. So tremendous was the outpouring of public grief, you’d be forgiven for not knowing that he was a marketing czar. Though the fanboys and cult of Mac kids did their expected thing, it was the grief repeatedly expressed by laypeople that was so astounding, with mourners going so far as to stage homages at Apple stores. More»

Between Worlds

Between Worlds

Neal Stephenson’s latest book REAMDE is an impressive achievement. He manages to fill it with a wealth of detail without stalling the story’s momentum. And though it is hardly a traditional novel of ideas, it provides the raw material for searching reflections on the role fiction plays in our lives. The fantasies it mobilizes are so artfully presented that they are able to seduce readers deeply troubled by their implications. More»