No Place Like Rome

The story of Dido and Aeneas gets my vote as the great tragic love story. In the early chapters of Virgil's Aeneid, Aeneas, on his way from the smoking ruins of Troy to the shores of Italy, is shipwrecked on the shores of Carthage. There he meets Dido, the Carthaginian queen. They fall in love. He helps her build her royal city. Then Jupiter gets angry because Aeneas has lost sight of his duty to found the Roman empire. So the god sends a message to Aeneas: get moving. When Aeneas complies,...

Books: In Literature, Size Matters

I wish Vikram Chandra all the best. But I am not going to finish his novel, "Sacred Games." I read more than 100 pages, enough to know that he is a good writer. He has done just what early reviews of his 928-page novel say he's done: mixed the techniques of a literary novel with the plot of a police procedural. The only problem is, I don't care. Oh, I care a little bit. Just not enough to make myself read another 800 pages.Book reviewers, if they're being paid and if they're being the least bit...

The Ravenous Doctor Is In. Again

The trouble with Hannibal Lecter—as a literary character—is that he has no equals. He's always the smartest person in the room. He has no Achilles heel, no vulnerability to green Kryptonite. He errs from time to time, but so far, in his annals as chronicled by Thomas Harris, there is no prison that can hold him for long, no law officer who can outthink him. And that, after four novels in which he appears, is a real problem, because if Hannibal never meets his match, there's no tension. If...

A Gas-Guzzling, Tailfin-Sporting Masterpiece

Part Three: Reviewing Thomas PynchonI thought I'd be done last week. Last week, I thought … But it takes a while to read a novel that's roughly as thick as the Manhattan telephone directory. All right, yes, just the residential directory. So I'm merely looking for a little recognition here. There a problem with that? I put my time in. I read those 1,085 pages. I took notes. Notes, hell, I wrote down 50 or 60 quotes, I recorded place names, ship names (it seemed important there for a while),...

American Lit's All-Night DJ

More random thoughts while in the middle, literally, of Thomas Pynchon's new novel, "Against the Day": I once lived in a city with one of those public-supported radio stations that played just about every kind of popular music under the sun: rock, blues, jazz, Celtic, Tex-Mex, bluegrass, gamelin, calypso and so on and on. The show I remember best I remember for its title. The music on the show was avant garde, fringe classical: electronic stuff, computer-generated this and that. It was pretty...

Pynchon on the Installment Plan

Here's my problem: I've now read more than 400 pages of the new Thomas Pynchon novel, "Against the Day," and I'm not even half through. Normally I wouldn't complain, and I certainly wouldn't look for sympathy. Long novels come with the territory when you're a book reviewer, and in the end, it balances out, because you read your share of short novels, too. Besides, no one's going to give you a lick of sympathy when you get paid to read for a living, even if the book is in Urdu.OK, that's not...

An 'Unbelievable' Talent

Reading the stories about the murder of actress Adrienne Shelly in New York City this week, I kept thinking of a Frank O'Hara poem that begins, "Lana Turner has collapsed!" After that he spends about half of the poem's 17 lines talking about the weather (snow, rain, possibly hail, "but hailing hits you hard on the head/ hard so it was really snowing and/ raining and I was in such a hurry …") and the New York City traffic. Then, "suddenly I see a headline/ LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED!" And then,...

The Satirist Who Would Save a State

For the 12 years I spent in Florida, I never thought the state needed its own satirist, since my local newspaper did such a bang up job in that department simply by reporting the news. And mind you, I left Florida well before Katherine Harris and dangling chads and the "election" of 2000—although I can't say I was surprised by any of that. No one who has spent more than a vacation in the Sunshine State would think that was the least bit out of line. Odd, yes, but odd is ordinary in Florida....

Marconi--And Cheese

By grafting together the story of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the tale of a serial killer who worked that city's darker corners while the fair was in progress, Erik Larson produced a huge nonfiction best seller: 2003's "The Devil in the White City." His new book, "Thunderstruck," apes the formula: this time he links a murder in Edwardian England with Guglielmo Marconi's efforts to perfect the wireless telegraph. But where the story of the Chicago killer provided an effectively...

Hero or Hatchet Man?

When you pick up "Blood and Thunder," Hampton Sides's new history of how the U.S. government almost destroyed the Navajo Nation in the 1800s, you can't help thinking, "Here we go again" All the usual suspects are present. Again, government and military leaders, besotted with the idea of Manifest Destiny, are unapologetic land-grabbers, and the Navajos are victims of the white man's treachery. But Sides, to his credit, doesn't stop there. Resisting the impulse to think that he's wiser than the...

On the Lost Highway

For a more than decent summary of the plot of Cormac McCarthy's latest novel, "The Road," consult the Library of Congress boilerplate that follows the book's title page: "1. Fathers and sons--Fiction. 2. Voyages and travels--United States--Fiction. 3. Regression (Civilization)--Fiction. 4. Survival skills--Fiction." For that matter, it's not a bad imitation of the novel's style. Using the stripped-down prose that he employed so effectively in his last book, "No Country for Old Men," McCarthy...

'Bluegrass in Reverse'

Mike Compton calls the music he and David Long play on their wonderful new album "bluegrass in reverse." "Stomp" ( Acoustic Disc ), released March 7, features the mandolins, guitars and voices of Compton and Long on 17 songs, some original, several by Bill Monroe, and a good many that date as far back as the 19th century. The general idea, Compton says, is to recreate the sounds that Monroe would have heard before he singlemindedly, if not singlehandedly, invented bluegrass back in the 1930s...

Mr. Ford's Mr. Lincoln

A John Ford movie is a tough sell these days. The sentimentality, the boys-club atmosphere, the broad humor—where the only thing funnier than a bar fight is a longer bar fight—these things don't play well with modern audiences. If movie fans think of Ford at all, it's as the man who made a lot of John Wayne Westerns. Never mind that he made more than 140 pictures, starting in the silent era and going right up through the '60s. His subjects ranged from the building of the transcontinental...

Not Easily Categorized

The boxed set has become the de rigueur honor for any aging pop musician who is A.) still around, B.)  still pumping it out and C.)  has enough fans to make it worth someone's while to produce one of these things. Richard Thompson, who began his career in the '60s as a songwriter and lead guitarist for the English band Fairport Convention, has been at it long enough to warrant his second box! The noteworthy thing is that—drum roll, please—he deserves it. And this new box, "The Life and...

'I'm Not Dead Yet'

Richard Thompson isn't doing live interviews to promote this new set, but he did graciously agree to answer a few questions from NEWSWEEK's Malcolm Jones via e-mail. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Is it still a pleasure to perform? To write? To play music around the house, with friends? Put another way, if money was of no concern, what would you do with yourself?Richard Thompson: Music is absolutely the center of my life. I suppose if I could afford to tour less, I would write more. And a bit more...

Walking a Fine Line

Being the child of a celebrity means running into some part of your personal life every time you turn the corner. Being the child of a dead celebrity, as Rosanne Cash has discovered since her father's death in 2003, can drive the surreal meter right into the red: "I walked into a store the other day, and I heard my father's voice say, 'I'm not afraid to die.' You know that song 'Personal Jesus'? There it was on the sound system. I just went, Whoa, glad to hear it."Being a singer and songwriter...

Cash on the Line

Being the child of a celebrity means running into some part of your personal life every time you turn the corner. Being the child of a dead celebrity, as Rosanne Cash has discovered since her father's death in 2003, can drive the surreal meter right into the red: "I walked into a store the other day, and I heard my father's voice say, 'I'm not afraid to die.' You know that song 'Personal Jesus'? There it was on the sound system. I just went, whoa, glad to hear it."Being a singer and songwriter...

Jazz: Pictures That Swing

In 1960 William Claxton took the road trip of his dreams. A West Coast photographer already well known for his photos of jazz musicians, Claxton was asked by German writer Joachim Berendt to document a cross-country search for American jazz artists. Like the men and women they were searching out, Claxton and Berendt were great improvisers. So, while they knew generally where they wanted to go--New Orleans, Chicago, the West Coast--they made room for happy accidents. "Most all of the trip was...

Look Books

"Deep South" by Sally Mann ( Bulfinch Press )In her latest collection, Mann extends the exploration she began with "What Remains," her study of death that focused on corpses and battlefields. The new book includes the haunted landscapes of the South: more battlefields, decaying mansions, kudzu shrouded landscapes, and the site where Emmett Till was murdered. Using the archaic medium of wet-plate collodion photography, a technique mostly abandoned by the end of the 19th century, she walks right...

Among School Children, McCourt Got Schooled

As he will be the first to tell you, Frank McCourt almost failed the exam to become a teacher in the New York City schools. "A passing grade was 65. I scored a 69," he recalls over a bowl of oatmeal one recent morning in a Manhattan diner. What saved his bacon was the teaching demonstration. He was assigned to teach a class on the World War I poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and, as he tells it in his latest memoir, "Teacher Man," a girl in the class began talking about her...

America From Tom to Abe

Sean Wilentz ends his massive history, "The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln," with a description of a photograph taken in 1865: 13 men, six white, seven black, the jury empaneled to try Jefferson Davis, ex-president of the Confederacy, on charges of treason. To Wilentz, the picture is an apt emblem of "the hopes of the Civil War era as to how a post-slavery United States might look." Sitting in his office at Princeton, Wilentz shakes his head in admiration. "All these white...

A Comedy Of Suffering

Amy Tan means well, but she knows that's not enough. So she did what she does best and wrote a novel about her dilemma. "Saving Fish From Drowning" is not your usual Tan story. It's not about mothers and daughters or the Chinese-American experience. Instead, it's a comic novel about an American tour group kidnapped by Karen tribesmen in the decidedly unfunny military dictatorship of Burma. Completely sympathetic to the plight of those who suffer under the dictators, Tan knew, when she started,...

Books: A Lighter Look at Suffering

Amy Tan means well. But she knows that's not enough. So she did what she does best and wrote a novel about her dilemma. "Saving Fish From Drowning" is not your usual Tan story. It's not about mothers and daughters or the Chinese-American experience. Instead, it's a comic novel about an American tour group kidnapped by Karen tribesmen in the decidedly unfunny military dictatorship of Burma. Completely sympathetic to the plight of those who suffer under the dictators, Tan knew when she started...

SNAP JUDGMENT: BOOKS

Spook by Mary RoachHer choice of subjects--corpses in her last book ("Stiff") and now the search for the soul--suggests Roach is not your average science writer. Funny, inquisitive and uncowed by experts, she's the general reader's ideal emissary to the arcana of serious science. Whether portraying students of reincarnation or sorting through spiritualist mumbo jumbo--and putting the ech back in ectoplasm--Roach's writing has what science has so far failed to find: a divine spark.The City of...

Monk And 'Trane --Together At Last

It is the musical equivalent of discovering a new Mount Everest: last February, while digitizing a lot of old Voice of America broadcast tapes, Library of Congress archivist Larry Appelbaum discovered several boxes labeled CARNEGIE HALL JAZZ 1957. One of the boxes had an additional label: T MONK. Listening to the tape, Appelbaum recognized the playing of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane and quickly verified with Coltrane biographer Lewis Porter that this was a rumor made real: a lost recording...

Fast Company

Myla Goldberg talks so fast and so intensely that after 10 minutes with her you feel you've known her forever. Over lunch in a Brooklyn diner you learn--before the food arrives--that she hates to repeat herself as a novelist, which explains why "Wickett's Remedy," in stores next week, is nothing like her debut, "Bee Season." That she grew up in Laurel, Md. --"15 miles from the shopping center where George Wallace got shot"--but couldn't wait to get to New York, where she hopes to live until she...

Snap Judgment: Books

--Malcolm JonesGarbo: Portraits From Her Private Collection By Scott Reisfield and Robert Dance Greta Garbo made only 26 movies before retiring and brilliantly perpetuating a myth that continues unabated. Now, timed to the centennial of her birth, comes this stunning com-pilation of photos of that face. The Swedish sphinx's contract specified that she receive an original print of every promo photo taken. Thus the book is filled with beautiful portraits by such Hollywood masters as George...

One For The Road

When book-sellers go to a convention, they apparently do spend the night reading. This past June, at BookExpo America in New York City, Hyperion Books started handing out prepublication copies of J. R. Moehringer's debut memoir, "The Tender Bar," on a Friday. By Saturday morning, word of mouth had made Moehringer Topic A on the convention floor. No one who's read the book has stopped talking about it since: what conventioneers were calling "the book about the kid growing up in a bar" is poised...

DEAR OSAMA BIN LADEN...

It is hard to imagine an uglier coincidence: Chris Cleave's stunning debut novel, "Incendiary," the story of what happens after a bomb kills more than 1,000 people in a London soccer stadium, was published in England on July 7, the day of the London bombings. (The American edition is out Aug. 2.) No one seemed to know what to do. The publisher pulled its advertising but didn't recall the book; one bookstore chain yanked it out of window displays--but not off the shelves. Cleave, a former...

GUNS, MONEY AND DOPE IN THE TEXAS DESERT

Llewelyn Moss, the hero of Cormac McCarthy's new novel, is out hunting antelope near the Rio Grande when he comes across the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong: three Broncos full of corpses and heroin. Not far off lies another corpse and a satchel full of $100 bills. Taking the money, Moss sets in motion a plot that involves vengeful drug dealers, an aging, ruminative sheriff and a hired killer who's so evil he'll kill on a coin toss. After that, not much happens in "No Country for Old Men"...

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