How a catchphrase became sadly relevant
Once upon a time, long ago—in the late 1960s, that is—there lived a young woman who, a recent college graduate, was on her own for the first time. She liked sex with men. She may have gauged it as a kind of validation, a stage for playing out childhood issues and sibling rivalries. Or there may not have been much thought to it at all.
We will never know. We can only guess at how Roseann Quinn sorted out these ...
Remembering the second best-selling novel in English
J.R.R Tolkien, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien’s great work of modern mythology, was forged by three wars. The first began 100 years ago, a hell of mud and fire. The second was its successor, a time of contending totalitarian visions. The third has in some respects never ended, pitting East against West, religion against religion.
As truly as it did George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Cold War most fully shaped Tolkien’s vision. But Tolkien also opposed two larger ...
Celebrating Sandra Cisneros' writing
Sandra Cisneros photographed by Ray Santisteban.
In the Spanish language, caramelo is a candy made of melted sugar, milk and butter—a caramel, in other words. In parts of Mexico, a caramelo is a kind of chewy cheese quesadilla. You can find the dish in Michoacán, and, for that matter, in Chicago, where the largest population of Mexicans outside of Mexico and the American Southwest is to be found.
And everywhere in Mexico, a nation as obsessed by ethnic gradations as any other, a caramelo is a ...
It's still a vexing document
Was ever a book so disbelieved from the moment of its release as the set of documents known as the Warren Commission Report? Perhaps O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It, to be sure, but in the annals of official explanation, nothing has become so completely a byword for the semantic domain labeled, “Yeah, right, uh-huh.”
It did not help that the Commission was rushed from the beginning. John F. Kennedy, whom the report lauds as “a young and ...
The beloved book’s strange origins
The Wizard of Oz.
In 1932, an appliance salesman named Isidore Hochberg wrote a set of politically charged lyrics for a satirical musical called Americana. In one tune, the narrator builds railroads, fights wars, plows fields and erects skyscrapers in the space of a few verses, only to be undone by predatory capitalists. The show closed after only a couple of performances, but that song, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” became a smash hit, recorded by a young Bing Crosby.
Come the ...
Katherine Martin, Head of U.S. Dictionaries at Oxford University Press
A stranger walks into a crowded bar, produces a plastic and metal reed that looks something like a fountain pen, and twists the cap. Smoke ensues. No, with all respect to The Goldfinch, he has not set off a bomb, though ardent antismokers might take it as such. Instead, our mysterious stranger is “vaping,” as in “I vape, you vape, he/she/it vapes,” taking nicotine into the body in the form of a chemtrail instead of the ...
We remember the first real foodie
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.
That observation, along with its variant “You are what you eat,” belongs to a French lawyer who, though on the run during the darkest hours of the Revolution, always found time to nosh. Fork in hand, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin also took time to ponder what he was putting into his body and what implications the food we eat holds for the larger project of civilization.
Remembering the life of the legendary journalist
Of the 25 or so students who worked on my high school newspaper 40 years ago, six became professional journalists. One won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting. Another became a leading political writer. Another came to head a chain of magazines, while another founded an influential financial newsletter. All have accumulated honors and bylines, the latter by the thousands.
It helps that we had a vigorous teacher who wasn’t shy of allowing us to skip school for the day ...