Trying to solve a puzzle for which there is no solution

I grew up voraciously reading mystery novels, with Agatha Christie being my author of choice, with other mystery writers thrown in from time to time. She was a prolific writer and I suspect that I have read at least 90% of her output. Hence my ideas about the conventions of that genre have largely been shaped by her books. [Read more…]

Book review: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (2013) by Lawrence Wright

Reader Norm kindly sent me a copy of the above book and said that he had enjoyed it and I must say that it was a real page-turner. I had intended to write a full review but I came across a good one by Diane Johnson in the New York Review of Books, along with a review of a memoir by Jenna Miscavige Hill (the niece of the current Scientology leader David Miscavige) who defected from the church, that captured much of what I wanted to say so I will just refer you to that review and add some thoughts of my own. [Read more…]

Book review: Dirty Wars (2013) by Jeremy Scahill

The book came out earlier this year and a documentary film with the same name was released in June and is available on demand on Netflix. Both cover the same ground but in different ways and are invaluable for anyone who wants to understand how the war of terror has evolved and where it is heading. In short, it is headed in the direction in which ‘the world is a battlefield’ (the subtitle of the book) and the US is now engaged in fighting eruptions of what it sees as terrorism in over 70 countries around the globe. [Read more…]

Charles Knowlton and the golden age of freethought

If you asked me to list the names of 19th century American atheists, I would have said Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899) and stopped. He is clearly the most famous but it turns out that there is another person who preceded him, and that was Dr. Charles Knowlton. I became aware of him because of a new biography titled An Infidel Body-Snatcher and the Fruits of His Philosophy by Dan Allosso. [Read more…]

The Great Gatsby and me

As an immigrant, I figured that probably a good way to understand to nature of my adopted country was to familiarize myself with its literature, especially the ones that are asserted to be classics, since the books that a society values are the ones that reveal its sense of identity. So naturally as part of that exploration I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, often referred to as the great American novel. [Read more…]

Bertie Wooster and the n-word

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I want to come back one more time to the question of when the use of the n-word might be appropriate.

I am a huge fan of English humorist P. G. Wodehouse, especially enjoying his Jeeves and Wooster series. If you have read Wodehouse, you know that his stories largely deal with the life of the British upper classes and aristocracy and are set in the time between World War I and World War II. His funniest writing also occurred in this period, though he was a prolific writer, churning out stuff right up to his death in 1975. [Read more…]

The annual exposure of my ignorance of literature

I like to think of myself as fairly well read but the season of Nobel-prize winning announcements has just ended and of all the prizes, the literature prize is the one that reminds me each year of how wrong my self estimation is because I have never even heard of almost any of the winners. And the sad thing is that even though I tell myself that I should read those authors and widen my knowledge of great world literature, I almost never carry through on that promise, even though the winners are universally hailed as great writers. [Read more…]

Gore Vidal, 1925-2012

Gore Vidal, a class traitor of the best kind, died yesterday.

Born into a well-connected and politically influential family that could have opened doors to a patrician life, he became instead a populist outsider and a scathing critic of the politics of the US. He had wide-ranging interests, writing novels, essays, and screenplays and also acting in films, such as Gattacca where he was pretty good. [Read more…]