Author Archives: James Warner

Cynthia Ozick’s "Actors"

The protagonist of this story is “Matt Sorley, born Mose Saducca,” a mostly-out-of-work Brooklyn actor of Sephardic stock, whose wife Frances composes crossword puzzles.“It wasn’t clear whether he was actually acting all the time (Frances liked to accuse him of this)…”Matt finds a role in an adaptation of “The Yiddish King Lear,” a rewriting of […]

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Google Books Settlement Deadline Approaching

Reminding all published authors: if you choose to opt out of the Google Books Settlement, you have until Friday, September 4th, 2009 to do so, otherwise you automatically get opted in. Or if you choose to opt in, September 4th is your deadline to file an objection, to submit a statement disagreeing with some aspect […]

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Unsuspected Truths, Surprise Resolutions

Rilke wrote, “And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return.”In other words, it’s the impressions that have sunk out of your conscious into your unconscious mind, and then risen to consciousness […]

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Deepening the Mystery + InsideStorytime SPIRIT

Flannery O’Connor said the task of a fiction writer is to deepen the mystery.Raymond Chandler at twenty-three, writing in surprisingly Chestertonian mode in his essay “Realism and Fairyland,” wrote that “the spirit of an age is more essentially mirrored in its fairy-tales than in the most painstaking chronicle of a contemporary diarist.” It’s fascinating to […]

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Some Art Market Psychology

We know what we like — but not why. The part of us that comes up with rationalizations for what we like is not the same part of us that does the liking. The phrase “I don’t know a lot about art, but I know what I like” might translate roughly into “There is little […]

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Secret Sharers in a Jolly Corner

Cynthia Ozick’s story “Dictation” creates a fictional relationship between two real women — Theodora Bosanquet, the secretary of Henry James, and Lilian Hallowes, the secretary of Joseph Conrad.By the story’s end, Bosanquet has entered into a lesbian relationship with Virginia Woolf, although since Woolf is identified only as Leslie Stephen’s daughter “Ginnie,” inattentive readers may […]

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Generational Bias

Robert B. Ray, in his book How a Film Theory Got Lost and Other Mysteries in Cultural Studies, provides this 1868 quote from Théophile Gautier —“Faced with this paradox in painting, one may give the impression – even if one does not admit the charge – of being frightened lest one be dismissed as a […]

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Poe Lives! Goth Hop

From Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa —“’Well,’ I said, ‘we have had, in America, skillful writers. Poe is a skillful writer. It is skillful, marvelously constructed, and it is dead.’”I read this the other day, and had difficulty figuring out what Hemingway was getting at, with respect to Poe. The “dead” part, that is, not […]

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Biological Constraints on our Ability to Know What we Know

In On Being Certain, Robert Burton writes, “Since beginning this book, I have increasingly found myself asking a single question of any idea – be it the latest scientific advances, a pop psychology book, or personal opinions (mine as well as those of others): Is the idea consistent with how the mind works?”One book Burton […]

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Money and the Changing of the Seasons

This is a good excuse for me to link to Philip Larkin’s “Money.” Something miraculous happens in the last stanza of that poem.

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Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles

This is a multi-generational saga set in a society where the institution of the family has broken down.Janine is the daughter of a Third Republic official. She functions in the book as an anti-matriarch, an archetypal Bad Mother.Her two sons have different fathers. The boys’ relationship with each other is tenuous and casual; they seem […]

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Darwin’s Preference for Pretty Heroines

From Charles Darwin’s autobiography —“I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a […]

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Linguistic Relativism and Grammatical Gender

Lera Boroditsky cites experimental evidence that the language you speak shapes how you think — including the finding that the grammatical gender your language assigns to a noun influences your thoughts about the object in question. Boroditsky describes a beautifully-designed experiment: “when asked to describe a ‘key’ — a word that is masculine in German […]

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Wuthering Werewolves

My daughter asked me if Wuthering Heights is a book about vampires, understandably given the cover of the 1963 paperback edition she saw me reading, on which Cathy undeniably looks vampirish, and Heathcliff seems to be a cross between a werewolf and an albino gorilla. Emily Brontë was in fact quite open to the possibility […]

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Funny Stories About Unfunny Cartoons

Some anecdotes from James Thurber’s The Years With Ross, a book about the early history of “The New Yorker,” in the days when it was edited by Harold Ross. In 1927, a reader sent in this letter:“I have an idea for a cartoon. The cartoon is entitled, ‘Pouring over his Books.’ This is a pun. […]

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