Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Liter’y Life (with respect and apologies to George Frazier)

After college I decamped to grad school and got a M.S. in journalism at BU (trust me: that was the first and only time the words “master of science” were ever linked to my name). As a journalism student, I read the Globe and the Herald American, plus various weeklies, notably the Phoenix. The papers were competitive and lively as befitting a major city. I’d have killed for a job at any one of them (‘twas not to be, but I got lucky and landed at the New York Daily News, where I really learned how to be a reporter and editor—and had a good time for 13 years before heading west in ’88).
Sorry, I’m getting off track here, like one of those pathetic grandfatherly figures wandering off at the zoo in those dementia commercials on the nightly news. My point is that in the academic year ’73-’74, I fell under the spell of the Globe’s elegant, contrarian, feisty, irascible columnist George Frazier (1911-1974). Frasier, in the words of Alden Whitman, the New York Times’s legendary obit writer, was “a prose stylist of wit, pungency and elegance” (not unlike Whitman’s own prose style). Frazier had a varied career, working at Life, writing highly respected jazz criticism (he even co-wrote the lyrics to Count Basie’s “Harvard Blues”). A stylish man who wore a carnation in his lapel, Frazier was a kind of Lucius Beebe (Google if interested and credit blogger Richard Carreno with the Beebe comparison). Frazier also wrote a column on style for Esquire, and he liked the word “duende” (of Andalusian-Spanish origin), by which he defined something or someone with class (Nantucket had duende, Martha’s Vineyard did not—go figure). Frazier was an original (he once wrote an entire column about a baseball game in perfect Latin), and I particularly enjoyed his Saturday column entitled “The Lit’ry Life.” In it, Frazier would review the latest magazines and specific articles therein. His comments were often more interesting than the stories he critiqued.
These days, of course, the Internet allows people to link to anything they think is worthy of reading or looking at. A site like Arts&Letters Daily does an excellent job of making users aware of an enormous array of essays, articles, and reviews.
So here’s where I come in as I rip-off George Frazier’s wonderful idea from years ago. I read a lot: two daily newspapers (the NYT and the WSJ) and numerous websites. I also subscribe to 20 magazines. Do I read every word? Of course not, but I do come across stuff I think might be worth reading for others. So every now and then, I’ll be writing a blog entry called “The Liter’y Life” (I’ve changed the spelling from Frazier’s column since for all I know the original title is under copyright by the Globe or its parent company, the NYT). I’m often a week or two behind, so forgive me in advance. Much of what I’ll recommend should be available on the web. If not, you could always consider subscribing to a print publication. God knows magazines could use the bucks.
So away we go:
The Paris Review (Spring)
The Art of Fiction interview with Ray Bradbury
Bradbury turns 90 in August—and he’s still writing. I’ve always been a fan (yes, still have those yellowing, tattered paperbacks from the middle of another century). My favorite Bradbury has always been “The Martian Chronicles,” a series of stories set on the Red Planet. No one wanted to publish the stories until an editor at Doubleday suggested he loosely link them and name the book “The Martian Chronicles.” He did, inspired by Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio.” This is a lovely interview with a lovely man. Even the late Thomas M. Disch, who was tough on Bradbury for getting sentimental at times, would approve, I think.
The Nation. (March 25, 2010)
Brilliant Drew Friedman cover showing Glenn Beck as the Mad Hatter, along with Sarah Palin as the Red Queen and Rush Limbaugh as the Cheshire Cat. I don’t have the issue with me, so I can’t credit the author of the cover story, which discusses the Cloward-Piven strategy. Familiar with this? Let me explain by cribbing from Wikipedia: “The Cloward-Piven strategy 'is a political strategy outlined by Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, then both sociologists and political activists at the Columbia University School of Social Work, in a 1966 article in The Nation entitled "The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty."[1] The two argued that many Americans who were eligible for welfare were not receiving benefits, and that a welfare enrollment drive would create a political crisis that would force U.S. politicians, particularly the Democratic Party, to enact legislation ‘establishing a guaranteed national income.’"
If you’ve ever watched Glenn Beck go nuts on his blackboard, the Cloward-Piven strategy is often at the center of Beck’s insane conspiracy theory of the left’s decades-old plan to destroy the land of majestic, purple mountains, amber waves of grain and fruited plains (fruited plains, indeed). I kid you not. Excellent story.
Harper’s (May)
For Whom The Cell Tolls
By Nathaniel Rich
Really scary story, clearly and expertly told. Basically, we don’t know yet, but cell phone usage may lead to explosions of brain tumors in 20 or 30 years. If you don’t start using a headset after reading this, well, thank God Obama got that health care reform passed.
See you at the newsstand.


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