Category: Writing

Good Writers

Readers of my books often ask me what I like to read when I’m not writing. And whenever I post a Thought lamenting our aesthetic culture’s descent into exalted mediocrity and irrelevance, the email correspondence usually includes queries like, “Well, if you don’t think Dan Brown is a good writer, who is, smarty pants?”  I...

In Praise of Lewis Lapham

The venerable editor of Harper’s magazine, Lewis Lapham, recently announced his semi-retirement. The most alarming consequence of this decision is that he plans on writing his monthly “Notebook” essay only six times a year. This is like saying you will henceforth be limited to every other breath of air. Lapham’s essays aren’t merely good reading....

The Foul-Mouthed Umpire Redeemed

Yesterday’s paper carried a column by the sportswriter Bill Plaschke about Bruce Froemming, an MLB umpire closing in on the all-time record for most games officiated. Plaschke’s gimmick is to write one sentence paragraphs, as though he were being paid by the inch. Not the word. He’s also well known for essaying sentimental stories that...

Sections of the Newspaper

The first section — the “A” section — of the Los Angeles Times, focuses on international news and domestic stories of national interest. It is here that one learns how ugly and cruel life is for most of our brothers and sisters living in places other than America and Europe. The next section is the...

The Power of Illogic

Lost among the impassioned finger-pointing that has accompanied the opening of “The Da Vinci Code,” the blockbuster movie based on the blockbuster book, is an alarming trend gripping our society’s discourse (or lack thereof): the inclination to justify one’s position without offering reasonable justification. Organized religion has been pulling this trick with no small measure...

Poem: Quatrains

According to the primers, resolute and stout Three patterns are permissible when writing quatrains out. ABAB, AABB, and AAAA Are proper forms, no matter how passe.   The scanning lines, we’re told, should always add to four Not two, not three, and certainly not more. Transgressions bold, though heartfelt at the core Will turn the...

Poem: Here, Then Gone

He wrote more plays than most people read In a lifetime. Some of them were quite good said the accrediting minyans Worthy of prizes and pull-quotes, if not actual Attendance, or protracted reflection. (Never mind that most audiences found the dramas over-long and tendentious, Allusive and dreamy and Largely about colored folks they didn’t know...

The Truth About Travel Writing

Since there’s probably a good novel or two in this subject, I can’t divulge all the dirty secrets at the moment. But I can say summarily that spending close to 15 years as a professional travel writer exposed me to the weakest sense of ethics and the highest exchange rate of quid pro quo you’ll...

Jared Diamond, Television Phenomenon

The historian, biologist and UCLA Professor Jared Diamond has accomplished a feat more rare than altruistic Congressmen. He’s transcended the anonymity and general irrelevance of academia. Like Camille Paglia, Alan Dershowitz, and Noam Chomsk, Diamond is a scholar who’s achieved pop culture notoriety. His two best known books, the recent “Collapse,” and “Guns, Germs, and...

How Many Books?

Overheard at a party: A young mother complaining that ever since her pre-pubescent son discovered the lurid joys of Playstation video games, he had stopped reading. Completely. Much solemn murmuring followed the mother’s admission. What could be done, everyone wondered? How could this putatively heinous state of affairs be reversed? What we wondered was this: How...