Allen Barra

  • The Grifter

    Photos of Netley Lucas in Prince of Tricksters show a slender, pleasant-looking young man, sort of halfway between Eddie Redmayne and a young Hugh Grant. The images of Lucas linger—one at his desk, seemingly hard at work, one from a wanted poster, another from the Police Gazette, still another seated in a chair, hands folded in his lap, looking for all the world like a respectable British man of letters. They are all haunting and more than a bit disturbing.

    You know from the book’s opening page that Lucas was thought in his time to be “a naval officer, a decorated war hero, a gentleman, a

  • culture September 10, 2015

    Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by John King

    After more than half a century of a life devoted to literary and intellectual discipline, Vargas Llosa, age seventy-nine, seems to have become a kind of dinosaur. With some deft ju-jitsu, he accepts the label because, “however rarefied the air might become, and life might turn against them, dinosaurs can manage to survive and be useful in difficult times.”

    Mario Vargas Llosa is one of the world’s greatest living novelists, but, as Clive James wrote in Cultural Amnesia, his “true strength" is "undoubtedly in the essay. His collected essays written between 1962 and 1982, Contra viento y marea . . . makes the perfect pocket book for getting up to speed with how the bright baby-boom students of Latin America won their way towards a solid concept of liberal democracy.”

    Liberal, in this case, is a relative term. In Vargas Llosa’s rich and funny 1993 memoir, A Fish in the Water, which described his 1990 presidential campaign, he wrote, “There was

  • Fight Club

    You don’t shoot yourself,” said a battered Muhammad Ali in his hotel room after losing the Fight of the Century to Joe Frazier on March 8, 1971. “Soon this will be old news. . . . Maybe a plane will go down with 90 persons in it. Or a great man will be assassinated. That will be more important than Ali losing.”

    A lot of planes have gone down since then, and many a great man has been assassinated, but nothing that’s happened in those forty-three years has caused me more misery than sitting in that closed-circuit theater with my father, watching Muhammad Ali in defeat. Richard Hoffer, former

  • Great Danes

    “This is not a novel,” says Poul Hannover, witness to this amazing story of the Holocaust. “No fancy trimmings.”

    None are needed in Bo Lidegaard’s Countrymen. Lidegaard, the editor in chief of Danish newspaper Politiken, has pain-stakingly reconstructed an extraordinary story. And he tells it with the assurance of a journalist who knows he’s making literature.

    Denmark had scarcely resisted the German invasion in April 1940, accepting Nazi occupation “under protest.” (The Germans preferred the term “under protection.”) For the next three years, the Danes were haunted by such questions as Why

  • Peaceful, Uneasy Feeling

    Reading David Browne’s exhilarating and meticulously researched Fire and Rain, I was reminded of an old Woody Allen stand-up routine about a costume party in which he was about to be hung by the Ku Klux Klan: “My life passed before my eyes. I saw myself . . . swimmin’ in the swimmin’ hole. Fryin’ up a mess o’ catfish. . . . Gettin’ a piece of gingham for Emmy Lou. . . . I realize, it’s not my life.” I lived through the same tumultuous year, 1970, that Browne documents in Fire and Rain and listened to much of the same music, and though our experiences were similar, our recollections are quite

  • syllabi October 27, 2009

    The World Series

    I don't read football books on Super Bowl Sunday or basketball books during March Madness. But the World Series invokes one hundred years of tradition, so I always watch it with the sound off and with something to read pregame, postgame, and during rain delays. Here are seven World Series books I’ve read, reread, and will read again.

    Allen Barra is a sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the Village Voice. His latest book, Yogi Berra, Eternal Yankee, was recently published by Norton.

  • Season To Believe

    William Trevor, former sculptor and advertising copywriter, didn’t begin to publish fiction until he was thirty. Now eighty-one, he’s made up for lost time. Love and Summer is his nineteenth work in that form, one of forty-four volumes of fiction, nonfiction, and drama.

    No one with such an enormous and varied oeuvre could escape pigeonholing. Of course, a writer born in County Cork would not go unclaimed by his countrymen, but Trevor, who has lived for years in Devon, England, and produced much fiction with English settings, is also claimed by Brits. Others have hailed him as a modern Chekhov,

  • The Enigma of Sir Vidia

    What is the purpose of your writing?” a Muslim friend asks V. S. Naipaul in his 1981 landmark book on the Islamic world, Among the Believers. “Is it to tell people what it’s all about?”

    “Yes,” Naipaul replies, “I would say comprehension.”

    “Is it not for money?”

    “Yes. But the nature of the work is also important.”

    The nature of the work and its author are the subjects of Patrick French’s extraordinary biography, The World Is What It Is. French calls the huge undertaking “perhaps the last literary biography to be written from a complete paper archive. His notebooks, correspondence, handwritten