J. C. Hallman

  • Saving Doubts

    There are two versions of Charles D’Ambrosio running through this important essay collection, the first book to appear from the noted short-story writer since 2006. First, there’s literary journalist D’Ambrosio, whose job it is to visit peculiar places like hell houses, modular homes, and petty-crime scenes and have thoughts about them that are probably more interesting than they deserve. You don’t really care, reading this D’Ambrosio, how he got to be this thoughtful, conscientious, erudite, and so forth—you’re just glad he did. Second, there’s the D’Ambrosio who, across several essays, goes

  • Oh, the Posthumanity

    Not long ago I had a very foolish dream. I was sitting alone in a house when the phone began to ring in another room, a room in which my girlfriend, in turn, was asleep. I didn’t get to it before she awoke and answered it, annoyed, and of course it was for me. The woman on the line said something about something that needed to be done right away, but I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. She seemed to know me and expected me to know her, and it all seemed quite serious, but I simply didn’t feel up to the double bother of asking her to both introduce and repeat herself. So I did an odd

  • Holmes Sweet Holmes

    The most charming thing about perennial Washington Post literary guru Michael Dirda is his near-on phobic aversion to saying anything other than that a book is wonderful and a pleasure (a word for which he has a long-standing affinity, e.g., Reading for Pleasure, Bound to Please, etc.). If we were all to write about reading as Dirda does, if we taught children to write from joy rather than to form arguments, then the world would have many more serious readers and far better books. Yet Dirda’s loving take on the legacy of Arthur Conan Doyle reveals that his strength can also be a shortcoming.

  • Hail, Thetan!

    Quite often, religion proves every bit as stupid as it is crucial. Which is to say that the sheer preposterousness of a religion—any religion—can serve as a measure of spiritual need. The longing for cosmological certainty is so great that humanity is susceptible to all kinds of bunkum. The sad truth: Our most fundamental trait is foolishness.

    Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology grew out of a National Magazine Award–nominated piece for Rolling Stone, and there are two reasons you might consider reading it. One, per the above rule of cracked religiosity, you might hope for an explanation of why

  • syllabi June 25, 2010

    Utopian Fiction

    The history of utopian literature is very nearly the history of civilization. Lewis Mumford claimed in The City in History that the original utopias—those of Plato and Aristotle—were a reaction to the dystopia of Athens, upending the usual argument that dystopia is the result of utopian experimentation gone wrong. In fits and spurts, and in a variety of forms, utopian literature has played a central role in the advent of almost every significant ideology in history, from democracy to fascism. In the contemporary era, when literature seems increasingly disconnected from the real world, the books