Liz Brown

  • Decline and Fall

    John Horne Burns was the author of The Gallery, published in 1947. At the time, the book was considered a great war novel (less remarked was that it’s also a great gay novel). The book’s publication was widely viewed as the arrival of a huge literary talent and established tremendous expectations for the young writer. What followed, though, was failure on a tremendous scale. On the face of it, David Margolick’s biography of the author, Dreadful (which was Burns’s code word for “homosexual”), is a straightforward chronicle of the man’s rise and fall.

    Margolick, a contributor to Vanity Fair and

  • culture March 14, 2012

    Reading for My Life: Writings, 1958-2008 by John Leonard

    John Leonard wrote four novels, although, as he put it, “the public has a way of letting you know that it will pay more for you to discover and to celebrate excellence in other people, and rather less for your own refined feelings.” He was, in other words, better known as a critic than as a novelist, but his lavish, quicksilver reviews are great precisely because they are infused with those refined feelings. Leonard wrote for numerous publications, including The Nation, Harper’s, and The Atlantic, and appeared on NPR and CBS’s Sunday Morning. He was the editor of the New York Times Book Review

  • Inferno

    “An old crappy dyke with half a brain leaking a book.” That’s how Eileen Myles describes herself in her autobiographical new novel, and it makes me think of Susan Sontag’s journals, in which the late writer anguishes about a phenomenon she calls “leakage”: “my mind is dribbling out through my mouth.” Like that’s a bad thing.

    Loosely, Inferno tells the story of Myles, who left Arlington, Massachusetts, where everyone “lived in a roughly catholic world,” to make her way as a writer in New York City. As the title suggests, the book owes something to Dante’s Divine Comedy. Instead of a dark wood,

  • culture May 21, 2010

    Role Models by John Waters

    In the 1960s, John Waters was an admirer of a lesbian stripper in Baltimore named Lady Zorro. “She just came out nude and snarled at her fans, ‘What the fuck are you looking at?’ To this day,” Waters writes in his splendid new book, “Zorro is my inspiration.”

    This kind of dual portraiture surfaces throughout Role Models, with Waters’s appreciations of Ivy Compton-Burnett, Little Richard, Leslie Van Houten, Tennessee Williams, Cy Twombly, and Bobby Garcia revealing as much about his idols as they do about him. The thread that links these varied but extreme personalities is of course the raunchy


    "O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,” begins the Act of Contrition, a Catholic singsong lodged in the temporal lobe, the place where penitence gives way to sound and meter. Anyone raised on nursery rhymes or bedtime prayers knows the brain holds more tightly to cadence than to meaning. These rhythms of atonement are echoed in two studies of Holly­wood censorship, both featuring another bit of Catholic verse, the pledge of the Legion of Decency. Drafted in 1934, the recitation that brought the film industry to its knees begins: “I condemn absolutely those debauching motion

  • Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics

    In Rebecca Solnit’s River of Shadows (2003), the life of Eadweard Muybridge initiates an expansive meditation on technology, the motion-picture industry, Leland Stanford, Silicon Valley, and, ultimately, the Western landscape. It is terrain that Solnit likewise seeks in her other books, among them Savage Dreams, Wanderlust, and A Field Guide to Getting Lost. So it is unsurprising that in her agile, impassioned collection of essays, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics, Solnit returns to familiar ground—the California earth blasted away by the devastating hydraulic mining of