• print • Dec/Jan 2010

    Trump Cards

    Aptly, we may begin with the title. The dust jacket has it as The Original of Laura: A novel in fragments, while the title page varies this to The Original of Laura (Dying Is Fun). However, the author himself, at the top of the first of the 138 file cards on which the novel—let us call it a novel, for now—is composed, calls the book merely The Original of Laura. The subtitle A novel in fragments is easily accepted as an editor’s addendum, since the book is published posthumously, but where did (Dying Is Fun) come from? Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd tells us that The Original of Laura: Dying Is

    Read more
  • print • Dec/Jan 2010

    Altar Ego

    One of my high school summer jobs involved washing test tubes and pretending to be an apprentice research assistant in a biochemistry lab at a hospital in Manhattan. My coworkers, the actual researchers, had followed their boss, the senior scientist, from a midwestern university. All women, all blond, they seemed to share some arcane knowledge beyond the scientific and to be bound by some common thread beyond their professional and collegial connection.

    One outward manifestation of this mysterious bond was that each wore a heavy ring engraved with a dollar sign. They patiently explained to me

    Read more
  • print • Dec/Jan 2010

    Enter the Dragon

    On October 1 in Beijing, teams of weather-modification specialists stood at the ready as advanced military hardware, elaborately decorated floats, and ranks of gun-toting women in silvery boots paraded down Chang’an Avenue to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. It was another immense spectacle at the dawn of a predicted Chinese century, following the 2008 Beijing Olympics and in advance of the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

    The scene was described and criticized in the American press as a celebration of six decades of Communist rule—sixty years of dictatorship by

    Read more
  • print • Dec/Jan 2010

    Back in Black

    African Americans, during slavery and after, have been among the most passionate and steadfast proponents of American democracy. Frederick Douglass, a former slave-turned-abolitionist and internationally recognized orator, was one of the nineteenth century’s most renowned self-made men; he was also among the age’s most effective advocates for holding the nation accountable to the promise of its democratic rhetoric, for all its citizens.

    William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, the preeminent black scholar of the twentieth century, followed the trail blazed by Douglass, predicting that the “color-line”

    Read more
  • print • Dec/Jan 2010

    East Village People

    Every art has its day, and so maybe does every city and every neighborhood. Lower Manhattan—Greenwich Village, SoHo, the East Village, and the Lower East Side—saw an explosion of poetry and painting, music and dance, over much of the past century. But from the early ’60s to the ’90s, the performing arts flourished. They flourished in myriad genres, music especially, and devotees of one aspect of the scene—whether conceptual performance art, minimalist composition, experimental dance and theater, punk rock, or disco—were sometimes only dimly aware of the others. Yet everyone who was there knew

    Read more
  • print • Dec/Jan 2010

    Seek Memory

    What is it about the memoir that forces it, in spite of its many wonderful achievements, always to stand in the docket? Was it ever thus, or is it our age that feels especially defensive, apologetic, and guilt-ridden about the practice of the genre? We can only begin reckoning with such questions by placing the memoir in historical perspective, which is exactly what Ben Yagoda has done with his timely, useful, and informative study, Memoir: A History.

    Yagoda, a journalism professor at the University of Delaware, has written in the past a fine biography, Will Rogers (1993), and About Town: The

    Read more