Why Biographies?

“In ‘Contemporary Biography’ (1934), Mark Longaker wrote: ‘The present-day reader most often goes to biography because he is most interested in himself,’ One gathers that Longaker meant that one reads biography in search of models of behavior, to discover the secrets behind the facades of public figures, and to compare one’s own life to those of the great and famous. An equally compelling reason for reading biography is that it can reinforce the belief in the power of men and women not only to shape their own destiny but to rise above what seem irresistible trends in politics, economics and social psychology to lead lives of dignity, elegance, achievement and sometimes even grandeur. Well-written biographies remind us that in the end men and women, not impersonal forces, are the true measure and motor force of history.”

Joseph Epstein exploring “On Life-Writing” edited by Zachary Leader

“The Art of Biography,” The Wall Street Journal, Books, Saturday/Sunday, January 2–3, 2016


For the Eye, Or For the Ear?

“For many years I had been a writer who wrote most comfortably for the eye. … But the old men in the newsroom had made their careers writing for listeners, for people absorbing information not through the eye but the ear. They knew how to write words in the air, which is different from words on the page.”

“An Education In News Craft” by Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal, Review, Sat./Sun., Oct. 24–25, 2015

Where Will You Travel Next?

“Keats never really ‘heard’ Chapman speak. He and Clarke are reading Chapman’s words from a book two centuries old. Through a translation, which they see with their eyes, speak with their voices, and hear with their ears, they come upon Homer-land in its physical authenticity. They ‘breathe’ its pure air as if they were actually there. All translation–a Latin word whose Greek version is, in fact, ‘metaphor’–is a carrying across.”

–Willard Spiegelman explores ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’ (1816) by John Keats

The Wall Street Journal, Review, Saturday/Sunday, Dec. 12-Dec.13, 2015

Join the Club

“Social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads have contributed to a culture in which everyone reads–and tells their friends about–the same handful of books a year. …

As a result, publishers are competing for debut literary talent with the same kind of frenzied auction bidding once reserved for promising debut thrillers or romance novels. …

The need to secure one of the few must-read books of the year has given rise to an elite new club: the million-dollar literary debut.”

–Jennifer Maloney  (‘Betting Big On Literary Newcomers,’ The Wall Street Journal, Arena, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015)


What’s a Field?

Russian village

“Once we learn that a field is ‘an ancient noun connoting human effort,’ every time we encounter the word we can ask ourselves what the effort involved is–thus a coalfield becomes about the miners’ sweat, not the coal.”

Tristan Gooley on What Is Landscape? by John R. Stilgoe

The Wall Street Journal, Sat/Sun, Dec. 12–13, 2015, BOOKS OF THE YEAR

I worked hard for restraint…

”I worked hard for restraint, and my mantra was ‘trust Homer, trust Homer.’ I knew that if I could find the simple English word for his simple Greek, work for cadence–spoken cadence, not the cadence of ‘high poetry’–it would work.”

–Caroline Alexander

Read about Ms. Alexander and her translation of “The Iliad” in The Wall Street Journal’s Arts & Entertainment (D6 Friday, November 27, 2015).

What’s the Title?

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood”

the first line of the famous poem by Robert Frost.

“The Road Less Traveled,” isn’t it?

“Frost is never quite that simple, and as David Orr argues, one mark of his trickiness is that the poem’s real title–“The Road Not Taken”–refers to that other road, the unchosen and presumably more-traveled one.”

— Michael Gorra’s article “Sorry I Could Not Travel Both” on the book by David Orr (The Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, September 5-6, 2015)