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Category Archives: Essays on Literature

Venerdi Dantesco.


Today is Good Friday, and an unusual one: it’s also March 25th, the day of the Annunciation, traditionally New Year’s Day by the Catholic calendar.  It was believed to be the day God created the world, and hence the day He began it again with the Incarnation; the day of the Passover as well (in […]

Paul Theroux’s Deep South.


I don’t know quite what to make of Paul Theroux. I think his resume is very interesting – a Peace Corps volunteer who taught in Malawi (falling afoul of the mad Classicist-Dictator Hastings Banda and getting kicked out of the country), teaching for a few more years before getting a book published and then winning […]

Kathryn Schulz’s Mythologizing.


I have found a useful shortcut for dealing with intellectual debate, and since it has saved me time, I will pass it on to you: whenever two or three people write something on the internet in praise of person x for doing such-and-such a thing, know that the person in question was doing precisely the […]

Isak Dinesen – or, Karen von Blixen.


June 15th, Dulles Airport. Starting Out of Africa, which features the untranslated epigraph EQUITARE, ARCUM TENDERE, VERITATEM DICERE. I have to admit it’s hard not to love anyone who starts a book with those words. “To ride a horse, to shoot the bow, to speak the truth.”  It’s from Herodotus, describing the Persians – he […]

Hemingway’s Moveable Feast.


Life has been moving terribly quickly of late. In less than two months I have managed to get married, go on a honeymoon, get my wife pregnant, work the all-important spring months in a plant nursery, install a garden for a friend, do a Latin tour of the Bronx Zoo, and get my own garden […]

Cheryl Strayed’s Vita Nuova.


In my previous essay about Cheryl Strayed’s excellent book Wild, I took as my theme the nature of the experience Strayed had, a truly transformational one which ultimately changed her perspective on almost all the issues of importance. Tranformation of perspective like this is called in Greek metanoia, a wonderful word which implies both alteration […]

Cheryl Strayed’s Initiation.


I think it is entirely to Cheryl Strayed’s credit as a writer and as a human being that she can write a book which one reviewer – admittedly, not a very observant one – can reduce to the question “What do you have to say now, God?” while I find it religious in outlook and […]

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T.E. Lawrence.


We all know that something happened to the collective soul of the West during “the Great War”: that somehow or other before the War civilized people were busy making panelled billiard-rooms, velvet dresses, and gilded opera houses; and afterwards they were throwing themselves with humanity-destroying panic into Money or Ideologies, looking to Communism or Eugenics […]

Genius Strokes of Literature, From A Computer’s Boggled Mind.


Looking over John McPhee’s masterful essay Atchafalaya – which if you’ve never read you should just go and do – I am struck by the improvements made by our computers’ optical-recognition software.  Presumably the New Yorker will fix this at some point, so we must enjoy these nuggets while we can: Very early in the […]

John Muir.


Crossing the Cumberlands: Awoke drenched with mountain-mist, which made a grand show, as it moved away before the hot sun.  Passed Montgomery, a shabby village at the head of the east slope of the Cumberland Mountains.  Obtained breakfast in a clean house and began the descent of the mountains.  Obtained fine views of a wide, […]