One of my favorite passages in 'Leaves of Grass,' that breathless, exuberant poem so rich and full of innocence and joy and generosity and compassion, is 'Mannahatta.'
Everyone who moves to New York City has a book or movie or song that epitomizes the place for them. For me, it's 'The Cricket in Times Square', written by George Selden and illustrated by Garth Williams.
There are no moral lectures in 'Lookaway, Lookaway;' there aren't even any lessons. But there is passion. It is a work that hides its craft but never its beauty, that is ambitious but never pretentious, that does not sacrifice nuance for power or power for nuance.
Stewardesses were a joke to many of us coming of age in the liberated Sixties. They were no joke in the women's movement that liberated us, however.
Michael Chabon has long moved easily between the playful, heartfelt realism of novels like 'The Mysteries of Pittsburgh' and 'Wonder Boys' and his playful, heartfelt, more fantastical novels like 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay' and 'The Yiddish Policemen's Union.'
Nathaniel Rich wrote 'Odds Against Tomorrow' well before Hurricane Sandy and its surge crashed onto the isle of Manhattan, well before the streets were flooded and the subways drowned, only the Goldman Sachs building sparkling above the darkened avenues.
In my stunted career as a scholar, I'd read promissory notes, papal bulls and guidelines for Inquisitorial interrogation. Dante, too. Boccaccio... But after 1400? Nihil.
I've been fortunate in that I never actually read any Jane Austen until I was thirty, thus sparing myself several decades of the unhappiness of having no new Jane Austen novels to read.
'Emma' is my favorite Jane Austen novel - one of my favorite novels period; a novel about intelligence outsmarting itself, about a complicated, nuanced, irresistible heroine who does everything wrong.
Alice Munro is not only revered, she is cherished, her stories handled lovingly, turned over and over, gazed at and studied and breathed in with something approaching awe. She has never, over the years, written the way any of her contemporaries have.
I do all my shopping on the Web. I do much of my research online. I have a blog, too. It is definitely a distraction. It is definitely a blessing. What blessing isn't a distraction, though?
In 'Pictures from an Institution,' Randall Jarrell was able to transcend the academic novel by simply ignoring it, writing a comedy with no plot at all beyond his own pleasure in language and humanity itself.