literature

Remembering the Genius of Kurt Vonnegut and ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’

Adam Gravano

As a young man, few books exerted anything like the formative power held by Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Despite the grim acceptance of a world with conflict and war, Vonnegut still fell into writing an anti-war book, perhaps an anti-war book highly ranked among the best. This year marks the 50th anniversary of its publication, and, accordingly, Modern Library has released a new edition with a foreword by Kevin Powers. And, as the foreword shows in splendid detail, the lessons of Slaughterhouse-Five are just as relevant today as they were in 1969. 

A Death Haunts Sheila Kohler’s ‘Once We Were Sisters’

Lee Polevoi

Relating events that occurred a half-century or longer ago in present tense does convey a certain kind of urgent immediacy.  On the other hand, when the narrative jumps around in time from chapter from chapter—alternating between the aftermath of her sister’s death and the years they spent growing up together (and apart)—a certain lack of clarity may emerge. When exactly did a particular event take place? 

The Art of the Personal Essay Is Still Alive and Well

Lee Polevoi

Is the personal essay “in eclipse” in today’s literary landscape? Jonathan Franzen, guest editor of The Best American Essays 2016, thinks so. As he notes in his introduction to the latest collection, most American publications have ceased publishing these “pure essays,” while smaller publications that still do so “have fewer readers than Adele has Twitter followers.” 

Remembering Jack London

Hal Gordon

Given that he turned out so much in so little time, the quality of London’s work is uneven. He spread himself too thin and he knew it. One reason that he kept relentlessly grinding out one book after another was that because after the deprivations of his youth, he enjoyed living well. So he wrote to maintain his flashy lifestyle. His attempt to escape the treadmill he had constructed for himself only chained him to it the more securely. 

‘Black Lotus’: One Woman’s Search for Racial Identity in a Racist World

Hope Wabuke

But for Abrams, born to a Chinese immigrant mother and a white American father, passing was a result not of choice but of ignorance. All her life she had been told that the reason her skin was darker than the rest of her family’s was that she was born in Hawaii. And then, when she was 14, the man she thought of as her father told Abrams that her actual biological father was black.

Meet the Staff at Highbrow Magazine: Chief Features Writer Angelo Franco

Angelo Franco

I once wrote a letter to Junot Diaz and asked him if he could adopt me. He didn’t reply plus, it turns out, I am legally someone’s son already so that plan was meant to fail from the start. If I’m crying while riding the subway, it’s likely because I lost my MetroCard or I am rereading a Gabriel García Márquez novel. I often tell people they should learn Spanish just so they could read his works in his native tongue. 

Ann Beattie Returns With New Collection of Compelling Short Stories

Lee Polevoi

Ann Beattie, secure within this elite pantheon, returns after a decade’s absence with a new book, The State We’re In: Maine Stories. Those familiar with her work will immediately recognize the wry perspective, the closely observed details, and the smooth texture of her prose. As the title announces, these stories revolve, directly and indirectly, around people living in the Pine Tree State. 

On the Water With a Surfing Memoir and History of the North Sea

Lee Polevoi

Water is the element through which two new books flow, though everything else about them is different. In his surfing memoir Barbarian Days, William Finnegan chronicles a life of more than half a century spent in pursuit of waves in Hawaii, California, Australia, Fiji and elsewhere. A staff writer for The New Yorker, Finnegan has supplemented his reporting from global hot spots—apartheid-era South Africa, Central America, and Sudan—with whatever opportunities he could find for surfing in (oftentimes) uncharted waters. 

Erik Larson’s ‘Dead Wake’ Chronicles Horrific Sinking of ‘Lusitania’

Lee Polevoi

On the first page of his masterful account of the sinking of the Lusitania, Erik Larson notes that while researching the book, he realized that “buried in the muddled details of the [Lusitania] affair … was something simple and satisfying: a very good story.” It’s one of those occasions when an author doth protest too much. How a deluxe ocean liner, among the fastest ships on the sea at the time, came to be torpedoed off the Irish Coast remains a powerful episode of history, no matter how many times it’s retold.

Author David Downie Unravels the Mysteries of Paris

Gabriella Tutino

Ask anyone about the most romantic cities to visit, and Paris will undoubtedly be on the list. The city seems to be in everyone’s subconscious; Paris screams ‘romantic.’ But what is it about the City of Light--with its turbulent yet mesmerizing history of politics, violence, art and sex--that attracts thousands of visitors? What is that special essence of Paris that deems it so romantic? These are a few of the questions David Downie sets out to answer in his latest book A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light.

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