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Somewhere in England, I so want to believe, lives a jazz-loving, relentlessly honest, incisively bright, deeply sentimental 78-year-old woman named Esmé who long ago befriended an American GI in a tea shop on the eve of the D-Day invasion.
They only talked for half an hour — this self-confident and vulnerable 13-year-old girl, a war orphan, and this Army sergeant, who, in civilian life, had published a few fledgling short stories — chaperoned by her governess and her young brother, Charles. They never met again, although they exchanged letters, but somehow this chance encounter mattered deeply to both of them.
Maybe it was the way that Esmé told him, with the frankness and gravity of youth, “I’d be extremely flattered if you would write a story exclusively for me sometime. I’m an avid reader.” The soldier promised that he would, although he warned that he was not terribly prolific.
Though for my money Salinger’s best short story is still The Laughing Man.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”