James Wolcott

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Palpitations — From the November 1983 issue

Philip Larkin’s enormous yes

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A connoisseur of doom whose wit refuses to die

Palpitations — From the October 1983 issue

Hammett’s long goodbye

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A deferential biography of literature’s Marlboro man

Palpitations — From the September 1983 issue

The prince of finesse

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Nine hundred pages of criticism prove that John Updike is no air-dancing dandy

Palpitations — From the August 1983 issue

Mooing in the meadows of love

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Confessional novels that give real life a bad name

Article — From the July 1983 issue

The neat stuff

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Palpitations — From the June 1983 issue

Blowing smoke into the zeitgeist

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The well-deserved resurrection of Jean Stafford

Palpitations — From the May 1983 issue

Enter the mummy

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Norman Mailer finally gets his Egyptian novel out of his system

Palpitations — From the April 1983 issue

Rockwell around the clock

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Awaiting the great synthesis of rock and classical music

Palpitations — From the March 1983 issue

Call me Bwana

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The subject is Africa and William Boyd writes about it like Evelyn Waugh, only nicer

Palpitations — From the February 1983 issue

Troubadour of sweat

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Muscle-bound and Manhattan-bound

Palpitations — From the January 1983 issue

The sensitive Plante

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Telling without kissing

Palpitations — From the December 1982 issue

The limits of poetic license

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The more you learn about Robert Lowell’s life, the less you want to read his poems

Palpitations — From the November 1982 issue

My Harvard, your mama

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Misty memoirs by ivy-covered nostalgiacs who should have known better

Palpitations — From the October 1982 issue

Naughty old men

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Two veteran novelists who can still bounce the bedsprings

Palpitations — From the September 1982 issue

Stop me before I write again

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Six hundred more pages by Joyce Carol Oates

Palpitations — From the August 1982 issue

Where critics go wrong

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The careers of Kenneth Tynan and Otis Ferguson

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October 2019

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Secrets and Lies·

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In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

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Seeking Asylum·

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Out of sight on Leros, the island of the damned

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Poem for Harm·

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Reflections on harm in language and the trouble with Whitman

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Good Bad Bad Good·

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About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

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Life after Life·

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For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.
—Chaucer

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A solid-gold toilet named “America” was stolen from Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, in Oxfordshire, England.

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“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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