All posts filed under: Books

The Problem With Linking Censorship to Incitement

Once we have reinstated this distinction between words and violence, we might then move on to consider the question of how the one can lead to the other. This is perhaps the most compelling argument for restrictions on speech. If it can be determined that certain forms of speech incite violence, then there is a case to be made that responsibility is thereby shared between the perpetrator of the crime and the individual who provoked it. The Rwandan genocide of 1994 is frequently cited in order to demonstrate a causal relationship between speech and vio­lence. The RTLM radio broadcasts that called on Hutus to “cut down the tall trees,” and described the Tutsi minority as “cock­roaches” and “snakes”—dehumanising language reminiscent of the Nazi propaganda that depicted Jews as rats—are said to be culpable in the stirring up of a maelstrom of hatred that resulted in the murder of almost a million people. Incitement to violence has always been an offence under English common law, but the definition has also been open to subjective interpretation. At …

Beating Up Boomer

Reviews of A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America by Bruce Cannon Gibney, Hachette, 465 pages (March 2018) OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind by Jill Filipovic, Atria/One Signal, 336 pages (August 2020) Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster by Helen Andrews, Sentinel, 256 pages (January 2021). Beating up on Baby Boomers is rapidly becoming the favorite sport of Gen-Xers and Millennials eager to deflect attention from their own privilege. Whether they are leftwing BLM sympathizers, card-carrying libertarians, or rightwing NRA members, there is one thing about which every American under 56 seems to agree: the Boomers are horrible. This month brings us the latest anti-Boomer manifesto, Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster by Helen Andrews, a senior editor at the American Conservative. Her book is among the smartest and most intelligent of the lot, but before we delve into its contents let’s take a look at some of the previous highlights of the genre. In 2017 Bruce …

Why We Should Read Martin Amis

Written after his father’s passing, Martin Amis’s memoir Experience highlighted my project in the first chapter in the second footnote: When you review a film, or appraise a film-director, you do not make a ten-minute short about it or him (or her). When you write about a painter, you do not produce a sketch. When you write about a composer, you do not reach for your violin. And even when a poet is under consideration, the reviewer or profilist does not (unless deeply committed to presumption and tedium) produce a poem. But when you write about a novelist, an exponent of prose narrative, then you write a prose narrative. So, when a reviewer drafts a poor review, he or she is subject to the following question, “And was that the extent of your hopes for your prose—bookchat, interviews, gossip?” Answering his own question, Amis writes, “Valued reader, it is not for me to say this is envy. It is for you to say that this is envy.” Amis is a British novelist and essayist, who, …

Ray Russell’s Incubus: A Lost Gem from America’s Twentieth Decade

Hard as it might be to believe, the years that stretched from roughly 1967 through the bicentennial year of 1976 brought even more foment, outrage, unrest, and upheaval to America than the most recent decade has managed. The escalation of the Vietnam War, the student protests against that war, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., psychedelia and the sexual revolution, Woodstock, the political resurrection of Richard Nixon, the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the moon landings, the Manson murders, second-wave feminism, the Pentagon Papers, the shootings at Kent State, Watergate, the fall of Nixon, the rise of the summer blockbuster film—it was an era of almost unprecedented social and cultural turmoil. Perhaps that explains why so many remain fascinated by that era today. All sorts of recent cultural properties have revisited it: the 2020 Amazon Prime TV series Hunters (set in 1970s New York City and starring 1970s icon Al Pacino), How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (the recent HBO documentary about the Bee Gees), Emma Cline’s 2016 novel The …

“I Was Never More Hated Than When I Tried to Be Honest”

Ralph Ellison, author of the timeless American classic Invisible Man, was among the most commanding black literary voices to emerge in the 20th century. It is a designation he would almost certainly have resented. Ellison didn’t see his work through the prism of his racial identity but as a means of transcending it—using the particulars of his experience to explore human universals. His ambition was not to be a great black writer but to be a great writer who happened to be black, competing in his own mind with Dostoevsky, Melville, Twain. He wanted to “do with black life what Homer did with Greek life” as Clyde Taylor, a professor at NYU, put it. Above all, he wanted blacks to recognize their essential place in the unfolding American story as part of a larger effort to dismantle the artificial racial barriers between disparate ethnic groups that has stalled the evolution of our shared national identity and culture. Quite unusually, Ellison’s work has resonated across the political spectrum and even pierced the bubble of pop culture. The …

What Is #DisruptTexts?

Lorena Germán is an award-winning Dominican-American educator and author. On November 30th, she posted this on her Twitter feed: “Did y’all know that many of the ‘classics’ were written before the 50s? Think of US society before then and the values that shaped this nation afterwards. THAT is what is in those books. That is why we gotta switch it up. It ain’t just about ‘being old.’ #DisruptTexts.” That tweet caught the attention of Jessica Cluess, a successful author of Young Adult (YA) fiction, who responded with a lengthy and scornful thread, in which she pointed out that many of those classics were written in defiance of then-existing power structures: “Yeah, that embodiment of brutal subjugation and toxic masculinity, Walden. Sit and spin on a tack.” And, “If you think Upton Sinclair was on the side of the meat-packing industry then you are a fool and should sit down and feel bad about yourself.” Cluess’s novels have been praised for their “strong sense of social justice” but during the ensuing Twitter mobbing, she was excoriated …

The Hustler and the Queen

NOTE: This essay contains spoilers. The surprise success of the Netflix miniseries The Queen’s Gambit has brought me a great deal of delight—I’m a longtime fan of both the novel and its author, Walter Tevis. Just this summer, I wrote an essay about all the great American popular novels I wish I’d written myself, and the first book I mentioned was Tevis’s 1959 masterpiece The Hustler. But while The Hustler may be Tevis’s best book, The Queen’s Gambit has always been my favorite. I’ve never been anything but an incompetent at the pool table, but for a brief shining hour I was a chess prodigy. In July of 1968, a few weeks before my 10th birthday, I competed in a state chess tournament at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, and won the prize for Best Fourth-Grade Boy. This triumph—my first and only triumph at anything—survives online in the archives of Northwest Chess magazine. Usually when a high-profile film or TV series is adapted from the work of …

The Heretical Impulse: Zamyatin and Orwell

I  In a 1931 letter to Joseph Stalin, Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin adopted a respectful tone by way of introduction: “My name is probably known to you.” The author of We, the dystopian science fiction novel that influenced Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, had written to Stalin to contest censorship and misrepresentation, and to request permission to migrate—accompanied by his wife—so he could write without the threat of violence or suppression: “To me as a writer, being deprived of the opportunity to write is nothing less than a death sentence.” Zamyatin’s contemporary Rainer Rilke echoed this conviction in his famous Letters to a Young Poet: Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must,” then build your life upon it. Zamyatin’s revolt against Stalin occurred in the midst of dekulakization—the …

Intellectual Freedom and the Culture Wars—A Review

A review of Intellectual Freedom and the Culture Wars by Piers Benn. Palgrave MacMillan, 168 pages (October 2020) I attended a notably liberal state university in the early 2000s. Most politically-minded students regarded themselves as either conventionally liberal or part of an amorphous Left which was focused primarily on cultural issues. I counted myself peripherally among the campus Left and participated occasionally in political activism—attending protests against the policies of the World Trade Organization and against American military adventures overseas (views which were then seen by enlightened opinion as left wing but are now, apparently, the domain of isolationist reactionaries). Most instructors on campus who revealed their political views also showed themselves to be a part of the Left. However, there were several popular conservative professors, a vibrant sect of College Republicans consisting mostly of garden-variety neocons, plenty of libertarians, and a couple of paleoconservative Buchanan brigaders. I sparred regularly with these people in class discussions, and regarded several of them as my friends. This was not especially uncommon. The kids who were genuinely invested …

Gender Activists Are Trying to Cancel My Book. Why is Silicon Valley Helping Them?

The day after I tweeted about the ongoing attempts to block sales of my book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, I was stuck on the phone with my parents’ real estate agent. “How’s your book going?” she wanted to know. “Is there a lot of controversy?” I know it’s fashionable these days to claim to be an introvert—something to do with an unwarranted assumption of depth, maybe—but I actually am an introvert. Small talk exhausts me, not because I believe it’s beneath me, but because it feels like being handed a socket wrench. I have no idea what to do with it. “Well, you had to expect that, right?” she added casually. “When you write a book like that, that’s what you’re expecting.” This is, more or less, most people’s reaction to the efforts to suppress my book. It isn’t that they agree with censorship per se. But you also can’t go setting fires without expecting Big Tech’s cops to shut them down. “If you’re going to talk about the trans thing, …