Author Archives: Joseph Barbato

The World’s Largest Man

They say the South is full of storytellers, but I am unconvinced.

-Harrison Scott Key, The World’s Largest Man: A Memoir

The American People

Fred Lemish is preparing to finish his history of The American People.

-Larry Kramer, The American People: Volume 1: Search for My Heart: A Novel

Billie Holiday & More


John Szwed restores to Billie Holiday “the dignity of a true artist, one who emerges from his pages – and the records to which they drive you hungrily back – as a revolutionary.” Here‘s Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth.

“Symbolizing death and decay but also life and growth; the ideal setting for romance or a character’s worst day, rain is one of literature’s great workhorses.” Here‘s Rain.

“Something like this [hysteria] happens all the time,” says A. Brad Schwartz (Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News). “We’re not as aware of it since there are so many media outlets. A real threat goes off and any information level is lost—‘We’re all going to die of Ebola!’” Here.

Says Philip Ball  (Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen): “As Plato said: Invisibility gives you the freedom to do what you will, walk in anywhere and take anything you want, go into places you shouldn’t go, and do things you shouldn’t do. These are attractive things.”

Life of a Counterfeiter

About a month ago, A. Newspaper ran as the lead item in its society section a lengthy article about a father who had been searching all over for his six-year-old son, who had been kidnapped, leaving no stone unturned, until he happened to hear of a child who sounded like his son living at a temple in Shiga prefecture, out in the country, and made a trip down to see him.

-Yasushi Inoue, “Reeds,” in Life of a Counterfeiter: And Other Stories

Many Alarm Clocks

How did a nice Jewish boy like me end up with such a stern Protestant work ethic? I take vitamins and go to the gym regularly. I defend the Constitution and signal before I turn. I’m in bed by ten most nights and up before five to exercise my right to be an overachieving American. Is this because I’m devoted to The Sun, or is it because I’m devoted to my own self-esteem? So who have I been trying to save with my Herculean labors: the world or myself?

-Sy Safransky, “My End of the Deal,” in Many Alarm Clocks

Mr. Mac and Me

I was born upstairs in the small bedroom. not in the smallest room with the outshot window, where I sleep now, or the main room that is kept for guests–summer visitors who write and let us know that they are coming and how long they plan to stay.

-Esther Freud, Mr. Mac and Me: A Novel

James Merrill

Light strikes the little boy.

-Langdon Hammer, James Merrill: Life and Art

The Chain & More

Says Ted Genoways (The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food): “More and more in the rural Midwest, you go into small agricultural towns, and there are two kinds: the ones that are being supported by the presence of recent Hispanic immigrants, and towns that are dying. With the towns that say, “Absolutely not. We’re not going to have anybody who doesn’t look like us live here”—those towns are going to do themselves in. And the ones that are going to be left are the towns that have survived in the way so much of America has always survived, by welcoming immigrants and by becoming a new version of themselves.” Here.

“He’s crisscrossing the country on a book tour for The Dead Lands, an acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel that re-imagines the Lewis and Clark expedition, if they had magical powers or battled moon-white mutated bats.” Here‘s Benjamin Percy.

“A century ago this summer—on July 24, 1915—more than 2,500 passengers boarded the vessel near the Clark Street Bridge for a day trip from Chicago to Michigan City, Indiana. The Western Electric company was sponsoring the outing as a gift to its employees and their families, but before it even left port the ship spilled onto its side. Though the ship was only a few yards from shore, 844 people ended up dying, most from drowning.” Here‘s a Q&A with Michael McCarthy (Ashes Under Water: The SS Eastland and the Shipwreck That Shook America).

Patti Smith’s new memoir, M Train. Here.


The Life of Images

I have a photograph of my father wearing a black tuxedo and holding a suckling pig under his arm.

-Charles Simic, “Why I like Certain Poems More than Others,” in The Life of Images: Selected Prose


The Distant Marvels

An unexpected envelope was delivered to me two months ago, on the first day of August.

-Chantel Acevedo, The Distant Marvels: A Novel