Author Archives: Joseph Barbato

The Strange Case of Rachel K

One day ten years ago I sat down and for approximately twenty hours read an enormous book on the history of so-called civilization, a work of seductive details (the Peruvians believed the world was a box with a ridged top, the Egyptians that it was an egg) and an Occidental outlook, critical of every religion and ideology except the dogma of progress itself.

-Rachel Kushner, The Strange Case of Rachel K

The Birth of the Pill

She was an old woman who loved sex and she had spent forty years seeking a way to make it better.

-Jonathan Eig, The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution



My mother is scared. I cannot believe it. But she will not speak of her fears. She is locked up tight. She keeps her secrets. I keep mine. That is our way. We have always struggled with words.

-George Hodgman, Bettyville: A Memoir

The Story & Much More


Remember this one? “An Iraqi Defector Tells of Work on at Least 20 Hidden Weapons Sites.” So reported New York Times staffer Judith Miller in December 2001, in one of many war-drum-beating stories that she defends in her new book, The Story. Here reviewer Erik Wemple, media critic for the Washington Post, lambasts her self-serving memoir, suggesting that she misused her newspaper’s influence and prestige and “doesn’t get to ridicule all those who initially took her Times stories seriously, as the United States launched a war that killed 4,500 U.S. service members and left an Iraqi toll many times higher.”

“The most surprising revelation of [Matthew] Beaumont’s book is how recently we have come to regard nightwalking with anything other than suspicion and alarm. For more than 1,000 years it was a crime. As early as the 12th century, the nightwalker appeared in a nervously extended list of the capital’s social evils: ‘Actors, jesters, smooth-skinned lads, Moors, flatterers, pretty-boys, effeminates, pederasts, singing- and dancing-girls, quacks, belly-dancers, sorceresses, extortioners, night-walkers …’” Here‘s a review of Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London.

Says Mary Morris (Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen):  “I would have a lot of nerve being elitist. Those Irish relatives: they were potato diggers. My grandmother was a washerwoman; my father was a fireman. I went to a state university.” Here.

“Not only do I feel no fear or horror when I think about bed bugs (or spend the night with them), but I even have a begrudging admiration for the repellent little beasts. . . . This bug is a survivor.” Here‘s Brooke Borel (Infested: How the Bed Bug Infiltrated Our Bedrooms and Took Over the World).

“If Kenneth Rexroth were to write a blurb for ‘Habitation’, it could possibly be– There are poems/in this Habitation ‘more durable /than the configurations of heaven.’” Here‘s a review of Sam Hamill’s Habitation: Collected Poems.


Galileo’s Middle Finger

Soon enough, I will get to the death threats, the sex charges, the alleged genocides, the epidemics, the alien abductees, the antilesbian drug, the unethical ethicists, the fight with Martina Navratilova, and of course, Galileo’s middle finger.

-Alice Dreger, Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science


The Musical Brain

The criminal was holding a knife to the cartoonist’s throat with one hand while furiously brandishing an open comic book with the other, and, in a voice as full of menace as his body language and the whole situation, subjecting his victim to violent but also bitter and plaintive reproaches.

-Cesar Aira, “The Criminal and the Cartoonist,” in The Musical Brain and Other Stories


Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky

Leah Shepherd didn’t know the name of the song the bald man in horn-rimmed glasses was singing to himself as he stared at her through the snow.

-David Connerley Nahm, Ancient Oceans of Kentucky: A Novel


By the Book

The most critical element in any work of humor–this is something Plato talked about–is that at least one of the major characters should be an orangutan.

-Dave Barry, in By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review edited by Pamela Paul


Soul of the Fire

The tears on the young nun’s cheek dripped onto the rosary in her hand.

-Elliot Patterson, Soul of the Fire: A Mystery


Paris Red

That day I am seventeen and I was wearing the boots of a whore.

-Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red: A Novel