Author Archives: Joseph Barbato

The Lynching


Early Saturday morning on March 21, 1981, a young woman was out riding her bicycle with her dog along Herndon Avenue in Mobile, Alabama, a modest residential street no more than three hundred yards long. It was the first day of spring, and in the predawn light, the woman saw what she assumed was a dummy hanging from a camphor tree and continued down the road.

-Laurence Leamer, The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan

100 Years


Fifty-one was too old for dreams of the future. At fifty-one you had to keep running just to escape the avalanche of your own past.

-Stephen King, Needful Things, in 100 Years: Wisdom from Famous Writers on Every Year of Your Life



Hitting’s all about hips and hands. Unless you thought about it too much. Then it was impossible. But Kevin was fifteen and the world was still pretty simple. See the ball. Hit the ball. Hips and hands.

-Michael Harvey, Brighton: A Novel

Necessary Trouble & Much More


“Since the 2008 financial crisis, many Americans have sought to wrest control of their lives through political movements like the tea party and Occupy. ‘For the people taking part in them,’ writes Sarah Jaffe (Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt), ‘it is not a question of left or right, but of the powerless against the powerful.’”

Says Larry Tye (Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon): “He grew by actually seeing things up close; he took things to heart in ways that few politicians do.”

“You will often feel shabby while reading The Voyeur’s Motel. You are meant to. It’s an intense book that reminds us that a problem of being alive is seeing things you hate but are attracted to anyway. It’s possible to admire it while wanting to pluck out your own prying eyes.”

“The breathtaking excellence of Proxies, poet Brian Blanchfield’s first collection of personal essays, is an urgent reminder of how shortsighted it would be to take identity politics as the sole measure of value in queer writing.”

“’Why don’t we revere the elderly?’ wonders Molly, the adult daughter of aging, ailing parents Aaron and Joy Bergman in Cathleen Schine’s They May Not Mean To, But They Do, a compelling, sensitive portrait of a loving New York family caught up and reeling in that inexorable cycle of life.


The Complete Stories


Senhora Jorge B. Xavier simply couldn’t say how she had come in. It hadn’t been through a main gate. It seemed to her in a vaguely dreamy way that she had come in through some kind of narrow opening amid the rubble of a construction site, as if she’d slipped sideways through a hole made just for her. The fact is, by the time she noticed she was already inside.

-Clarice Lispector, “In Search of a Dignity,” in The Complete Stories

Digging Up Mother


On Thursday, I got a call from one of Mother’s caregivers. “I’m here with your Mother. I think you should come over so you two can talk.” She spoke like a mortician from a 1950s horror movie. Since I can’t remember her name, I’ll call her Morticia.

-Doug Stanhope, Digging Up Mother: A Love Story

Jackson, 1964 & More


I greeted John Lewis, a sharecropper’s son who had grown up to be a congressman, more like an old comrade-in-arms than like someone I’d mentioned in a couple of articles,” writes Calvin Trillin (Jackson, 1964).

Here’s Dwight Garner on Seinfeldia: “I’d forgotten, if I had ever known, that the character of Elaine’s father — a gruff writer and war veteran named Alton Benes, who hated the pink lining of Jerry’s expensive jacket — was based on the novelist Richard Yates (Revolutionary Road). Mr. David knew Yates because he had dated the novelist’s daughter. After the episode aired, Yates was reported to have said about Mr. David, ‘I’d like to kill that son of a bitch!’”

“Throughout Barkskins, [Annie] Proulx asks us to consider how the long story of American social and economic development led us to our present moment of ecological crisis, and also to anticipate the day when the effects of capitalism’s historic affronts to nature will come home to roost.”

The world according to The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047, Lionel Shriver’s new novel, her twelfth.”

The Poverty Industry


By 2009, after the financial crisis hit, circumstances facing vulnerable populations were already looking grim. Cities participating in the 2009 U.S. Conference of Mayors Hunger and Homelessness Survey reported a 26 percent average increase in demand for hunger assistance, the largest increase in almost 20 years–including an increase in hunger assistance requests from middle-class families who used to donate food. More than three out of every four cities reported an increase in family homelessness.

-Daniel L. Hatcher, The Poverty Industry: The Exploitation of America’s Most Vulnerable Citizens

Fever City


The sun rises fast in the desert. There is no warning, no subtle intimation. It is a brutal transition; the end of night. The beginning of suffering.

-Tim Baker, Fever City

The Freedom Schools & More


“Created in 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Schools were launched by educators and activists to provide an alternative education for African American students that would facilitate student activism and participatory democracy. The schools had a crucial role in the civil rights movement and a major impact on the development of progressive education throughout the nation.” Here’s The Freedom Schools.

“[Jenny] Diski, as she makes vitally clear in her new memoir, In Gratitude, spent her every moment on earth beating the projections of authority figures. She overcame abusive and neglectful parents, foster homes, suicide attempts, repeated hospitalizations and the persistently gloomy conviction of relatives, caregivers, teachers, doctors and occasionally herself that she would fail at whatever she attempted.”

On Ron Kovic’s Hurricane Street: “It’s another raw expose on the cost of war. The book, which he calls a prequel, drills deep into the 17-day drama of a 1974 sit-in and hunger strike staged by Kovic and a band of fellow wounded veterans who took the federal building on Wilshire Boulevard by storm.”

“[Richard] Russo writes old-fashioned novels, the kind with characters and plot development, not asterisks or moody ellipses. And his subjects are old-fashioned people who live in the kind of blue-collar small towns where everyone knows everyone else’s business, but (usually) reserve judgment.” Here’s a review of Everybody’s Fool.