Author Archives: Joseph Barbato

The Way of the Writer


People sometimes wonder what a person was like before he or she became a writer. What was that person’s childhood like? In my case, I imagine that my being an only child growing up in the 1950s in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, in the shadow of Northwestern University, shaped my life in more ways than I can imagine.

-Charles Johnson, The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling

The Paper Menagerie


At the noodle shop, I wave the other waitress away, waiting for the American woman: skin pale and freckled as the moon; swelling breasts that fill the bodice of her dress; long chestnut curls spilling past her shoulders, held back with a flowery bandanna. Her eyes, green like fresh tea leaves, radiate a bold and fearless smile that is rarely seen among Asians. And I like the wrinkles around them, fitting for a woman in her thirties.

-Ken Liu, “A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Railroad,” in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

Our Revolution


I grew up in a three-and-a-half-room rent-controlled apartment. My older brother, Larry, and I spent years sleeping on couches in the living room.

-Bernie Sanders, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In

In Sunlight or In Shadow


While I’ve been distracted, the clown has taken a seat at our veranda table in absolute silence. But of course. He is, after all, Pierrot, and beneath the makeup, a mime.

Robert Olen Butler, “Soir Bleu,” in In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper edited by Lawrence Block

I’ll Take You There


I turned sixty earlier this year, an age that brings deficits, of course: creaky knees, a temporary inability to remember familiar people’s names, a second colonoscopy.

-Wally Lamb, I’ll Take You There: A Novel

The Case Against Sugar & More


“[Gary] Taubes. . . argues that sugars are bad in and of themselves, that they have ‘a unique physiological, metabolic and endocrinological (hormonal) effect on our bodies.’ Sugars are what an evolutionary biologist might call the environmental or dietary switch that triggers a genetic predisposition to obesity and turn an otherwise healthy diet into a harmful one. They are, says Taubes, the most likely triggers of ‘insulin resistance,’ the condition that leads to obesity, diabetes and a number of other diseases, from gout and varicose veins to irritable bowel syndrome and asthma.” Here’s a review of The Case Against Sugar.

On A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life: “Novelist and essayist [Ayelet] Waldman (Bad Mother)—mother of four, married to another high-profile writer (Michael Chabon)—worked as a federal public defender and taught at prestigious law schools. After struggling with mood swings and bouts of depression, Waldman becomes a ‘self-study psychedelic researcher,’ taking small doses of LSD on repeating three-day cycles and discovers plenty to exonerate the illicit substance.”

They are called ‘this generation’s Agent Orange’ — the open fire pits operated on over 230 U.S. military bases across Iraq and Afghanistan during our wars there. Every kind of waste — plastics; batteries; old ordnance; asbestos; pesticide containers; tires; biomedical, chemical and nuclear waste; dead animals; human feces; body parts; and corpses — was incinerated in them.” Here’s a review of The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers.

“How did Italian Americans end up identifying themselves, and being identified, with such conservative values and reactionary political forces? Why did their political consciousness diverge so markedly from their Italian counterparts?” Here’s a review of The Lost World of Italian-American Radicalism: Politics, Labor, and Culture.


When We Rise


I was born into the last generation of homosexual people who grew up not knowing if there was anyone else on the entire planet who felt the way that we felt.

-Cleve Jones, When We Rise: My Life in the Movement



Sunday was Carl’s day off. In the morning all the church bells, Protestant and Catholic, rang out across Zurich and families put on their Sunday best to attend the services, prayer books in hand, little girls with hair done up Hedi-style, boys in matelot suits. Not the Jungs, however. Carl had vowed never to set foot in a church again, other than on unavoidable occasions such as his own wedding, and he was determined not to have any of his children confirmed, remembering the debilitating boredom and depression which overcame him during the instruction given him by his father, who was all the while denying his own religious doubts, battling with his unnamed torments.

-Catrine Clay, Labyrinths: Emma Jung, Her Marriage to Carl, and the Early Years of Psychoanalysis

Night of the Animals


On the last day of April 0f 2052, as a newly discovered comet, Urga-Rampos, neared Earth, a very ill, very old, and very corpulent man started to shoulder his way into the thick hedges around the last public zoo on earth.

-Bill Broun, Night of the Animals: A Novel

Looking For The Stranger


The life of The Stranger has gone well beyond [Albert] Camus’s own life, cut abruptly short by an auto accident in 1960, when he was only forty-six. It shows no signs of dying: seventy-four years after its first publication, and over a century after Camus’s birth, over 10.3 million copies of The Stranger have been sold in France alone. As long as people keep reading novels, The Stranger will live on: that’s more of a guarantee of an afterlife than any author, and most books, can hope for.

-Alice Kaplan, Looking for The Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic