Author Archives: Joseph Barbato

Desperate Detroit


Crime is free enterprise in the purest definition of the term. It’s pass/fail, with reward to the first and punishment to the second. And any place is desperate where desperate people congregate.

-Loren D. Estleman, “The Desperate Business of Crime,” in Desperate Detroit: And Stories of Other Dire Places

Dirty Words and Filthy Pictures & More


“The history of film’s interaction with the law exposes a vital part of our nation’s ideals, understandings, and inner life,”says Jeremy Geltzer (Dirty Words and Filthy Pictures).

Says Helen Phillips (Some Possible Solutions): “A lot of my writing is borne out of anxiety and the desperate need to unpack that anxiety. But I also write these stories to comfort myself. I don’t really know why I find it comforting to write a story about a woman who finds out her death date, but there’s something about going down these different roads of possibility, exploring these different responses to horrifying situations, that braces me for life.”

On Imagine Me Gone: “You know that friend who’s a little smarter than you and a lot funnier, the guy you’d love to travel with or have lunch with forever if it weren’t for the fact that he was totally emotionally exhausting due to mental illness? That’s Michael, one of the children you watch grow up in the book and one of the most interesting literary characters I’ve come across in a long while.”

“[Lesley M.M.] Blume shows that a series of competing internal and external pressures helped birth Hemingway’s now-legendary debut roman à clef, The Sun Also Rises.” Here’s a review of Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece ‘The Sun Also Rises’.


The Fix


One of the things that make idealists in government ineffective, if not downright dangerous, is their belief that humankind can be perfected–or at least, that humans can be trusted to do the right thing most of the time. Appealing though it is, this assumption underestimates our species’ uncanny ability to do the wrong thing. Realists don’t fight this truth. They accept it, and that acceptance tends to make them more effective leaders. Idealists trust; realists trust but verify.

-Jonathan Tepperman, The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in A World in Decline

The Annotated Poe


It’s the most recognizably anguished face in American letters, impossible to be mistaken for any other–the face of the writer we think we know–a doughy face, lopsided in letdown, harrowed and blanched by loss.

-William Giraldi, “Foreword,” The Annotated Poe edited by Kevin J. Hayes

The Sherlock Holmes Book


Of all the Holmes tales written by Conan Doyle, none caused as much of a stir as “The Final Problem.” Most significantly, of course, it tells of Holmes’s untimely death, but it also features the infamous villain Professor Moriarty–the most brilliant of all criminal masterminds and Holmes’s nemesis.

When the story was published in The Strand Magazine, the reaction was consternation, shock, even outrage. Letter after letter of protest arrived on the desks of the Strand and Conan Doyle, with one woman famously beginning her note to the author with, “You brute!” In London, black armbands were worn and the circulation of the Strand dropped so substantially that it almost closed down.

-The Sherlock Holmes Book

Manhattan Night


I sell mayhem, scandal, murder, and doom. Oh, Jesus I do, I sell tragedy, vengeance, chaos, and fate. I sell the sufferings of the poor and the vanities of the rich. Children falling from windows, subway trains afire, rapists fleeing into the dark. I sell anger and redemption.

-Colin Harrison, Manhattan Night: A Novel

Not All Bastards are From Vienna


Grandma’s third paramour had such big feet that he could not be considered intelligent. He was not altogether stupid, for he knew how to hang about with elegance and steadfastness, but owing to the size of his feet there had not been a great deal of care left over for his head. Grandpa Gugliemo, who boasted a number of mistresses, said that that fellow–he never called his rival by name–only ever opened his mouth to emit hot air: ‘Fools like to parade their folly, and there’s no better medium for it than words.’

-Andrea Molesini, Not All Bastards are From Vienna: A Novel



Why is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the go-to small talk we make with children? “Hello, child. As I have run out of complements to pay you on your doodling, can you tell me what sort of niche you plan to carve out for yourself in the howling existential morass of uncertainty known as the future? Also, has anyone given you a heads-up that everyone you love will die someday?”

-Lindy West, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman

The Whole Harmonium


In the sixty years since [Wallace] Stevens’s death, his poetic reputation has continued to grow, until today it would be no stretch of the imagination to say that he is among the most important poets of the twentieth and the still-young twenty-first century, sharing a place–at least among poets. first-rate critics. and scholars–with Rilke, Yeats, and Neruda.

Paul Mariani, The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens

Ear to the Ground


Los Angeles is the only major city in the world, thought Charlie Richter, heading east on Sunset in his Rent-a-Corsica, where everybody has to drive. The May morning sun was a laser, confounding even the most creative extensions of his car’s visor, so he looked over at the bus to his right, moving along with him at eleven feet per minute. Its passengers seemed uniformly unhappy, and it occurred to him that Detroit had planned its L.A. marketing campaign carefully. Drive and you’ll be happier.

-Paul Kolsby and David L. Ulin, Ear to the Ground: A Novel