Author Archives: Joseph Barbato

Owen’s Daughter

Just as pollen becomes a passenger riding the wind’s coattails, a spirit, too, can travel great distances.

-Jo-Ann Mapson, Owen’s Daughter: A Novel


Find Me & Much More


Says novelist Laura van den Berg (Find Me): “I live for bad TV. Scandal, Pretty Little Liars, all the Law & Orders—I could watch for hours. I prefer bad TV to good TV, frankly. Same goes for movies. Little makes me happier than a chance to re-watch, say, Demolition Man in the middle of the afternoon.” Here.

“And what does ‘notable’ mean, anyway?” Here‘s Laura Miller on that year-end New York Times list.

“A gripping — and even, at times, thrilling — story about the strange business of pharmaceutical spam, an industry that is bizarre, sprawling, dysfunctional and contradictory. Fuelled by world-beatingly high price of pharmaceuticals in the USA, the pharma-spam business uses millions of hacked PCs to send out come-ons advertising all manner of drugs, from anti-depression meds to fertility meds to powerful, controlled painkillers — and, of course, erectile dysfunction medication.” Here‘s Brian Krebs’ Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime-from Global Epidemic to Your Front Door.

“I read Wild when it was first published, and I have been watching its ascent with surprise ever since.” Here.

“It’s struck a nerve with the American people and is getting word-of-mouth.” Here‘s the story on Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See.


Selected Letters of Norman Mailer & More


“[Norman] Mailer’s ambition to be the greatest writer of his generation is made clear in his stylish, sophisticated letters.” Here.

The waning days of our lives are given over to treatments that addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver’s chance of benefit,”writes Atul Gawande (Being Mortal). Here.

“Probably no one ever really feels grown-up, except for certain high school math teachers or members of Congress. I suspect that most members of AARP go around feeling in many ways just as confused and fraudulent as most middle school students. You might even be able to make a case that not feeling grown-up is a sign that you actually are, much as worrying that you’re crazy supposedly means you’re not.” Here‘s Meghan Daum  (The Unspeakable).

“A lively and concise telling of the behind-the-scenes history of Austin City Limits and its relationship to popular music, broadcasting, the music festival which began in 2002 that bears its name, the city of Austin and the cultural identity of Texas as a whole (the show is, according to the author, Austin’s “most famous cultural representative”).” Here.




What Soldiers Do

There is no doubt that as the American GIs arrived in Paris and began to seek out women, they encountered an unruly, often violent world.  But even in the chaos of a system without pimps or legal supervision, the GIs bought a great deal of sex in a strange city in a very short period of time. (The average GI leave was sixty to seventy-two hours.) Although the maisons were officially off-limits, the Americans knew where and how to find women for sex. Despite the language barrier, they could ask for sex in French and even bargain for price.

-Mary Louise Roberts, What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France

The Lost Tribe of Coney Island & More


“They became the hit of Luna Park in the summer of 1905. The Igorrotes performed countless shows for thousands of day-trippers: mock battles, dog feasts, sham weddings, dances and craft displays, all in their makeshift compound, ruled by a chief appointed by [Truman] Hunt, and outfitted with a ‘headhunters’ watchtower’ and a quarters for a ‘medicine man.’” Here‘s a review of The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century.

The Book of Strange New Things is a good-bye and an apology from a man who knows he’s writing the last thing a loved one will ever read.” Here.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Matt Richtel (A Deadly Wandering) says “96 percent of people say they shouldn’t text and drive, and 30 percent do. I can only think of one other thing that a gap so profound exists — the gap between what smokers say they should do and what they actually do. There’s a reason smokers say one thing and do something else — they’re addicted, sometimes to the point of killing themselves.” Here.

“I wanted to examine the ways in which so many aspects of contemporary American life . . . seem to come shrink-wrapped in a layer of bathos,” says essayist Meghan Daum (The Unspeakable). Here.

“I’d rather win a water fight in the swimming pool, than write the great American novel.” Here.



Waking Up


Twenty percent of Americans describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Although the claim seems to annoy believers and atheists equally, separating spirituality from religion is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It is to assert two important truths simultaneously: Our world is dangerously riven by religious doctrines that all educated people should condemn, and yet there is more to understanding the human condition than science and secular culture generally admit.

-Sam Harris, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

Beautiful You


Even as Penny was attacked, the judge merely stared.

-Chuck Palahniuk, Beautiful You

The Haight & So Much More


“A treasure trove of visual reporting on the brave new psychedelic world.” Here‘s The Haight: Love, Rock, and Revolution.

“Rodia’s fantastic city consisting of several interconnected towers, a gazebo and a boat, constructed of junk sculpture and mosaic tiling, wrapped in wire mesh, a remarkable feat of both art and engineering.” Here‘s Sabato Rodia’s Towers in Watts.

“Boston’s black community rallied to seek a ban of the movie, protesting its blatant racism and falsification of history in what became a national dispute pitting civil rights against civil liberties.” Here‘s a review of The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and a Crusading Editor Reignited America’s Civil War.

Says Suki Kim (Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite): “These people in North Korea are real. I don’t care if they’re defectors or if they’re Workers’ Party leaders—they’re human beings. If you don’t look at them as real people, it’s very easy to think, ‘It’s an evil country and a lot of figures we can’t really relate to.’” Here.

“On even the most humdrum days of its history,” [Fred] Lyon writes, “San Francisco remains a photographer’s delight, but in the optimistic years following World War II, it had a special aura. … For the fresh eye of a young photographer like myself, it was an intoxicating kaleidoscope.” Here.

On Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Global History: “Many of the myths we tell ourselves about capitalism—how it functions best when government gets out of the way, how it broke clean from slavery—are as false today as they were during its 500-year history.” Here.

“[Pico] Iyer’s argument is an engaging amalgam of memoir, reportage, and literary essay.” Here‘s a review of The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere.


Jerry Lee Lewis

The water would rise up every few years, wash across the low, flat land, and take everything a poor man had, ruin his cotton and corn and drown his hogs, pour filth and dead fish into his home, even push the coffins from the earth and float his ancestors all the way to Avoyelles.

-Rick Bragg, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story

Loitering & More

On Charles D’Ambrosio’s remarkable new essay collection Loitering: “In the essay ‘American Newness,” he goes on a tour of a dozen new modular homes in Washington State, but finds he simply can’t bring himself to read the teleprompter and exclaim, ‘Wow, what a house!’ when primed to do so by his supersweet tour guide. Instead, he tells us, with genuine sorrow, ‘I knew before I entered the building I’d betray her hope and trust.’” Here.

“Set largely in Flushing with flashbacks to Iraq and China, Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life tells the love story of two people living at the periphery of society: Zou Lei, an ethnic Uyghur woman from Western China working illegally for meager pay while living in a plywood cubicle in a Chinatown tenement, and Skinner, a dented-can Iraq war vet scarred by a traumatic brain injury and PTSD sustained during his stop-lossed second tour, spending his savings on takeout, cigarettes, and alcohol, and taking tranquilizers to get him to sleep.” Here‘s a Queens boy’s debut novel.

Ursula K. LeGuin’s knockout speech at the National Book Awards. Here.

“In [Roz] Chast’s own words her parents were soulmates, and talked about themselves like that. The two met as children and except for war, work and going to the bathroom, they were together ever since.” Here‘s a review of Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?