Author Archives: Joseph Barbato

Family Dancing

Neil’s mother, Mrs. Campbell, sits on her lawn chair behind a card table outside the food co-op.

-David Leavitt, “Territory,” in Family Dancing: Stories


The News

It doesn’t come with any instructions, because it’s meant to be the most normal, easy, obvious and unremarkable activity in the world, like breathing or blinking.

-Alain de Botton, The News: A User’s Manual


Can’t and Won’t

Now that I have been here for a little while, I can say with confidence that I have never been here before.

-Lydia Davis, “Bloomington,” in Can’t and Won’t: Stories


Survival of the Nicest & More


On that new book, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, by sociologist Erving Goffman’s daughter, Alice: “The level of detail in this book and Goffman’s ability to understand her subjects’ motivations are astonishing — and riveting. Indeed, it’s a power of “On the Run” that her insights and conclusions feel so honest to what she’s seen and heard. She depicts a community where trust has evaporated, where young men like Mike often avoid girlfriends for fear that the women, for their own reasons, might turn their paramours in.” Here.

Says novelist Tom Perrotta: “I wonder at what point I became aware of how deeply Our Town influenced the way I thought about The Leftovers.” Here.

“[Ned] Beauman is as dazzling as ever. His cast of characters includes a Teflon-coated chief executive, a double-crossing undercover spy, a gay self-taught chemist and a slimy, morally challenged corporate PR; while his zingy dialogue and the unpredictable directions in which the narrative ricochets are as lively as anything he has previously written.”Here‘s a review of Glow.

Says Stefan Klein  (Survival of the Nicest): “The willingness to act to help others is an attitude that you can practice until it is as natural as riding a bicycle. In time the fear of being exploited fades, and with the courage to give grows the feeling of freedom.” Here.

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The Bend of the World

It was a wet February in Pittsburgh, spring, early and without warning, and twice in one week UFOs had been spotted hovering over Mount Washington.

-Jacob Bacharach, The Bend of the World: A Novel


Ecstatic Cahoots

Lost: the hot-pink bullet from the spent cartridge of lip gloss he’s found lodged between gearbox and seat.

-Stuart Dybek, “Drive,” in Ecstatic Cahoots: Fifty Short Stories




Unstoppable & More


Says Ralph Nader (Unstoppable): “We’ve become too much of a spectator culture, spending the better part of each day in front of screens.” Here.

“‘Yes, success came to me rather late,’ says [Andrea] Camilleri, in a low, soothing voice. ‘It didn’t alter the rhythms of my life or those of my wife and family. The only thing that it did was bring a certain financial security that, as you age, you don’t mind having, and it also allowed me to give a bit more pleasure to my children and grandchildren. The other trappings of success have never entered into my life, I can assure you.’” Here‘s an interview with the 88-year-old novelist (Angelica’s Smile).

“Many of his characters can be described as heroic schlemiels — downtrodden, vulnerable, and mournful of their past failures, yet nonetheless persistent in their eager and often clueless efforts to redeem their losses and start anew. Whether they succeed or not, it is in their pursuit of such quests that their souls are revealed, both to the reader and to themselves.” Here‘s Bernard Malamud.

“Existential compromises fascinated [Stephen] Crane. Does an alcoholic choose to drink? Is a soldier blameworthy if he flees an attack that scatters half his regiment? In the eighteen-nineties, during a brief and fiery literary career—he died before he was thirty—Crane explored these questions with vividly imagined detail and little moralizing.” Here.


The Nile & Much More


Another good lesson: Everyone’s miserable. And the sooner you realize that, the happier you’ll be.Here.

“The Chelsea opened in 1884 as one of the city’s first cooperative apartment buildings and has been a byword since then for dime-store decadence and avant-garde art, the first stop for arrivistes and the last for tarnished celebrities.” Here.

“The phrase ‘little did she/he/they know’ has plenty of history.” Here.

“The publication of Ulysses was a cataclysmic event that shifted the tectonic plates of Western culture.” Here.

“Ethel Merman/Got rid of vermin/By singing Cole Porter/For an hour and a quarter.” Here.

“[Toby] Wilkinson’s book is also an astoundingly (and probably unintentionally) useful travel guide.” Here‘s a review of The Nile: A Journey Downriver Through Egypt’s Past and Present.

Teaching the Cat to Sit & More


“For such a staid apparatus, the elevator has generated some pretty compelling stories.” Here‘s a review of Lifted: A Cultural History of the Elevator.

“Having patients describe their pain as a ten is much easier than having them describe it as a hot poker driven through their eyeball into their brain.” Here.

“How a motley band of committed hobbyists have devoted countless unpaid hours to linking unidentified human remains with missing-person reports.” Here‘s a review of The Skeleton Crew.

“It’s not just an account of growing up lesbian in a profoundly homophobic environment, but also a moving reflection on the nature of faith and family.” Here‘s a review of Teaching the Cat to Sit.


Early that June, Constantine Boyd left Detroit with his usual trunk but got on a train headed east instead of west.

-Andrea Barrett, Archangel: A Novel