Since his heyday in the mid-nineteenth century, P.T. Barnum’s name has been shorthand for ebullient humbuggery, maximalist entertainment, inexhaustible self-promotion, rags-to-riches industriousness—for fun. Yet the images that animate his biographies are united by an eerier quality, suspended between the pitiful and the grotesque.
The Life of Saul Bellow: Love and Strife, 1965–2005
by Zachary Leader
“Guys, I’m rich.” So begins the second volume of Zachary Leader’s Life of Saul Bellow, and so begins the second half of Bellow’s life. The publication of Herzog in 1964 had elevated a respected if underselling midcareer novelist to the status of publishing darling, national celebrity, golden-fingertipped literary divinity. Bellow’s …
The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1994–2017
by Martin Amis
Novelists, as a class, abhor reading criticism of their work, and with good reason—the only adequate account of a novel, at least for its author, is the one that lies between its covers. The experience of reading dissections of one’s work can be traumatizing, like watching a medical student hack …
I never had the “talk” with my parents. I had only the “book”: Portnoy’s Complaint, which one evening my mother, in a rare embarrassed flush, tossed in my direction before escaping to her bedroom, trailed by a rushed “You might get a kick out of that.”
The latest edition in a running series of dispatches by New York Review writers documenting the coronavirus outbreak with updates from around the world, including Verlyn Klinkenborg in East Chatham, Hugh Eakin in Minneapolis–St. Paul, Dalia Hatuqa in Amman, Zoé Samudzi in Windhoek, Ariel Dorfman in Durham, Nathaniel Rich in New Orleans, Christopher Benfey in Amherst, Mira Kamdar in Videlles, Arthur Longworth in Monroe.
I found the sculptures of Arthur Kern, now at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, startling not because I had never seen anything like them before—but the opposite. The sense of recognition was immediate and visceral. I was certain I had seen these images before, in some other time, somewhere very far away from here.
It’s a story as old as Alexander von Humboldt: white explorer treks into the Amazon, becomes lost and disoriented, paints face with mud, eats beetles, and has visions of galaxies and exotic reptiles, before finally achieving enlightenment—or total madness. But Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent is strange enough to resist the worst of the old clichés, which is to say it resists moral certainty.
This annual cook-off is an excellent opportunity to visit Bogalusa, “The Magic City,” a town founded in 1906 by the Goodyears of Buffalo, New York, in a pine forest on the Mississippi border eighty minutes north of New Orleans.
For four decades Richard Sexton has been playing a transcontinental game of Concentration, pinballing between New Orleans and the cities of the Creole diaspora—Havana, Quito, Cartagena, Cap-Haïtien—documenting resonances in architecture and style.