Roger Sale is a critic and journalist. Until 1999, he was Professor of English at the University of Washington. His books include Modern Heroism: Essays on D. H. Lawrence, William Empson and J.R.R. Tolkien and On Not Being Good Enough: Writings of a Working Critic.


Two-Eyed Jacks

The Biggest Game in Town

by A. Alvarez
It is the spring of 1951, and I am in the basement of a college dorm playing in an all-night poker game. At the end of a five-card-stud hand I have an ace, a queen, and the low cards showing, and I have a ten in the hole. My only …

Our Town

Nuclear Culture: Living and Working in the World's Largest Atomic Complex

by Paul Loeb
Cities and towns in the dry West always look as if they have dropped there arbitrarily. The landscape is so big, and often so barren, that human activity seems messy, aimless, marginal. Plains, mountains, endless wind, huge sky, and then—Butte, or Denver, or Casper seems wrongly placed even after one …

Life With Father


by William Wharton
While reading William Wharton’s wonderful novel, Dad, I could not help imagining, as many will, the circumstances of its composition. It has the tone of intense personal quest that leads the reader to such speculations. I ended up with this: Wharton (a pseudonym) spent some months five years ago in …

Golden Gaits

Laughing in the Hills

by Bill Barich
When the long sections of Laughing in the Hills appeared in The New Yorker, I was delighted and envious. I have myself written about Longacres, the race track in Seattle, trying to say what it is to be a bettor and absorbed onlooker. Bill Barich spent the spring of 1978 …

Stranger than Nonfiction

Freddy's Book

by John Gardner

The Girl in a Swing

by Richard Adams
Fantasy, children’s literature, and science fiction—alternatives to the realistic novel—are becoming more common, not just as popular literature but as subjects for academics to teach. The fictional techniques of Malory, Dumas, Conan Doyle, of tale tellers sitting around the fire, all are much discussed and adapted. Leslie Fiedler, in his …

Stubborn Steinbeck

The Intricate Music: A Biography of John Steinbeck

by Thomas Kiernan

The Wayward Bus

by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck went to Stanford University in the fall of 1919 saying he wanted to be a writer. At seventeen, he had written little, none of it promising, but he knew the power that the writing of others held over him, and he longed for some of that power himself.

Love and War

The Short-Timers

by Gustav Hasford


by A. Alvarez
There must be a way to write a good novel about Americans in the Vietnam war, but the authors of the three or four I have read have not found it. The sad fact about Gustav Hasford’s The Short-Timers is that its way of failing isn’t very interesting. If any …