Publications
Review: Two Katrina Books by Dan Baum and Dave Eggers Print E-mail
Criticism

zeitoun(Open Letters Monthly December 1, 2009)

Books of the City

For readers, what’s exhilarating about great crimes and tragedies in the American South is how quickly, how necessarily, they are translated into literature.

The most recent maelstrom eliciting literary remembrance is Hurricane Katrina, late-August/early-September 2005. But this time it’s not fiction that rushes in. We’re too wired to wait for fiction. It’s nonfiction, and the coverage is personal—memoir, reportage, biography. Fiction will come. But for now the urgency of the witness/participant story is driving the boat. The reason is, Katrina played so well on TV. The writer bounces off that reality, feels the charged immediacy of those pictures of families waving at helicopters from rooftops.

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Ex-Pros: Life After Sport Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

11.04.2009(San Diego Reader November 4, 2009)

If ever there were a San Diego Charger whose postcareer success has matched his years spent on the field, it’s the great Ron Mix. Mix’s glory years came in the 1960s, when the Chargers were in the American Football League. Back in the day, Mix was listed at 6’ 4” and 250 pounds, known as a weight lifter long before football players commonly pumped iron, and nicknamed the “Intellectual Assassin.” On the field, he achieved something that’s never been equaled: in ten seasons, he had two holding calls against him. Off the field, he blazed a trail by becoming one of the few players to earn a law degree—he graduated from the University of San Diego law school in 1969—and one of the very few who got the degree during his career, not after he hung up his cleats.

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Review: Frankly, My Dear: Gone With the Wind Revisited by Molly Haskell Print E-mail
Criticism

mhaskell-390-jacket_jpg_3(Contrary Magazine Autumn 2009)

America's Great Feminist Icon

Every culture has its enduring art—Rome The Aeneid, Italy The Last Supper, Russia the Pathetique Symphony. In those pre-modern societies, the value of art was based on its creator’s mastery and its national or religious cast. Art had not yet been tainted by its earning power. Not until the mid-twentieth century, when mass production of art and mass audiences for its consumption arose, was art’s intrinsic value exchanged for commodity value. Shares in its intrinsic value continue to fall. The art work’s preeminent worth today lies in that cuddly American euphemism, its commercial appeal.

To be viable in the commercial era, art works need social and technological currency: they must court controversy to fuel their sales; they must seek publicity to supplant their merit; and they must be reborn, where apt, in another medium. The prevailing works of the past century are those bent most by commodification. The most bent, in turn, become cultural icons.

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Puppeteers: Eight San Diegans Who Don't Want To Tell You What They Do Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20090902(San Diego Reader September 2, 2009)

The tenth floor of San Diego city hall is like a submarine in the sky. Behind sealed windows and an electronic-buttoned security door are the cramped offices of eight councilmembers, who themselves are sardined in with 65 staffers—8 chiefs and 57 underlings. Amid the confines, crew members, some on eight-year voyages, bump into each other. They shout across the hall. They buttonhole one another between desk and toilet. They share family photos and the occasional lunch or workout. On the rare occasion when a citizen shows up and gets in—citizen, try showing up and getting in—they absorb his or her concerns. But more often they endure lobbyists and businessmen, who get in more easily and needle councilmembers and staffs incessantly. Since 1964, when the city administration building opened at 202 C Street, several generations of staffers have recycled the floor’s oxygen—call it the rarefied air of political servitude. Staffers work a variety of assignments: council representative; community, labor, or business liaison; communications director; policy advisor; and deputy chief of staff. Many staffers have moved laterally between one district office and another, on occasion between city and county. They often come aboard when a new councilmember needs an insider, someone who knows how to ply the political waters. The highest rank—the one who gets to shout, “Up periscope!”—is the chief of staff.

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Fiction, Fact, and Faked Memoirs Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Triumph_of_Death_Bruegel(New English Review July 2009)

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story is the claim every storyteller is admonished to believe. What our ten-thousand-year-old tale-telling tradition (most of it oral) instructs us to do is to be good dramatists and let the story have its sway. This law of the tale, and our drama-loving DNA, is why the Bible has survived so long: its well-told stories were the means by which its morally sound messages were delivered and, tellers and scribes hoped, stuck. When disputes about a story’s authenticity arose, the Bible authors were less keen to preserve history or embrace veracity. Instead they made the drama central, via legend, fantasy, parable, and the fictionalized life, based on Egyptian mythology, of Jesus Christ. The Bible is a work of narrative literature and a work of fiction. But, the problem is, its fiction has almost always been thought of as fact.

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If We Didn't Advertise We'd Go Broke Treating the Poor Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

Cover06.24.09(San Diego Reader June 24, 2009)

Many of us watched the Chargers’ season-ending run this past winter and, amid the cheers and groans, saw a 30-second TV ad starring LaDainian Tomlinson. Well-dressed and calm, he’s holding a postgame news conference.

A reporter asks, “L.T., what got you the win today?”

“There’s three things you got to have to be successful,” L.T. says. “There’s planning, teamwork, and constant communication.”

Cut to designers huddling over architectural plans.

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Review: The River Lock: One Boy's Life Along the Mohawk by Stephen Haven Print E-mail
Criticism

river-lock-190(Contrary Magazine Summer 2009)

A Poet's Memoir

You’re not likely to read a memoir as good as Stephen Haven’s. Its brilliance lies in his fearless blend of the past in the present. In his mid-forties, the author is haunted by a wounded adolescence. On a pilgrimage, he returns to his hometown to discover why he's so obsessed. There, the still-ripe memoires of twenty and more years past unleash a torrent of wonder and regret. The only way to manage the deluge is to stir the past into his feeling for the past. Doing so, Haven crafts nuances and complexities about memory and loss few memoirists achieve. It may be that his ability springs from his primary calling. Haven is the author of two fine poetry collections, Dust and Bread and The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestacks. To say The River Lock is a poet’s memoir invites questions. How does a poet recall? Does he remember differently from us non-poets?

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