My latest American Enterprise books column looks back on the year in conservative publishing. It may be that 2005 was a landmark for books on the right. But will any of these tomes last?
"Arthur & George," which came out in London last summer, was short-listed for the Booker Prize and then lost out to a novel by John Banville. Was that painful for you?
I didn't rate my chances, because I didn't look at the other books. I looked at the jury.
Are you saying the judges had something against you?
I had a sense, let's say. When I was first short-listed for the Booker Prize, it was for my novel "Flaubert's Parrot." And afterward, one of the judges came up to me and said, "I had never heard of Flaubert until I read your novel." He was a member of Parliament.
—Julian Barnes, interviewed in The New York Times Magazine
"Art is not metaphysics, and the artist is usually unwise to insist too directly in his art upon his beliefs; but without an adequate and conscious metaphysics in the background, art's imitation of life inevitably becomes, either a photostatic copy of the accidental details of life without pattern or significance, or a personal allegory of the artist's individual dementia, of interest primarily to the psychologist and the historian."
"I lost my habit of punctual correspondence during the first few weeks of marriage, because we quarrelled so continuously & really bitterly that I thought I'd save time & just write one letter to everyone when the murder or separation had been accomplished."
By request, my second annual Brainwash Holiday Gift Guide is now available. Christmas is less than two weeks away. If you need some help finishing your shopping, take a look.
I missed this news from a couple of days ago. Scientists have pretty definitively concluded that Beethoven died from lead poisoning. There's certainly a book in the story—which would make the second about a single lock of the composer's hair. Scientists at the Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory solved the over-a-century-old mystery "[b]y focusing the most powerful X-ray beam in the Western Hemisphere on six of Ludwig van Beethoven's hairs and a few pieces of his skull." The finding cleared Beethoven of the suspicion that it was syphillis that did him in at the age of 56 in 1827. Lead poisoning explains many of his health problems, but not his deafness.
To me, one of the most interesting aspects of this is that the hairs and the pieces of skull are both owned by private collectors. I'd love to know the behind the scenes machinations—was it difficult to convince them to allow the use of their artifacts? The owner of the hair refused to allow any more tests that would destroy hairs. A previous test that did gave evidence, but not conclusive evidence, that lead poisoning caused the death. It is lucky for us that they both decided to be generous.
I've been slower than usual to update this site lately — I just spent a week galavanting around Europe. But I haven't been completely ignoring my duties. My latest American Enterprise Online column is now up:
Call it the female equivalent of the mid-life crisis. A woman, pushing 30, wonders whether she has squandered her youth and is now on the fast track to nowhere. She feels stuck in a dead-end job without meaning while her biological clock pushes into overdrive.
As more possibilities, and with it hard choices, open up to women, it’s becoming a more familiar refrain. But New Yorker Julie Powell found a highly original solution: in one year, cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s classic 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking...
Tonight, HBO will air a new documentary, Middle Sexes: Redefining He and She, narrated by Gore Vidal. The website says the film "sensitively explores the controversial subject of the blurring of gender as well as the serious social and family problems - even dangers - often faced by those whose gender may fall somewhere in between male and female."
When I heard about the documentary, I immediately remembered the sad case of David Reimer, the boy who was raised as a girl after a botched circumcision. I wrote about David's suicide last year for The American Spectator. I don't know if Middle Sexes will mention his story at all. From the looks of the examples on the website, it doesn't seem the filmmaker was too interested in cases that show sexual identity is not simply a social construct.
But one of the experts to be featured is Professor Milton Diamond of the University of Hawaii. Prof. Diamond is the man who discovered that David Reimer's supposedly successful gender reassignment was not such a success after all.
My review of Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door appeared in today's Washington Times:
"Imagine the world is your living room," intones a Samsung television ad currently in rotation. It's a suggestion many people have taken to heart. Commuters discuss the most intimate details of their lives on cell phones while strangers are forced to listen. Others listen to their iPods so loudly that the people sitting next to them could sing along to every word. And then there's the litter and profanity tossed insouciantly in the public square.
Perhaps no one is more eloquently fed up with the trials of modern life than Lynne Truss...
"Rome took all the vanity out of me; for after seenig the wonders there, I felt too insignificant to live, and gave up all my foolish hopes in despair."
—Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, seen in The Times, in London