03.17.09 7:10 AM ET
A Legendary Reporter Exposes His Favorite Reads
Before decamping for Rome in 1992 to begin work on a biography of Pope John Paul II, I piled a bunch of books in a trunk as preparation. This one, by the great, probing biographer of C. S. Lewis, I used only as an occasional reference (it was a difficult go for someone of my background), and promised myself I would return to it someday. I began reading it in earnest last summer, underlining and making notes in the margins. Wilson’s audacious attempt to reconcile the historical and mythical Christ is also an education about early Christianity, its formation and texts.
I’m late to this party, but it is one hilarious read and (sometimes scary) insider’s guide to what goes on a restaurant kitchen. Bourdain—semi-classically trained and chef at Les Halles in Manhattan—revels in the subculture of "wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths” who do the actual prep and cooking. His account is lovingly wrought nonetheless, a dollop exaggerated for the sake of good writing, and a welcome primer for those of us on the outside waiting for our food.
A staggering trove, chosen for all the reasons made clear in the tributes and in the Times obit. Herein (736 pages) every nonfiction piece he published in the last eight years: literary and art criticism, essays, personal observations from speeches and letters. My simple view has long held that Updike’s Rabbit and Philip Roth’s Zuckerman are the essential literary characters of post-war America: Read ‘em both and you begin to understand our time, at least the Gentile version and the Jewish version. But Updike’s range in nonfiction, as demonstrated here, is a whole other source of enlightenment and pleasure.
On everybody’s list these days, rightly so. Really depressing, considered against today’s news and the tendency of history to repeat itself. Members of Congress should be required to read this book. (My guess is that President Obama has already done so.) I’d forgotten what a wonderful writer Galbraith was. (This book was written in 1957, with a new introduction in 1997)
I was 16 when I went to work as a copyboy for the Washington Star, the most joyous and useful apprenticeship I can imagine. Menken’s experience 40 miles down the road in Baltimore at the turn of the 20th century, regarded here from the distance of his later years, has never been equaled as a memoir of youthful newspapering.