25 Favorite Short Stories

In his Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce defined a novel as “a short story padded.” This is an all too apt description. The inability to prune a story to its essential story is an unfortunate quality shared by many modern writers and the primary reason that bookshelves are filled with . . . . Continue Reading »

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
(and Christ)

I have had this experience three times now, on three different occasions, in admittedly similar circumstances, but not similar enough to explain the coincidence: I am speaking from a podium to a fairly large audience on the topics of—to put it broadly—evil, suffering, and God; I have been talking for several minutes about Ivan Karamazov, and about things I have written on Dostoevsky, to what seems general approbation; then, for some reason or other, I happen to remark that, considered purely as an artist, Dostoevsky is immeasurably inferior to Tolstoy; at this, a single pained gasp of incredulity breaks out … Continue Reading »

Children’s Books, Lost and Found

Sometimes a book is in the canon of children’s literature just because the writing is so good. Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, for instance, stands as the perfection of its kind: a prose of greeny gold, of summer recollected in autumn’s light. Rudyard Kipling, too, has the perfect sort . . . . Continue Reading »

Beauty Is as Beauty Does

On Beauty by zadie smith penguin, 464 pages, $15 (paperback) In On Beauty, British writer Zadie Smith has turned her attention to the post-September 11 United States and has been widely praised for the result, which is a big comic novel that builds a topical tale on a classic foundation. . . . . Continue Reading »

When Worlds Collide

Snow by Orhan Pamuk Knopf. 426 pp. $26. Two months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Turkish author Orhan Pamuk published an essay in the New York Review of Books (titled “The Anger of the Damned”) in which Pamuk, who is often mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize, tried . . . . Continue Reading »

The End of Magic

Of a fair evening in the mythical but true world of Middle Earth, towards the end of the Third Age, a young hobbit named Frodo is holding private counsel with Galadriel. She is the queen and lady of Lothlórien, the most secret and beautiful reserve of the Elves. Frodo has been gazing into her . . . . Continue Reading »