Subject: Chatterbox's Gutter Ball
From: Bob Putnam
Date: Fri Jun 9 5:00 p.m.
It's always fun to debate a book's thesis without having to read it. I hate to rain a few facts on Mr. Noah's game when he's on a roll, but soccer leagues are not the salvation of American democracy. As an ex-soccer dad and ex-Little League coach, I enthusiastically agree that soccer and baseball sidelines can be sites of community connection. However, as my book Bowling Alone reports, when we add up the youth sports that are growing and those that are declining, all the evidence points to a net decline in youth sports participation over the last decade or two. Soccer participation, contrary to Noah's assumption, leveled off far below saturation levels. Moreover, the numbers of soccer parents (though growing) are still tiny, compared to the declines in other forms of community involvement in America. When Noah gets around to reading Bowling Alone, he will discover this.
Subject: Melville—Like Sontag, a Literary "Thief"
From: M.L. Diamond
Date: Wed Jun 14 10:57 a.m.
Culturebox argues that Susan Sontag's virtually verbatim copying of historical documents into her novel betrays her lack of literary imagination. I am reminded of the case of Melville, who frequently used huge chunks of "found" prose in his novels. In Typee, for example, his most successful book in his own lifetime, he lifted a considerable portion directly from travel brochures. A contemporary example is Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, by Moises Kaufman. This is arguably a great play and yet there is not an "invented" line in the entire script—it's all borrowed. Sometimes writers "invent"; sometimes they "arrange." Both activities, to be effective, require artistry and craft.
Subject: Assad Played the Tyrant Rather Than the Fool
From: Fan Kuei
Date: Mon Jun 12 6:32 p.m.
Yes, Assad was brutal. Yes, he was no democrat. Yes, the Syrian government killed and repressed a lot of its citizens. Morally speaking, it certainly has its dues to pay. Neither France, nor the United States, nor Israel has much right to complain, however. France (along with Britain) did much to create the unstable and violent politics in that part of the Middle East through their colonial policies. (It's worth remembering that the Syrians did not create Syria—they just had to pick up the mess.) The U.S. talks a good game about human rights and responsibility, but when push comes to shove they have usually found "friendly, stable" Arab dictatorships quite conducive to their interests, thank you. Israel has taken advantage of any openness in Arab societies to launch covert intelligence operations and even rebellions against Arab governments.
So Assad was not a democrat? How could he be without capitulating to almost every Israeli (or U.S.) demand? Dictatorship is ugly and brutal—but not accidental. In this case, it represented the only way that the Arabs could fight back and maintain their rights and dignity. Witness Shimon Peres' recent suggestion that the new Syrian leader must compromise his father's demands as a sign of his "openness." I don't think the Syrians will fall for that old scam. Let us write an obituary for President Assad which is more fair and more accurate: He was a nasty SOB who was dealt a bad hand, but refused to play the fool.
[To read an unedited version of this letter, or to reply, click here.]
Subject: Robert Goldstein Was No Martyr
From: Corey ye
Date: Tue Jun 13 10:57 a.m.
Chatterbox portrays Robert Goldstein as a free-speech martyr and blames his exile on anti-Semitism, which "was still the norm among Southern California's ruling class" during the First World War. Really? Among Samuel Goldwyn? Among Louis B. Mayer? Let's get real. Jews built Hollywood and they froze Goldstein out because he really had been undermining the war effort. And let's put the period's anti-German hysteria into perspective, shall we? President Woodrow Wilson had tried to sit out the war as long as possible. Then the Germans resumed unrestricted submarine warfare just as Zimmerman sent his famous telegram. The record shows that the German embassy was trying to foment disturbances among the German-American immigrant communities, and German diplomats were involved in conspiracies to plant bombs in munitions factories and on ships. In this kind of atmosphere, wasn't it just a little bit irresponsible to go against the movie censors and put those anti-British segments back in the film?
Subject: The Serialized Assembly of Bonfire of the Vanities
From: Steve Sailer
Date: Thu Jun 15 3:30 p.m.
If the serious novel is to distinguish itself from genre fiction and flourish as a serial form, it's going to have to make a better case for itself than it has so far. Serialization can't be a publicity stunt, which is what, say, Tom Wolfe's publishing Bonfire of the Vanities in Rolling Stone essentially was.
Serialization proved essential to making the final book version of Bonfire of the Vanities the landmark that it is. The serialized version in Rolling Stone was quite dull and generated little publicity. Wolfe then redid the entire book: most critically turning the main character from a writer into a bond trader. The lack of response to the serialized version helped make the book version into the novel of the decade. Ordinarily, the writer's aversion to serialization stems from the amount of work required to turn out passable copy for publication under the pressure of frequent deadlines. This is then followed by rewriting for the book. Thus, Wolfe worked about half a decade on this one book. On the other hand, as Bonfire of the Vanities shows, the discipline of writing it twice for publication can make it much better than the typical novel.