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The Forgotten Noir Detective

…the investigator who was pulled off the 1929 case was one Leslie Turner White, who served as inspiration for Chandler’s Marlowe, and whose autobiography, Me, Detective (1936), played a pivotal if largely forgotten role in the formation of American noir. Read more

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The Power—and Necessity—of Reading Dangerously

Authors are not infallible. Each great writer is the child of her or his age, certainly. But the miraculous aspect of great books is their ability to both reflect and transcend the prejudices of the author as well as their time and place. It is this quality that allows a young woman in twentieth-century Iran to read a Greek man named Aeschylus, who lived thousands of years ago, and to empathize with him. Reading does not necessarily lead to direct political action, but it fosters a mindset that questions and doubts; that is not content with the establishment or the established. Fiction arouses our curiosity, and it is this curiosity, this restlessness, this desire to know that makes both writing and reading so dangerous. Read more

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Words: Technologies of Power

In our brave new world of online surveillance and 280 character missives, of endless scrolling and shortening attention spans, a printed book can’t be traced like your virtual activity can — protecting our cognitive liberty and making it more valuable than ever. Books still are, as Stephen King (another proud writer of many a banned book) called them, “our most uniquely portable magic.” They are dangerous tools of destruction indeed — because the best ones break down the barriers that separate you and me. In other words, they humanize us. Read more

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Stephen Crane’s 150th Birthday

STEPHEN CRANE, born 150 years ago on this date, had a working life that lasted barely a decade, but he created an immense literary afterlife. His enthusiastic disciple Ernest Hemingway handed Crane’s stories to aspiring young writers seeking advice. Ralph Ellison said that Crane influenced not only Hemingway but also most modernist writers of the 20th century, including himself. Southern novelist Caroline Gordon conveyed her admiration for Crane to her protégé Flannery O’Connor. No American writer before Crane portrayed immediate perceptual and sensuous experience with such power. “He had great, great genius,” Henry James repeatedly said. For all the praise heaped on Crane’s idiosyncratic style, a question remains: How did he learn to write that way? Read more

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Why is Baseball the Most Literary of Sports?

The World Series is here. Even though it’s the (ugh) Braves vs. the (ugh) Astros, it’s still time to put on a ballcap, break out of a box of Cracker Jack, and head on out to the old ballgame… or least stream one online. Baseball has been known as America’s “national pastime” since the 1850s. While the sport may have been surpassed by football in the TV ratings, there’s still something about wooden bats, leather gloves, and grass-and-dirt diamonds that feels distinctly American. And distinctly literary. Read more

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This was the worst slaughter of Native Americans in US history. Few remember it.

The Bear River Massacre of 1863 near what’s now Preston, Idaho, left roughly 350 members of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation dead, making it the bloodiest — and most deadly — slaying of Native Americans by the U.S. military, according to historians and tribal leaders. The Indians were slain after soldiers came into a valley where they were camping for the winter and attacked, leaving roughly 90 women and children among the dead. Read more

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