Books and Arts

Wheels of Justice
March 28, 2005

Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse By Steve Bogira (Alfred A. Knopf, 416 pp., $25.00) Click here to buy this book The swashbuckling prosecutors, earnest public defenders, and sternly unflappable judges who populate most legal dramas are nowhere to be found in Steve Bogira's engrossing new book Courtroom 302. Tedium, not tension, surrounds these cases, and actual trials by jury intrude only rarely on a constant stream of plea bargains and closed-door compromises. Crimes are petty, repetitive, and, more often than not, nonviolent.

On The Making Of A Durable World, Part Two
March 18, 2005

As I was working on my last column, "On the Making of a Durable World," another instance of that rare aesthetic experience of transcending the distance that separates one generation from another, creating a common, enduring world, unexpectedly visited me. This time, it wasn't so much my own personal sensation as it was the vicarious experience of reading about a writer's intense awareness of seeing and feeling what an artist, centuries before, had seen and felt.

Class Notes
March 16, 2005

"The context of [Mansfield Park] and nearly everything Jane Austen wrote is near-ridiculous from today's perspective," one young character lectures another early in the film Metropolitan.  "Has it ever occurred to you," the latter replies, "that today, looked at from Jane Austen's perspective, would look even worse?" Finally available on DVD, Metropolitan is essentially an extension of this rebuttal.

The Moral Baby
March 14, 2005

Wodehouse: A Life By Robert McCrum (W.W. Norton, 530 pp., $27.95) I.Deliberately unserious writers are very rare in literature; even most children's books are dark with agenda. Sheer play is much rarer than great seriousness, for nonsense demands from most of us an unlearning of adult lessons, a return to childhood--which anyway, being a return, lacks childhood's innocent originality. P.G. Wodehouse, who was always described by those who knew him best as an arrested schoolboy, must be the gentlest, most playful comedian in the English novel.

Err France
March 13, 2005

The Arrogance of the French: Why They Can't Stand Us--and Why the Feeling Is Mutual By Richard Z. Chesnoff (Sentinel, 208 pp., $23.95) Click here to buy this book Vile France: Fear, Duplicity, Cowardice and Cheese By Denis Boyles (Encounter Books, 210 pp., $23.95) Click here to buy this book Here is how you build a case against France in 200 pages or less: Start by lobbing a generic insult at its national character ("self-righteous" is good; "snooty, elitist, self-satisfied, self-obsessed, humorless, [and] Paris-dwelling" is better).

On The Making Of A Durable World
March 04, 2005

Looking up at the towering, massive, early twentieth-century skyscraper that is the Municipal Building, I saw the names of my beloved city carved in Roman letters in a continuous line in blocks of stone: NEW AMSTERDAM MDCXXVI / MANAHATTA / NEW YORK MDCLXIV. Manahatta--what a beautiful name, I thought, so much more lyrical than New Amsterdam or New York or our present-day Manhattan, a name so lyrical that Whitman had written a lovely ode to it:     I was asking for something specific     and perfect for my city;     Whereupon lo!

Old Line
February 28, 2005

Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help (And the Rest of Us Too) By Mona Charen (Sentinel, 269 pp., $25.95) Click here to buy this book The path to social unrest in America has been paved with liberal intentions. Rising crime rates? Those would be the result of the indulgent sentencing of leftist courts. Racial friction? Clearly the outgrowth of liberal condescension combined with the "divisive, mendacious, and inflammatory rhetoric [of] Democrats." Broken families?

On The Autonomy Of Aesthetic Experience
February 18, 2005

The acclaimed "Aztec Empire" exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum was going to close in just over a week so my husband and I met a friend uptown to see it. For me, the word "Aztec" immediately brings to mind two distinct impressions: elegant, "primitive," proto-modernist objects; and terrifying ritual human sacrifice, most notoriously, ripping the beating heart out of the chest of a still-living victim.

When the Skies Part
February 14, 2005

Let patience have a new mettle of love When the legions of unlivable hours marshal And the long-rumored war between good and evil Seems loosed—no, between time and evil.  To look not too keenly, hear their battles not loudly. The war is an ancient one which hurls Time against time on to-morrow’s fields— Which consumes expectation, leaves to-day waiting.  Standing in the shadow of their shadow-world, Let the cries and the thunders fall voiceless to earth, And the flames reach to heaven, that top of hell, Unexalted by our eyes, our amen.  Nor be haggard for an outcome, breath forborne. When ghos

Dead Souls
February 14, 2005

Monumental Propaganda By Vladimir Voinovich Translated by Andrew Bromfield (Alfred A.