Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

"It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else's freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity." -- Nelson Mandela, who died on December 5th, at the age of 95



Reading Lessing: Writers Reflect

"No one else does this like her; the pulling apart of what is going on within a human mind in the space of a few seconds, the fearless, truthful portrayal of it all."  --- Writers discuss the legacy of Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing's work.



Sendak in the Library

A few years ago, Maurice Sendak gave a talk at the Harvard Library where I worked. Having recently assisted on the editorial periphery of one of his projects -- a klezmer version of Peter and the Wolf he undertook with my brother-in-law's band -- I was tapped to squire him through the Printing & Graphic Arts department to view a selection of books illustrated by a hero of his, the nineteenth-century artist Randolph Caldecott.


  • remembrance

J. D. Salinger (1919-2010)

Though he long kept resolutely out of the public eye, J.D. Salinger has not been long out of the mind of many readers. His death at 91 has lit up the online world of literary blogs and Twitter feeds with quotations, tributes, and a collective attempt to mark what felt like the epochal passing of the author of The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey. We asked some Barnes & Noble Review contributors to share their thoughts about Salinger, and their recollections of reading the works that were at one point a crucial moment in any young book-lover's life. We're posting them below, as they come in. And we welcome yours, as well, in the comments.


As with so many of the books I encountered as a teenager, it was my mother who suggested I read The Catcher on the Rye.  In retrospect, I'm not completely sure what she was thinking, but to my 14-year-old self, Holden Caulfield was a sage, the patron saint of phony-outers, and hilarious to boot.  (Who knew literature could be funny?)  I came back to the book in my 30s, wondering what had drawn killers like Mark Chapman and Robert Bardo to it, and then, of course, I saw how disturbed, how damaged Holden really was, and that I was wrong in my earlier assessments - he was the patron saint of misfits and outcasts.  I have no idea which Holden I will encounter when I next return to him, but I suspect he will continue to surprise me.
-Mark Sarvas


I first read Salinger as an American teenager growing up in London, where Nine Stories  was published with the title For Esmé With Love and Squalor, which, after “Bananafish,” was my favorite story in the collection.  Of course I identified with his characters’ alienation, but what I really responded to—and still do—were the ah-ha moments when I realized how much a skilled writer could say obliquely—about phonies, about the toll of military service, about love and squalor.

-Heller McAlpin



In an era where authorial relevance is increasingly measured by Facebook friends and Twitter followers, Salinger's willful, willed withdrawal reminds us of the reasons we were drawn to him in the first place.

Adolescent angst has never had a voice so clean, so desperately welcome, so surprising to be lofted from the adult side of the hostile border.  Salinger has become fashionable to mock - a fate that inevitably comes to strong voices that are convenient targets of easy parody.  But I don't think we'd have the contemporary hipster confidence of people like Wes Anderson, Dave Eggers and Benjamin Kunkel without the creation of the post-war adolescence that Salinger almost singlehandedly bodied forth.  And that he lived; his reclusivity was the ultimate adolescent statement (and fantasy) of going to your room, shutting the door, and never coming out.

-Adam Hanft



Yes, The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey had a seismic effect on what I might now laughingly call my adolescent sensibility. An oxymoron, if ever there was one. But my son and his friends, in their adolescence, in the nineties, were entirely unaffected by Catcher. Maybe because it had become required reading. Nothing more toxic to Rebellious Youth than required reading. Now, de morituri nil nisi bonum and all, but what interests me to this day is the possible datedness of all coming-of-age-angst-ridden "classics." Maybe each generation has to have its own.  Maybe the canonization of a book automatically reduces its outsider status.

In any case, what didn't differ, literarily--in the same kind of category, perhaps--between me and young Will Menaker is our response to Catch-22. We both love it to this day and quote from it from time to time. In fact, when he read it, he said he put it down often--"because I never wanted it to end." Now that's the highest praise of all.


 Someone tell me why that might be--the difference between Holden and Yossarian.

-Daniel Menaker





  • remembrance

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010)

According to his U.K. publisher, Robert B. Parker, the beloved mystery author, has died, "just sitting at his desk." The creator of the long-running Spenser private eye series (among other bestselling mysteries), Parker kicked off his career as a novelist after completing a 1970 dissertation on the works of the writers who proved to be his literary forbears -- Hammett, Chandler, and Macdonald. Sarah Weinman has more at her blog. Read more...

April 18: "[W]ould it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament…?"

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.