Skip directly to content

At one point in J.D. Salinger's novella "Seymour: An Introduction," the narrator, Buddy Glass, says, in a parenthetical aside about his sainted older brother:

(When Seymour was twenty-one, a nearly full professor of English, and had already been teaching for two years, I asked him what, if anything, got him down about teaching. He said he didn't think anything about it got him exactly down, but there was one thing, he thought, that frightened him: reading the pencilled notations in the margins of books in the college library.)

I was reminded of that quote the other day when I opened a copy of Steven Levy's book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution that I had taken out of the Swarthmore College Library. This is what I found when I got to page 52:


A year or so ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sheldon Harnick, lyricist of Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!, and other musicals, in connection with my book-in-progress, The B Side: The Fall of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song. I asked him about "Do You Love Me?" a Fiddler duet between Tevye (Zero Mostel in the original cast) and his wife,...


Tonight (January 21, 2014), PBS's "American Masters" series is airing "Six Degrees of Salinger," Shane Salerno's J.D. Salinger documentary. When the film was released in theaters, a few months back, I wrote this piece about my participation in it for the Lingua Franca blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education:

It was about five years ago that I got a phone call from Paul Alexander, a biographer of several writers, including, most significantly, J.D. Salinger. I’d later come to understand that he called, rather than e-mailed, because the latter would have been too public and traceable. Anyway, Paul said that a Hollywood screenwriter named Shane Salerno was making a documentary about Salinger. Would I be willing to talk to him?

My connection was that I had written a history of The New Yorker, a magazine that was very important to Salinger throughout his career. His...


There is a finite number of things that I possess and love. "Love" may be too strong a word. The objects I refer to please me. They do a significant job and do it well, they have lasted a long time, and most of them, it turns out, didn't cost very much. Some months back, I wrote about my Merrell Jungle Mocs (which, by the way, are still going strong). I propose to regularly feature some of these things in this space; I welcome comments and suggestions.

First up is something whose manufacturer and brand name I can't tell you. I have had it so long (ten years? fifteen?) and used it so much, leaving so much grime (ironically) on it that any words that were originally inscribed have been rubbed off. Here it is:


Sometimes you wonder if that whole language thing might not have been the best idea. I’m referring not to when people say “Best. [Blank.] Ever.” or misuse literally, but to when they use words to dissemble, bully, obfuscate, self-aggrandize, proudly display their ignorance, or and/or snarf up airtime like an imperial power having its way with a virgin land. Other times, though, you really understand the whole concept. One of those occasions, for me, came last week, when I heard excerpts of the telephone conversation between Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper in a DeKalb, Ga., elementary school, and a DeKalb police dispatcher. Tuff called the police because a...