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The Parson Weems moment, the young-Washington-chopping-down-the-cherry-tree moment, in the accepted mythology of George Herman “Babe” Ruth involves a kindly mentor who first spots the hint of deity under the hardscrabble-boy exterior. It was Xaverian Brother Mathias at Baltimore’s St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys who first took Ruth into gentle tutelage in the art and science of baseball. There are a few persistent apocryphal tales from those years: tales of the teenage Babe beginning to display the eye and reflexes that would one day make him one of baseball’s most underestimated pitchers and the sheer hitting power that would earn him immortality as the Wazir of Wham.

It’s a familiar device, these Parson Weems stories. They grow up entwined in the facts of their subjects’ biographies, covering the bare dates and facts with a green and shifting foliage of folklore.

No other figure from the world of 20th-century sports equals Babe Ruth’s folklore status — with only one exception: Muhammad Ali. The self-proclaimed “greatest,” the heavyweight champion boxer who taunted his opponents, sang his own praises, and by turns charmed and infuriated the world, had his own Parson Weems moment, or rather a one-two combination of them, and fittingly, it was a combination of outrage and showmanship — and the Parson was a cop. More… “Ali Alive”

Steve Donoghue is a reader, editor, and writer living in Boston surrounded by books and dogs. He’s one of the founding editors of the literary journal Open Letters Monthly and the author of one of its book­blogs, Stevereads. HIs work has appeared in The National, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and The Quarterly Conversation, among others. He tweets as @stdonoghue.

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A feverish, drug-addled musician huddles on the floor of his room in Berlin, pecking out his first novel on a typewriter. He’s tormented by the protagonist he’s creating: a mute, misunderstood creature who expresses in violence what he’s unable to communicate in speech. At the same time, this Australian musician is inspired by the artful anarchy of the German bands around him. He abandons his own band, the influential post-punk group The Birthday Party. He seems intent on blowing up his life.

These are just a few of the scenes in Nick Cave: Mercy on Me, published September 19, 2017, in the U.S. A 300-page, black-and-white graphic novel about Nick Cave was never going to be a light read, but this is gripping stuff. More… “Have Mercy on Me

Christine Ro’s writing about books, music, and other topics is collected at ChristineRo.com.

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Recently, while packing for a move, I came across a letter that Gore Vidal sent me from his home in Ravello, Italy, in the late 1990s. Vidal, a slight acquaintance, had provided me with a blurb for my book Up From Conservatism and we corresponded a few times and met once. I had forgotten about this letter, and on deciphering the handwritten scrawl on monogrammed blue paper I found Vidal complaining that a critic who had panned one of his books in the New York Times had been hosted the following weekend at their seaside home in Connecticut by Vidal’s arch-rival William F. Buckley, Jr. and Buckley’s wife Pat. Whether this occurred or was Vidalian paranoia, I cannot say, though given the interlocking circles of that world, anything is possible. After all, at one of Bill and Pat Buckley’s parties I met Tom Selleck, whose career break came in 1970 when he played a young stud propositioned by the elderly Mae West in the X-rated movie version of Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge. More… “The Empire of Gore Vidal”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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When It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us was published in 1996, the book was met with the kind of response that a serious nonfiction writer dreams about. The ideas presented in the book became the topic of conversation across the land, politicians and commentators felt obligated to respond to it, it won awards, including a Grammy for its audio book edition, and it became so ubiquitous, both in sales numbers and in impact, that it started to become heavily parodied.

Any writer would be thrilled. Moved, even. And yet this particular writer also has to watch while someone else, taking credit for her work, takes all of the credit.

Hillary Rodham Clinton may have won the title page and the cover image (and the Grammy), but at best she was just one of many voices filtered through the actual writer. It Takes a Village… More…

It is hard to write a biography about a person who hides. Walter Benjamin really hid. The great critic and philosopher hid, often enough, right there in his writings. They are often elusive texts that can take years of reading, over and over again, before the mists begin to clear. What, for instance, is Benjamin really talking about in his famous essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility?” Is it a theory of art and historical change? Is it a political manifesto about the revolutionary potential of film? Is it a long lament about the loss of that magical quality “aura?” The more you read the essay (in its various versions), the harder it is to decide just what Benjamin is saying. But it is impossible to dismiss the essay altogether. The ideas contained within it have a way of staying put in your mind,… More…

The longer we were in it, the smaller it seemed to get. — William Beebe

 

The final episode of The Jacques Cousteau Odyssey begins not in the sea but in the sky. Sideways, we soar though the clouds, glimpsing a solitary island below, far into the Pacific. As always, we hold our breath in anticipation. A couple of years before “Clipperton: The Island Time Forgot” first aired, Jacques Cousteau gave his son and trusty costar Philippe a PBY seaplane named Flying Calypso, after Cousteau’s famous boat, Calypso. It was a fatherly gesture to a son who lived in his father’s shadow. The plane was meant to distinguish Philippe, whose true love was flight.

Eventually, we land. A menacing army of poisonous crabs mans the shoreline. The camera pans to a couple of rusted shipwrecks and some abandoned shacks,… More…