Not having really read anything that David Halberstam wrote, I cannot write a good-faith eulogy of the man, nor engage in anything deeper than a surface discussion of his books. But because what I have read about Halberstam has painted him as a great journalistic voice of 20th century America, and because I have recently been barking about journalists and their books, it is appropriate to acknowledge Halberstam’s unfortunate death Monday with some choice words.Two aspects of Halberstam’s written work resonate with me: his war correspondence and his interest in sports, specifically baseball. Halberstam wrote an acclaimed book about America’s journey down the road to Vietnam, The Best and the Brightest. This road was built by a few American power brokers and followed by many American GIs, and though we did finally find the off-ramp, the road we are on today offers similar views of an ugly countryside for those who have not fallen asleep at the back of the bus.On a more personal level, I have a vivid memory of being a young kid sitting at the foot of my parents’ bed as my Dad read aloud from a book by David Halberstam called Summer of ’49. A book about a different sort of journey, Summer of ’49 chronicles the legendary pennant race that year between two little baseball teams: The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The reader will learn that Joe DiMaggio had a brother, Dominick, who could play ball (though for the Sox), that Ted Williams hit like a hawk-eyed lumberjack, and that this particular race for first place was arguably the greatest in the vaunted History Of Baseball – and also represented a coming of age for the game in post-WWII America.There is something to the notion of sports as a balm for citizens suffering from war fatigue. They are soldiers abroad gathered in a tent in the desert somewhere to watch the Super Bowl on television, and they are children bypassing front page headlines in favor of the sports section, and the box scores of games that they were forbidden to watch because of woefully premature bed times. Sporting events bring people together in celebration of achievement, rather than in protest of failure, and are thus both a distraction from the duty of citizens as witnesses to history, no matter how grim, and at the same time real and not insignificant demonstrations of the values of a free society, complete with overpriced cotton candy, and (today) overpriced athletes. Athletic competition, so often couched in terms of battle when described, transcends violence. It is an elevated and, I would argue, rather sophisticated form of human interaction.David Halberstam will be recognized as a writer who occupied territory where these two cultural phenomena, sports and war – with seemingly endless parallel lines of history – could be said to intersect.
As many have likely already heard, John Updike died today. The New York Times and innumerable other outlets are remembering his gargantuan contribution to American letters. We’ve talked about Updike many times here at the Millions; for starters, there was Corey Vilhauer on the Rabbit Angstrom novels, James Hynes on Rabbit at Rest, and Hamilton Leithauser on Roger’s Version. With his close association with The New Yorker, his stories were naturally covered in the two roundups of the magazine’s fiction that we’ve done: 2005 and 2008. Patrick also paid homage to Updike’s story “The Christian Roommates” last year.Speaking of Patrick, he has collected some nice links at the Vroman’s blog, including Updike’s appearance on the Bat Segundo Show podcast, Sam Anderson’s remembrance at Vulture, and, oddly, Updike on dinosaurs for National Geographic.Updike fans can also wend their way through the New Yorker archives, checking out his work. That link comes via emdashes, which also offers ample Updike coverage. There’s also this conversation (there’s a video and transcript available) between Updike and Jeffrey Goldberg at the NYPL, suggested by our contributor Anne. And George Saunders recalls his own first story for the New Yorker being paired with an Updike story.Finally, Wikipedia has plenty of detail on Updike’s life and Amazon, on his substantial oeuvre.
It would be a shame if the death of the Russian novelist Vasily Aksyonov yesterday got lost in the welter of cultural losses that surrounds it. Aksyonov is one of the towering literary figures of the postwar era – one who might have been more widely recognized as such were it not for the strictures of Soviet publishing culture. In his novels The Burn, The New Sweet Style, and especially Generations of Winter (which we have championed at this site), Aksyonov synthesized the Tolstoyan legacy of the 19th Century with the innovating impulses of the revolutionary generation. In making Russian literary tradition his own, and re-opening its dialogue with the rest of world literature, he pointed the way for the novelists who would succeed him. I can think of no more fitting way to honor him than to read him.
Glenn Goldman, founder and owner of Book Soup, an independent book store in West Hollywood died yesterday. Goldman died of pancreatic cancer, an illness that came on suddenly, and he leaves behind two sons and his store. Glenn created, almost out of nothing, a great treasure of a book store that has meant a lot to me, and I’ll always be thankful to him for that.I started working at Book Soup in late 2001. I needed money and jobs were tough to come by, and I had been fairly discouraged by what I’d been doing in Los Angeles to that point.Book Soup became special to me for three reasons. First, almost immediately it broadened my reading horizons. I’d always been an active, curious reader but within weeks of working at Book Soup, I realized how proscribed my knowledge of books had been. Despite growing up in a house full of books and despite taking more than a few literature classes in college, my true introduction to the world of literature and publishing was being surrounded by books for three years and meeting dozens of writers who stopped by the store. Glenn handled all the book ordering at the store, and every book I read during that time was at my fingertips because of him.Secondly, I met a bunch of amazing people, several of whom I’m still in touch with today (including Edan, who writes for this blog, and her husband Patrick who used to). Los Angeles isn’t exactly the intellectual wasteland that east-coasters (and San Franciscans) make it out to be, but the concentration of wonderful minds and vibrant personalities at that store was a very special thing, particularly in that city, but anywhere really. However different we all were, we shared a love for books and an appreciation for the sublime wackiness inherent in a book store on the Sunset Strip. I met a lot of smart people in Los Angeles, but the bookstore that Glenn built was the intellectual center of the city for me. Right there, in the neon, limousine wasteland of the Sunset Strip were thousands of books. It was a crazy, brilliant idea.Finally, looking back, it seems clear to me that my job at Book Soup was one of those pivotal experiences that set my life on a certain course.More than five years ago, I decided to use this blog to write about books, and that decision was almost solely based on my experience working at Book Soup and wanting to bring it home with me. The blog and what I learned from running it, propelled me to go to graduate school for journalism and it introduced to me to hundreds of new people. I was able to put this great team of writers together and I landed on the radio and have seen my name in newspapers and magazines.The point is: I owe quite a lot to this blog. This blog owes everything to Book Soup. And Book Soup owes everything to Glenn Goldman. He will be missed.More: The LA Times obit, Edan remembers, Patrick remembers