J D Salinger, Eddie Fisher, and Virgins in specific (and general)

Dear Sir or Madam:
      Your review of Been There, Done That was interesting to read, though I would bet anything the engaging writing you refer to is the product of the...well, writer. Eddie Fisher was famously known as a dumbbell.

      I enjoyed your review of Been There, Done That and will get the book. It sounds like a worthy follow-up to his 1981, autobiography Eddie (published by Harper and Row), which was one of the most fascinating Hollywood books ever --- especially his hilariously horrifying tales of Elizabeth's drug overdoses. The tooth-brushing mad-scene is incomparable.
      No question where Carrie Fisher got her wit and story-telling talent. You're a pretty good writer yourself.
Roses Prichard

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      I saw you had written a review on Richie Havens' book. Now I am usually skeptical about what critics have to say about various things such as music, movies and of course books, but I had no idea that a review could be written in such a cold manner. Perhaps Richie's book isn't for everyone, but I believe that to the people who know Richie it is a great book.
      I am curious if you have ever heard one of Richie's songs. Did you know anything more about the man before reading the book than the fact that he sang "Freedom" at Woodstock? Have you ever seen Richie in concert?
      I saw Richie in concert once and he blew me away. He told stories and played music with such passion and truth that his concert is by far the best out of many concerts that I have gone to.
      After the show, a friend of mine and I hung out by the stage to get autographs and as we were the last people in line and Richie was in no hurry, he sat and chatted with us for an hour. The man is amazing. Something which I believe can be gleaned from the book.
      Your review of the man and the book doesn't do justice to either.
       Now I am sure this was just another assignment for you to write this review, and I can understand that you were ill equipped and unqualified to write a review on this book but the judgements that you passed were way too harsh.
       I don't know you at all but I could say, I'm sure Lorenzo is an all right kind of guy. He probably even loves his family even though he gave no indication of that here. One thing we do know for sure is that he seems to be stuck on what he thinks he knows about a person whom he does not know.
       I haven't made you sound like an incredibly great person in that statement have I? Yet the amount of information I have based my opinion of you is based on a proportionate amount of material and relevance to what you have stated about Richie Havens. Just thought you might like to know what I thought of your review.
Jason S. Emerson

Our Reviewer responds:
       I don't know Richie Havens. Probably never will.
        But I know his book, They Can't Hide Us Anymore intimately. I read it. More than once.
        I wrote my first book review in 1956. Since then, I have probably written between 2,000 and 3,000 reviews, for a variety of publications.
        I've learned that some people publish books because they want to make money; others do it for fame; others have a story to tell; others publish just because they have no choice.
        What we reviewers have to do is to try to get inside the words and phrases and beyond the artifice --- to try to figure out why this particular work got published, and what this writer wants us to know (or, as is often the case, wants us not to know).
        Richie Haven may be a saint --- generous, good, receptive, open, kindly. But his book is a sham. It it as if he (and his amanuensis) were trying to sell us something, but, in the process, were determined to hide the real Richie Havens.
        For a person with Havens' fame and means, I suspect he could easily find someone to help him write a book that would tell us, honestly and well, who he is, why he is, why he's happy, why he's sad, what things have helped him, what things have hurt him, what wonders he has seen, what horrors he has lived.
        Damned if I could find any of this in They Can't Hide Us Anymore. And I looked.
        There have been some stunning books about Blacks and music --- what their music has meant to them and to the world. There's Le Roi Jones Blues People, or Billie Holiday's Lady Sings The Blues, or Al Young's Bodies and Soul.
        There are also books about blacks who have pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to escape from poverty and sorrow: Richard Wright's Black Boy, Booker Washington's Up From Slavery, The Autobiography Of Malcolm X are three that come to mind.
        In none of these did I find false notes or pretensions. When people hurt, they describe that hurt. When they soar, they describe that soaring. They have nothing to hide but --- more importantly --- nothing to sell.
        You and I can only hope that some day Mr. Havens will take the trouble to write the true story of his life --- not a shameful fluff piece merely to sell more records.

      I had the opportunity to introduce Richie when he came to Seattle in support of the book. It was a joy. He is a remarkable person who has written a nice book. It isn't great literature as much as reflections from someone who has followed his heart and done very well.
      While here he didn't read from the book. He told stories and sang. There were as one might expect all types of people looking for all types of things from a " Woodstock Legend." I was struck by his great generosity and patience.
Dave Brown

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      You missed a very important point -- people who guard their privacy to such an extent as Salinger and Hughes do (and did) have got to be psychos. Just because he wrote a couple of literary masterpieces, for example, doesn't mean that Salinger is spared from the same afflictions of the flesh as more ordinary people like you and I. He's a stalker and a lech -- not that there's anything wrong with that. But you're falling into the same trap as the rest of humanity by ascribing holier-than-thou qualities to his human failings, simply because he wrote some brilliant works of art.
      Otherwise, you wrote a funny and incisive piece.


      Thank you for a wonderful article on the synical intrusions of the less-than talented writers into the personal lives of others. Is this prey-for-profit?
      Indulge me a little. It is the use of the word, "only" If one says, You can only take a train to Sacramento at 6:00, it means that the train is the only means of transport and has nothing to do with the time.
      You wrote, "Only came out of hiding when..." and "only comes out of his shell.." I think you mean that "he came out of hiding only when..." and "comes out of his shell only..."
Cleo Hatheway

Our Reviewer responds:
      This is in reference to your e-mail about my placement of the word "only" in my review of the books about Howard Hughes and J. D. Salinger.
      I may be aging, but I find that the verities of our common language do not.
      For that reason, and in all matters of taste and good sense, I always refer to the curmudgeon genius of English diction --- H. W. Fowler.
       His Dictionary of Modern English Usage first appeared more than seventy years ago, but I still find what he says about the words we speak and the way we write to be uncommonly bold and sound.
       I repeat below his entry on the word "only" --- only I have inserted a few fresh paragraphings to ease our reading.
       The beautiful ampersands I have left intact.

ONLY, adv.

Its placing & misplacing.

"I read the other day of a man who only died a week ago, as if he could have done anything else more striking or final; what was meant by the writer was that he died only a week ago."

There speaks one of those friends from whom the English language may well pray to be saved, one of the modern precisians who have more zeal than discretion, & wish to restrain liberty as such, regardless of whether it is harmfully or harmlessly exercised.

It is pointed out in several parts of this book that illogicalities & inaccuracies of expression tend to be eliminated as a language grows older & its users attain to a more conscious mastery of their materials.

But this tendency has its bad as well as its good effects; the pedants who try to forward it when the illogicality is only apparent or the inaccuracy of no importance are turning English into an exact science or an automatic machine; if they are not quite botanizing upon their mother's grave, they are at least clapping a strait waistcoat upon their mother tongue. when wiser physicians would refuse to certify the patient.

The design is to force us all, whenever we use the adverb "only," to spend time in considering which is the precise part of the sentence strictly qualified by it, & then put it there --- this whether there is any danger or none of the meaning's being false or ambiguous because "only" is so placed as to belong grammatically to a whole expression instead of to a part of it, or to be separated from the part it specially qualifies by another part.

It may at once be admitted that there is an orthodox placing for "only," but it does not follow that there are not often good reasons for departing from orthodoxy. For "He only died a week ago" no better defence is perhaps possible than that it is the order that most people have always used & still use, & that, the risk of misunderstanding being chimerical, it is not worth while to depart from the natural.

Remember that in speech there is not even the possibility of misunderstanding, because the intonation of "died" is entirely different if it, & not "a week ago," is qualified by "only;" & it is fair that a reader should be supposed capable of supplying the decisive intonation where there is no temptation to go wrong about it.

But take next an example in which, ambiguity being practically possible, the case against heterodox placing is much stronger: Mackenzie only seems to go wrong when he lets in yellow; & yellow sems to be still the standing difficulty of the colour printer.

The orthodox place for "only" is immediately before "when," & the antithesis between seeming to go & really going, which is apt to suggest itself though not intended, makes the displacement here ill advised; its motive, however, is plain --- to announce the limited nature of the wrong before the wrong itself, & so mitigate the censure: a quite sound rhetorical instinct, &, if "goes" had been used instead of "seems to go," a sufficient defence of the heterodoxy.

But there are many sentences in which, owing to greater length, it is, much more urgent to get this announcement of purport made by an advanced "only." E.g., the orthodox "It would be safe to prophesy success to this heroic enterprise only if reward & merit always corresponded" positively cries out to have its "only" put early after "would," & unless that is done the hearer or reader is led astray; yet the precision is bound to insist on orthodoxy here as much as in "He died only a week ago."

The advice offered is this: there is an orthodox position for the adverb, easily determined in case of need; to choose another position that may spoil or obscure the meaning is bad; but a change of position that has no such effect except technically is both justified by historical & colloquial usage & often demanded by rhetorical needs.

The OED remarks on the point should be given: 'Only' was formerly often placed away from the word or words which it limited, this is still frequent in speech, where the stress & pauses prevent ambiguity, but is now avoided by perspicuous writers. Which implies the corollary that when perspicuity is not in danger it is needless to submit to an inconvenient restriction.

A specimen or two of different kinds are added for the reader's unaided consideration:

"The address to be written on this side only."

"Europe,only has a truce before it, but a truce that can be profited by."

"Some of the Metropolitan crossings can only now be negotiated with considerable risk."

"If only the foundry trades had been concerned, probaby the employers would not have greatly objected to conceding an advance."

"I only know nothing shall induce me to go again."

"I only asked the question from habit."

"We can only form a sound & trustworthy opinion if we first consider a large variety of instances."

From Modern English Usage,
by H. W. Fowler
Oxford University Press, 1944



      I was online avoiding my own work when I came across Lorenzo W. Milam's, and just wanted to write to thank him for making my day! I don't know which made me happier, that he managed to call Paul Alexander's motives concerning the Salinger biography into question with grace and humor (my own private diatribes against the biographer were far less tempered), or that he was able to do so without mentioning Joyce Maynard by name (always perversely happy to see her not get press).

       I also appreciated Mr. Milam's insights into what made Catcher in the Rye mean so much to so many of us. Salinger was talking about a recognizable world, in a recognizable language. I won't compare Mr. Milam to Mr. Salinger on the basis of this one essay, but I will say that the written word is a gift, and that those who share it deserve public appreciation, not public dissection.

Thanks again,
Devin Grayson


Our Reviewer responds:
      I have to confess to you that I had forgotten her name, and was too lazy to look it up.
      As far as Salinger goes --- I reread him once every few years, just to keep myself honest. No one, I mean no one, can convey New York City, Summer, 1950s, like "Raise High The Roofbeams, Carpenter."

      Enjoyed your article in Salon... laughed out loud to see the word "hoosegow" in print. A man I know is rather locally famous for using such words --- including and especially that one! I shall pass your article on to him.
      Re: your piece.
      Interesting to see an article on biography without some comment on the recent "Dutch" controversy. Realize that probably wasn't your topic, but was curious as to your thoughts nonetheless. If you have time, of course.
      Will look for your by-line in the future.

Monie Heath
Durham, North Carolina

Our Reviewer replies:
     "Hoosegow" is an interesting word. According to the Dictionary of American Slang, it comes from the Spanish juzgado, pronounced "HOOS-gad-oh."
      It means court, and to judge is juzgar. The assumption is that many bums in the southwest came across Mexicans who used the word, and it fell into their vocabulary.

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Dear Lolita Lark,
      You don't know me, but I have always been a fan of yours. I think your reviews are really super. I especially like the one on that German Expressionism.
      If you should happen to still have that particular book kicking around could you send it to me, your admiring fan?


Our Reviewer Replies:
      Good luck. It's my favorite book. Perhaps tomorrow when it is replaced by yet another art book, I'll send it along.
      And stop trying to put the make on me. I'm still a virgin. At least in my heart of hearts.


   P. S. Furthermore, it's called "POST-Expressionism." Had something to do with the Postal Service, I expect.


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Dear Sir:
      Your criticism of the ancient Greeks is full of inaccuracies and shows clearly that you do not read your history. Thanks to Greeks that man has been liberated from God and other dark powers.

Our Editor Responds:
       Fortunately, or not so fortunately, that article about the Greeks, was written by H. L. Mencken some seventy-five years ago. If he checks the mail box we keep for him here in hyperspace, yours will be one of the many letters he will find, stacked up, bitching about his obvious prejudices, awaiting his mordant, and probably very wry, reply.

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