Critical Notes

July 4th Roundup


July 4th. A relatively somber Independence Day this year, with escalating gas prices, soaring unemployment rates (and not a few newspaper book pages and staffers at risk), Midwestern floods and tornados, wildfires in California, the first hurricane of the season forming off the coast of Africa. A time to think of thinkers who shape and have shaped this country.

The Gilder-Lerman institute’s website has a couple to consider:Biographer Brenda Wineapple on “The Scarlet Letter” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s America. And Hollis Robbins on Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Poems of the American Revolution on

Meanwhile, VQR online offers Natasha Tretheway on the effects of Hurricane Katrina on her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi:

“Everywhere I go, I feel the urge to weep not only for the residents of the coast but also for my former self: the destroyed public library is me as a girl, sitting on the floor, reading between the stacks; empty, debris-strewn downtown Gulfport is me at Woolworth’s lunch counter—early 1970s—with my grandmother; is me listening to the sounds of shoes striking the polished tile floor of Hancock Bank, holding my grandmother’s hand, waiting for candy from the teller behind her wicket; me riding the elevator of the J. M. Salloum Building—the same elevator my grandmother operated in the thirties; me waiting in line at the Rialto movie theater—gone for more years now than I can remember—where my mother also stood in line, at the back door, for the peanut gallery, the black section—where my grandmother, still a girl, went on days designated colored only, clutching the coins she earned selling crabs; is me staring at my reflection in the glass at J. C. Penney while my mother calls, again and again, my name. I hear it distantly, as through water or buffeted by wind: Nostalgia.

“Names are talismans of memory, too—Katrina, Camille. Perhaps this is why we name our storms.”

Henry Miller’s beloved Big Sur is endangered by a raging wildfire. This latest, from the Henry Miller Library blog, indicates his house is safe, so far, as is the library, Magnus Toren, the library’s executive director, reports. And so are the archives, he writes:

“The Henry Miller Library was evacuated during Sunday June 22. All original artwork, primary source material, rare books etc. was removed to a safe location. On July 2, we had to evacuate all of it again because the location we had chosen is now located in the newly established evacuation zone – it is now safe (!?) in Carmel. (next time we’ll take it to Seattle! (-: )

“The fire descended the Graves Canyon (behind the Library) and came very close to the Library. A huge effort was mounted by the Firefighters, supported by two helicopters running in tandem up and down to the ocean with 4 – 600 gallon loads of water. Thanks to this effort the fire was stopped, almost literally, on the doorstep! Unfortunately there is still reason to be concerned; the wind, temperateure and relative humidity changes and with it so does the fire behaviour.”

Robert Lowell poem, “Fourth of July in Maine,” from the Atlantic’s archives.

Ruth Rosen looks at Charles Postel’s “The Populist Vision.”

The Boston Globe’s review of Steve Weinberg’s “Taking on the Trust.”

On his “Sentences” blog at Harper’s, Wyatt Mason offers a Weekend Read from Guy Davenport’s exquisite 1980 essay collection, “The Geography of the Imagination.”

New York Times’s book blog Paper Cuts channels Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe.

Jason Berry’s “Vows of Silence,” his film based on his book, is out. And here’s one of the first critical reactions, from Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic’s “Daily Dish”: “Jason Berry has a new and gripping documentary… It’s called “Vows Of Silence” and it carefully exposes the appalling facts of the enmeshment of the last two Popes in covering up sexual abuse.”

And VeryShortList, the essential weekday cultural arbiter, offers a fireworks danger demo…