The collapse of the American auto industry or Silicon Valley would bring widespread alarm. Our broken Congress might even take action to save these vital components of the U.S. economy. But the death of the American newspaper industry brings ...


Who will sound the alarm as daily newspapers die? and more...

Who will sound the alarm as daily newspapers die?

The collapse of the American auto industry or Silicon Valley would bring widespread alarm. Our broken Congress might even take action to save these vital components of the U.S. economy.

But the death of the American newspaper industry brings indifference. As the Nation's Eric Alterman outlines in his latest media column, local newspapers are endangered. Reporting staffs are slashed to the bone, resulting in little oversight of local and state governments.

While the loss of local reporting and commentary are lamentable, the loss of newspaper jobs weakens local economies Alterman concentrates on news staffs, but newspapers also have ad salespeople and circulation departments. Once, newspapers employed hundreds of printers and press operators, but technology eliminated those trades. Now, the industry's white collar workers vanish. As Alterman notes, PR firm jobs proliferate as newspapers die.

While the collapse of Mad magaine drew anguished cries from aging Baby Boomers, few mourned the death of the Youngstown, Ohio, Vindicator, as Alterman points out. Now, a city with a population of half a million has no newspaper.  Not only will the residents of the declining industrial city receive no local government coverage. They won't have local stories on the Buckeyes or Cleveland Browns.

Alterman praises heroic Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown for uncovering the Florida deal in which accused sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein received a lighter sentence. But Brown's series stands out in a barren landscape; the McClatchy company, which a few years ago had a reputation for quality journalism, has carried out severe staff cuts at the Herald.

Google and Facebook's control of the Internet ad market starves newspapers in medium sized cities like Youngstown and larger ones like Denver and Miami.

With rising online subscriptions, national papers like The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal thrive. But the deaths of daily local newspapers are a code red for those newspapers as well. In a few years, as Trump-style ignorance and racism burn out of control, newspapers may no longer exist.


Garrett Hongo's "A Garland of Light" recalls poetic legacy of Keats, Robert Hayden

Young American tourists like myself filled the Spanish Steps on that warm summer day in Rome nearly 50 years ago.

The backpack tribe basked in the sunlight, ready for adventure and  romance. But I climbed past the tanned young men and beautiful bronzed young women to the top of the steps and turned toward an ancient building.

When I knocked on the door, an austere, elegantly dressed British woman answered, and I entered a quiet place far different from the crowded, hormone-dazed scene below.

I'd come to the Keats/Shelley House, where the English poet John Keats died of tuberculosis in 1821 at the age of 25. The small apartment where Keats was cared for in his final days by the British painter Joseph Severn also honors Shelley, who wrote a famous eulogy to Keats and like him lies buried in Rome's Protestant Cemetery.

All alone, in a state of near ecstasy, I viewed the exhibits of rare books and artifacts like locks of Shelley and Keats' hair. In small back room, Keats' death bed remained.

Poet Garrett Hongo brought back those memories with his poem "A Garland of Light," published in the summer Sewanee Review. In the poem, Hongo recalls his own visit to the Keats/Shelley House, and how its quiet refuge contrasts with the bustling Roman streets.

In the poem, Hongo thanks the noted black poet Robert Hayden for inspiring his love of Keats. Hayden, who taught Hongo at the University of Michigan, gave Hongo individual lessons on Keats poems like "Ode to a Nightingale."

Hongo's personalized Keats class from Hayden also struck home with me. When I was in college, I explored Keats' work with an English professor who taught me individually. Each week, I'd go to the stately woman's office in LSU's Allen Hall to discuss with her Keats' poems and letters.

Along with evoking Keats' genius, Hongo in the poem gives a warm portrait of Hayden. Hayden's"Those Winter Sundays" is one of my all-time favorite poems.

Hayden's lines "What did I know, what did I know/of love's austere and lonely offices" refer to a father who rose on Sunday mornings to warm the house and polish his son's shoes. But the lines also define Severn's heroic and selfless care for Keats, all those years ago.



British author Claire Lowdon champions John Updike's early novels

John Updike 's reputation as a novelist was sinking even during his lifetime.

David Foster Wallace peered out from his glass house in 1997 and placed Updike among Great Male Narcissists Philip Roth and Norman Mailer, blasting Updike for his sexism while leaving out the notorious sexual predator Saul Bellow. Wallace quoted an unnamed female critic who summed up Updike as "just a penis with a thesaurus."

Updike's later novels declined from his lauded early works. As Updike's abilities as a novelist waned, he excelled as an essayist, poet and literary and art critic. But to young women and "sensitive" men of Wallace's generation, he was a wounded white whale of American literature.

But despite his sexist reputation and late-career decline, Updike might be gaining fresh appreciation among a new generation, including women.

British writer Claire Lowdon in the July 5 Times Literary Supplement gives a sympathetic assessment of Updike's early novels "The Poorhouse Fair," "Rabbit Run," "The Centaur," and "Of the Farm." The Library of America recently published the novels in one volume.

While Lowdon sees the early novels as expressing the attitudes of male dominance prevalent in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she credits Updike for creating sympathetic female characters. The author of the novel "Left of the Bang" and an assistant editor at Arte, Lowdon is one of the emerging young talents of British literature.

Like other critics, Lowdon sees Updike's strength, his facility for descriptive writing, as his greatest weakness. She cites passages where Updike loses control of his language. But overall, she champions him as a writer of astonishing power and beauty.

She finds much to praise in all of the books, although she sees the National Book Award-winning "The Centaur" as too dependent on Greek myth and derivative of James Joyce. 

While Lowdon views "The Farm" as an accomplished achievement, she gives her highest praise to "Rabbit Run" as a true American classic worthy of continued readership. The first of four books about former high school basketball star Rabbit Angstrom, "Rabbit Run" is the most accomplished of the series, revealing enduring truths about American character.

Lowdon touches upon Updike's "Maples" short stories, without acknowledging Updike's standing as a short story master rivaling John Cheever.

Overall, she rates Updike as a "B-League" novelist, with Joyce in the A League. As Lowdon concludes, that makes Updike's brilliant early works worthy of rediscovery.


How dark "Oklahoma" revival gave country flavor to "People Will Say We're in Love"

The "Oklahoma" revival now on Broadway gives a darker, stripped down interpretation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical.

New York Times theater critic Jesse Green in Sunday's Times analyzes how the new production changed "People Will Say We're in Love" from an operatta confection to sultry country-influenced love song.

In the new show, Curly strums a guitar as he serenades Laurie, shifting from the light-opera style made famous through the years by such stars as Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones and Hugh Jackman and Josefina Gabrielle.

Portraying Curly, Damon Daunno at one haunting moment in the new rendering breaks into a Hank Williams-reminiscent yodel. As Laurie, Rebecca Naomi Jones shimmers close to Daunno in a sultry, seductive dance, a radical shift from the coy and mocking performances of  Jones and Gabrielle.

Without bogging down in technicalities, Green analyzes how the revival directed by Daniel Fish changed the song's flavor. Music director Nathan Koci replaced the traditional theater pit orchestra with an on-stage ensemble that plays country string instruments.

In a treat for those with some understanding of musical theory, Green analyzes how Koci changed the song's key and voice styling. With all of the changes, one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most beautiful songs keeps its essence.

The Broadway revival has resulted in a new cast recording. A separate Times article traces the history of "Oklahoma" cast recordings. The first was Decca Records' pioneering effort in 1943, recorded on multiple 78s.

I'm looking forward to hearing the revival cast's new interpretations of standards like "Surrey With the Fringe on The Top" and the sweeping theme "Oklahoma."

After years as one of those Rodgers and Hart acolytes, I gained new appreciation for Hammerstein's collaboration with Rodgers by hearing Blossom Dearie's jazzy and seductive recording of "Surrey With the Fringe on the Top."

Koci's new arrangements of "Oklahoma" songs will open the music to new artistic interpretations. A country or pop duo will surely follow Koci's path and record "People Will Say We're in Love."





James Wood details Eton ties to Brexit

"The sun sets on Britain," the London Review of Books' July 4 cover proclaims.

No, the provocative headline has nothing to do with the American Revolution.

Outlined in red above the cover illustration of a darkening sky at twilight, the headline refers to literary critic James Wood's illuminating article on Brexit's connection to Eton, the English school for boys that has bred the country's establishment since its founding by Henry VI in 1440.

Running as the review's regular Diary feature, with no other headline, Wood's piece is informed by his own experience at Eton as a middle-class scholarship student. Unlike Wood, many of the school's young men came from the country's ruling class and generations of school alums, known as Old Etonians.

Etonian David Cameron when he was prime minister called for the Brexit referendum, and left office when it was unexpectedly approved. Brexit proponent Boris Johnson, now the leading Conservative candidate to replace Theresa May as prime minister, attended the school, as did Jacob Rees-Mogg and other Brexit supporters.

Wood echoes author Fintan O'Toole in finding that the Etonians' Brexit advocacy rose from "a combination of Thatcherite lust for economic deregulation and postwar nostalgia for lost imperial might."

The Etonian Brexit supporters all took a general history class at the school at age 13, reading Jan Morris's book about the rise and fall of the British empire, "Heaven's Command." For Johnson, Cameron and Rees-Mogg, Winston Churchill's funeral in 1965 marked the sunset of British glory, briefly restored by Thatcher.

Johnson's admiring biography of Churchill reflects his belief that Britain can revive its greatness apart from Europe. Rees-Mogg has expressed similar views. The Brexit supporters share a resentment that Germany, which lost World War II, leads Europe economically while Britain, a war victor, has declined.

Wood points out that Churchill's great-grandson, Etonian Hugo Dixon, is a main Brexit opponent. Yet old school ties are stronger than political beliefs: Johnson in the acknowledgements for his Churchill book thanks Dixon, at whose Greek home he wrote a chapter.

Unlike Etonians who have joined Britain's ruling class, Wood has enjoyed success in the United States writing for the New Yorker. A Harvard professor, Wood is one of the few literary critics who has achieved widespread readership. Also a novelist, Wood is married to author Claire Messud.

For Wood,  an exit from the European Union will mean "the sun sets on Britain." But he understands that the sun never sets on Old Etonians, whose wealth and power never wane.