In The New Yorker (Comment, May 28, 2012), Nicholas Lemann examined the societal benefits of higher education. The dollar value of a college education is not clear for many students. However, college graduates are making eighty-four per cent more than high-school grads, and that income gap has been widening. Lots of jobs (the number is debatable) do not require a four-year college degree. Looking at the costs, there is a crisis in our national effort to make higher education universal.

In “The Mail” (June 25, 2012) professor of philosophy Howard Ruttenberg at the City University of New York observes: “We need a greater commitment to the broad intellectual development of all our citizens. Lemann is right that the cost is worth ‘the kind of society it buys.’ “


Tom Mirabile of Norfolk, Mass. had this to say in “The Mail” section of The New Yorker’s May 28, 2012 edition. But first he recollected from many years ago a broadcast of David Susskind’s talk show Open End where his guests were a pairing of Truman Capote and Mickey Spillane.  Whereas, Capote claimed it took five long years to write a book, Spillane sputtered that it took him no longer than five weeks to turn out one of his novels. Then, Spillane added–to Susskind’s and Capote’s apparent horror–that his protagonist–private eye Mike Hammer–only drank beer because Spillane did not know how to spell Cognac!

Mirabile concludes the anecdote with: “The writer’s delightful tongue-in-cheek irreverence indirectly confirmed what some of us–whether readers, writers, or critics–have always acknowledged: no form of writing guarantees a good read, but continued attempts to separate out certain types of fiction as ‘literary’ have become antiquated and hopelessly obsolete, and imply the snooty dismissal of every other category, no matter the genre.”


I am sure I gave out my e-mail address to bookseller Barnes & Noble innocently enough. I ordered some books online. B&N would e-mail me a confirmation; with the confirmation number I could track the progress of my purchases toward their final destinations. It was so long ago that I don’t remember whether there was a pre-checked box where I consented to receive the occasional e-mail from them; then again, their e-mails were infrequent enough that I found them inoffensive. I usually heard from them around the holidays (when many businesses demonstrate their profitability for the year). It was a manageable number of contacts.

Not anymore.  Now I have been hearing from B&N all the time. I am beginning to delete some of their e-mails unread. I am beginning to notice the Click here to unsubscribe hyperlink just below exhortations to follow B&N on Twitter, Facebook or via another offering: “BN’s Buzz.” (Note: they want to be “BN” not “B&N.”)

There is a phrase for this phenomenon: B&N is “beating its list,” and B&N is thrashing me to within an inch of my life. It does not bode well for our virtual relationship. I don’t run like that.

I counted thirty-four titles B&N was hawking, broken out into eight categories (not genres, mind you:  that would be assigning B&N too much credit). Topping the lists were some recommended “Summer Reads.” The featured title was Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel Life In the Time of Cataclysm–because what would I rather read on the beach than a book premised on the conceit that “When the earth’s rotation mysteriously slows, days grow longer, and nature is thrown into chaos.” (Full disclosure now: I have not read the book, but on general principles, does literary fiction need another novel describing a different dystopia? I find it almost ironic. Another dystopian book just beats an overworked premise to death. Or maybe, the dystopian oeuvre should become a bona fide genre of its own. But, I digress.)

In the Sunday Washington Post, Chris Cillizza runs a column titled “Worst Week in Washington.” (Last week the award went to attorney general Eric Holder who is facing contempt of Congress charges for refusing to hand over documents relating to Operation Fast and Furious.) This week, I would like to serve up B&N as a candidate for top honors for beating its list. For sending me so many e-mails, B&N, you are having the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.

for the Ninety-nine Percent