When I was an ambitious young writer–I’m still ambitious, by the way–one of my ambitions was to write for Commentary. I wanted to be like one of the smart people. So I pitched the idea of a book review to Neal Kozodoy, who was an editor, and somehow finagled the assignment. I was so eager to please that I even took the book on my honeymoon. Normal people who pack books for a honeymoon take books they actually want to read. Me, I schlepped around Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America.
The book was dreadful. The review, which appeared in the September 1993 issue, isn’t available for free on the interwebs (except as an abstract). Here’s my nut graf:
Takaki’s “history” proceeds largely by anecdote, relying on obscure poems, diary entries, and newspaper accounts to flesh out his portrait of America as a bleak sinkhole of wasted efforts and futile hopes. For the most part, Takaki draws heavily from secondary sources and adds little in the way of new scholarship. What he does add, loudly and clearly, is another shrill voice to the leftist multicultural chorus.
Several years later, I met Takaki, who has since died, at an academic conference. He seemed like a nice, soft-spoken man. But his book was a thoroughgoing piece on anti-Americanism.
That’s my Commentary story. I haven’t written for it since.
This week’s NRO podcast is also a Commentary story–told by Benjamin Balint, who has just written Running Commentary, a book about the magazine and its storied history. The index lists the great writers who have contributed to its pages: Jeane Kirkpatrick, Norman Podhoretz, Philip Roth, and so on. Alas, my name does not appear alongside theirs. Yes, I was vain enough to check.
Next week’s podcast: Charles Hill on statecraft and literature.