Maureen Corrigan

Whenever I think about Christopher Tilghman's writing — and I have many times since his atmospheric novel, Mason's Retreat, came out more than 15 years ago — I think of critic John Leonard. John, among many other distinctions, was my predecessor as book critic for Fresh Air and, every once in a while before his death in 2008, we'd have occasion to talk or exchange e-mails about books. I remember John sending me a note in 1996, in which he mentioned Mason's Retreat and said of Tilghman, "He's the real deal."

There continues to be a lot of talk about gender bias in the book industry. The core argument goes that, while both male and female authors write novels about relationships and the domestic sphere, when a woman does so her books are relegated to "chic lit," and when a man (like Jonathan Franzen) does, he's lauded for serious literary achievement.

"Difficult" is probably the most tactful word one could use in characterizing Lillian Hellman. If ever there were an author safer to meet through her art rather than in real life, she was the one. Born in New Orleans into a Jewish family, Hellman came of age in the Roaring '20s, liberated by flappers and Freud. Hellman drank like a fish, swore like a sailor and slept around like, well, like most of the men in her literary circle, chief among them Dashiell Hammett, with whom she had an open relationship spanning three decades. She was, recalled one observer, a "tough broad ...

Nadine Gordimer's trademark characters live for politics, the Struggle. You get the feeling they would be sick to their collective stomachs if they ever even tried to bite into a gourmet cupcake.

Some years ago I was visiting Disneyland and had a culture-clash encounter there with my one of fellow Americans. I was standing with my daughter on the miles-long meandering line for "It's a Small World After All" and I fell into a conversation with another mom; when this woman found out I was a native New Yorker, she treated me to her verdict on the city: "It's so dirty there!"

I was in my local independent bookstore last week, enjoying the endangered pleasure of wandering around and snuffling through interesting-looking books, when I overheard two women talking in front of the new releases section. "I need a new British novelist," one of them said. Ladies, I should have spoken up, but the moment passed and, besides, it was too awkward to explain that one of the best British novelists writing today was born in New Jersey.

"Linsanity" is the magical byword of this basketball season. As anyone who is even semi-conscious knows, Jeremy Lin, the NBA's first Taiwanese-American player by way of Harvard, was passed over for college athletic scholarships and ignored in NBA drafts. Then, he landed with the New York Knicks and has since proved to everybody that athletic prejudice against Asians is Lincredibly stupid. Except, as journalist Jim Yardley points out in his new book on basketball fever in China, Chinese players and coaches happen to endorse that prejudice.

The Brits: You've got to hand it to them. The Empire may be long gone, but they still reign supreme when it comes to effortlessly exuding mordant wit. For anyone who savors the acerbic literary likes of Evelyn Waugh or the Amises, father and son, Helen Simpson is just the ticket.

In my family, we referred to them as "the brisket brigade" — those single ladies of a certain age who began bombarding my brother-in-law with casseroles and commiseration soon after my sister-in-law died. It's a cruel fact of life that nobody plies widows with months of home-cooked meals and baked goods; as Jonathan Swift might have modestly proposed, widows might as well eat each other — there's a surplus supply of them, anyway. But a new widower gets the Crock-Pots and the romantic fantasies all fired up.

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