Other Writing

Listen to a sampling of Len’s NPR commentaries.

PANDEMIC LENS, December 30, 2020

On October 6, 2020, the Swedish Academy announced the year’s Nobel prizes in Physics and, two days later, in Literature. The selection committees may as well have collaborated, so tuned were they to the pulse of a uniquely awful year. Louise Glück, poet of “isolation, betrayal . . . and death” (NYT 10/8/2020), won for Literature, and physicist Roger Penrose shared the prize with Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for the discovery of a black hole at the center of the Milky Way. A poet of “dark themes” and a cosmic entity massive enough to swallow entire stars? In 2020, the Swedish Academy got it right. Read Complete Article

“Harold, His Purple Crayon, and the Writing Process”
Readers frequently ask novelists about the writing process.  These questions come in many flavors, but here’s a common one: When you’re stuck, which authors inspire you to get going, to break free?  At a recent writer’s conference, the panelists ahead of me pointed to Shakespeare, Flannery O’Connor, and John Gregory Dunne.  When my turn came, I said: “Crockett Johnson, particularly Harold and the Purple Crayon.”

That drew some laughs.  But I was serious.  Read Complete Article


A Funeral Held Over FaceTime Blends the Ancient and the Modern
Absence is a common, if painful, theme in human affairs, and when my younger son left Boston to make his way in Seattle, I had a category for his travels. He would be like the Phoenician sailors who plied the Mediterranean, trading cedar and linen for gold. Or the New England whaling captains off for years at a time to the far Pacific.  He’d be gone, I’d be home, but I could take some comfort in the technology we’d use to ease the ancient burden of separation.

That strategy worked until it didn’t.  Read Complete Article


“Is There an Expiration Date on Evil? Former Nazi Guards Face Trial”
On September 3rd of this year Kurt Schrimm, Germany’s special prosecutor for investigating Nazi-era crimes, recommended bringing charges against 49 men and women who allegedly served as guards at Auschwitz. In the German system, the special prosecutor reviews potential cases and recommends for action only those that meet the highest standards of evidence. It is then up to local prosecutors where suspected criminals live to mount cases or not.

What’s the use of prosecuting people, now in their mid-eighties to nineties, who will be moribund or dead by the time of their trials?  Read Complete Article


“A Social Contract Tested”
I didn’t understand until this week the crux of a civics lesson I learned in seventh grade: that in a civil society, we trade away the right of reprisal — to hurt the people who hurt us — for the right to live, peaceably, in a larger group. If the state to which we cede control is benign and can be trusted with the power we give it, the contract holds. If not, we get corruption, distrust, non-accountable government, and repression.

This past week America’s social contract, forged in no small part in Massachusetts, was tested.  Read Complete Article


“The Crooked Smile of Fortune”
On the first day of spring this year, I awoke to find that only half of my face could smile. The other half drooped — turning down at the corner no matter how hard I tried to rescue it. Panic is not too dramatic a word to describe my response. After a brief but thorough exam, my doctor concluded: ”Bell’s palsy, a temporary paralysis caused by a virus. You’ll be fine,” she said…  Read Complete Article


“Come Father: Arms Around My Neck”
With two young sons and a child on the way, my father quit his government job to found his company — in the basement of his mother-in-law’s house. I have no direct memories of his machine shop. My older brother tells me that he would return from school each day to find our father bent over a lathe with mounds of steel shavings at his feet…  Read Complete Article


Publishers Weekly  Read

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