Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: Week of November 26th, 2007

What began last month as a campus feud (at Manchester University in the north of England) between an eminent literary theorist, Terry Eagleton, and a famous new colleague, novelist Martin Amis, has just become a free-swinging public brawl: Ronan Bennett (author of The Catastrophist and Zugzwang) has joined the fray, taking an angry jab at his fellow novelist in the Nov. 19 Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk). What’s the matter? Mr. Amis’ remarks to a newspaper interviewer, which both Messrs. Eagleton and Bennett consider racist: “The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order. What sort of suffering? Not let them travel. Deportation—further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan. … Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children.” Mr. Amis now contends that he was merely engaging in a “thought experiment, or a mood experiment”—he hadn’t “advocated” anti-Muslim measures, “merely adumbrated” them. Mr. Bennett begs to differ; he writes that Mr. Amis is “endorsing prejudice against Muslims,” and that it’s “as odious an outburst of racist sentiment as any public figure has made in [the U.K.] for a very long time.” Ouch. I bet Martin’s smartin’—and I bet he’s going to hit back.

TIMELY, INTELLIGENT AND provocative, What Orwell Didn’t Know: Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics (PublicAffairs, $14.95), edited by András Szántó, is an anthology of specially commissioned essays by Mark Danner, Nicholas Lemann, Francine Prose, David Rieff, Frances FitzGerald, Victor Navasky and a dozen others. It’s a left-leaning crew, all of them intent on stemming the tide of what Orwell referred to as the “swindles and perversions” of political language—whether uttered by a Republican or a Democrat.

IN THE INTRODUCTION to his otherwise admirable handbook, Fight Global Warming Now (Holt, $13), Bill McKibben and a handful of young co-authors quote Martin Luther King Jr.’s memorable exhortation: “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” They got the words right—and managed to muff the rest. The speech was delivered not in 1968 but rather on April 4, 1967 (a year to the day before King’s assassination); and he was discussing not “the state of civil rights in America” but rather the war in Vietnam. He goes on: “We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world—a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.” I have no idea what King would have had to say about reducing our carbon footprint, but I hope that if the topic were Iraq, he’d repeat his words from 40 years ago: “Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war.” Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: Week of November 26th, 2007