James Baldwin’s Review, Babe Ruth and Other Letters to the Editor

Critical Tinkering

To the Editor:

In his review of Steven Pinker’s book “Rationality” (Oct. 31), Anthony Gottlieb writes that “Pinker wants more lessons in schools about reasoning and critical thinking.”

But the problem isn’t, as Gottlieb suggests, making room in the curriculum. Every teacher’s responsibility should be to structure content using critical thinking, which requires valid criteria — standards — to support one’s positions (or judgments). Criteria vary by discipline. For example, the criteria used in mathematics are different from those used in history or art.

Think about the discussions we could have in classes if they were based on critical thinking. When responding to a question, students should be required to cite valid evidence relevant to that discipline as reasons for their answers, and not just say, “Because!” Imagine courses on civic education based on critical thinking, helping us make good judgments about whom to vote for. This is hard work that would mean preparing teachers differently, but unless we think of critical thinking and reasoning as central to understanding, we will make no progress toward their inclusion.

Nicholas M. Michelli
Water Mill, N.Y.

125 Years of the Book Review

To the Editor:

I’m wondering if anyone else found it ironic, in the 125th anniversary issue (Oct. 24), that all of the great fiction included by women authors — including some iconic feminist works — was reviewed by men.

Some, like those who reviewed Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook” and Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar,” just didn’t get it! Were there no women reviewers on the roster?

Explore the New York Times Book Review

Want to keep up with the latest and greatest in books? This is a good place to start.

    • Learn what you should be reading this fall: Our collection of reviews on books coming out this season includes biographies, novels, memoirs and more.
    • See what’s new in October: Among this month’s new titles are novels by Jonathan Franzen, a history of Black cinema and a biography by Katie Couric.
    • Nominate a book: The New York Times Book Review has just turned 125. That got us wondering: What is the best book that was published during that time?
    • Listen to our podcast: Featuring conversations with leading figures in the literary world, from Colson Whitehead to Leila Slimani, the Book Review Podcast helps you delve deeper into your favorite books.

    Elaine Elinson
    San Francisco

    To the Editor:

    The 125th anniversary issue could not have come at a better time. Given the distraction — and limited light — resulting from Cape Cod’s October power outage, I couldn’t stay with the otherwise brilliant William Maxwell novel I’d been reading. Sadly, the gossipy Katie Couric memoir hadn’t arrived at my library the day before the nor’easter hit. But there on the coffee table sat what I would discover was your smart and entertaining collection of reviews and essays. For hours, they nearly silenced the winds outside my window.

    What a pleasure it was to read the Colson Whitehead interview, knowing his fame and accomplishment were only in their infancy; revisit Reynolds Price’s review of Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon”; nod in agreement throughout Meg Wolitzer’s sage essay on so-called women’s fiction; and chuckle over Diane Johnson’s brave dive for Gore Vidal pearls (you could almost hear him chiding those academics who mistake “the university for the universe”). And thanks to Dr. Joseph Collins’s analysis of James Joyce, I might start “Ulysses” yet again — just not during a power outage.

    Jim Brosseau
    Provincetown, Mass.

    To the Editor:

    Thank you so much for the 125-year celebration issue and the historical reviews and interviews you republished.

    I especially was affected by James Baldwin’s review of Alex Haley’s “Roots.” The metaphor he used in the last paragraph, that we “can’t but be the vehicle of the history which has produced us,” and that we “can perish in this vehicle … or move on up the road,” is chilling and such prescient advice for us today.

    Lin Roberts
    Flossmoor, Ill.

    To the Editor:

    The 125th anniversary issue was a joy to read. The review of Agatha Christie’s “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” brought back many memories, as I read most of her books over the years while riding the subway to my job in Manhattan.

    Also of special interest was “Books About the Babe.” I am in possession of “The Babe Ruth Story,” as told to Bob Considine. As a kid I saved my allowance to special order the book. Of course, it was Ruth’s story through the lens of the Bambino himself. And I loved it. Congratulations on your anniversary.

    Susan Scalone
    Shoreham, N.Y.

    To the Editor:

    What a gobsmacking delight it was to ramble through the celebratory issue of the Book Review. Never has so much internet sleuthing been inspired, and it has made more precious my “next up to read” list. I imagine the curating was a bear, but it led to a precious edition I will enjoy for a long while.

    Tess Healy
    Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.

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