After the Tall Timber: Collected Nonfiction

After the Tall Timber: Collected Nonfiction
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Her reportage is rich and unfussy. The collection could stand on the basis of her intellect alone—and, in that regard, its velocity does not dip. Nevertheless, the articles and essays in After the Tall Timber are not timely. They do not share an explicit thesis; they do not compose a political argument. The Convention was designed to pull together liberal antiwar groups, radical civil rights activists, and members of the New Left: constituencies with the shared goals of ending racism, the war in Vietnam, and poverty.

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The event was a catastrophe. A radical movement born out of a corruption of the vocabulary of civil rights—preempting the terms that belonged to a truly oppressed minority and applying them to the situation of some bored children committed to choosing what intellectual morsels they liked from the buffet of life at a middle-class educational institution in California—now luxuriated in the cool political vocabulary, while the urban civil-rights movement, having nearly abandoned its access to the power structure, thrashed about in local paroxysms of self-destruction.

She was left but not leftist, skeptical but always sincere; she eschewed agenda. By maintaining her individualism, Adler was able to foster trust in her readers and keep a rare independence. The present collection is arguably about language: its use and abuse, its power and its failures.

Language is the primary mode of ordering and understanding the world, and inevitably has a hand in dictating a moral common ground. Journalists frame discourse; writing demarcates an ethical scale. People say nothing to everyone and say it all the time. In her work, Adler fights for language to be reclaimed, dusted off, and used with intention, clarity, and meaning. Her work is a reminder that there are reasons for writing and also of what writing can be.

Adler trades in moments of quiet illumination, documenting people as they attempt to remove the abstractions of life through conversation and language. Families picnic on the sabbath, snacking beside military tents erected on farmland near the Gaza Strip.

At the Institute, Adler captures a conversation between a group of professors and their families:. The march is disorganized. Rumors circulate. There are whispers of spies, snakes, the KKK. On the page Adler is everywhere at once, alert at all hours, darting from marcher to marcher, tent to tent. The piece is studded with dialogue, displaying the stilted misunderstandings between different factions of marchers and the tensions between the procession and the towns they passed through.

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She railed against the inconsistencies, inaccuracies, indulgences, and vanities that she found to be increasingly visible in popular journalism, and deplored what she saw to be the degradation of institutional integrity within the media. Adler took the New York Times to task for fussing over minor corrections, such as misspellings, while it ignored its own fostering of broader inaccuracies and prejudices.

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Journalism, now, is more nebulous, and industry whistleblowers can even find institutional support, often in the form of other media companies. It was personal. Many of her subjects are dead. She was a woman working in a historically male-dominated industry who played by her own rules. Now we are suffering this strange mercy killing at the hands of the British. Earlier in , under less dramatic circumstances, Adler visited Cuba.

The position, which the still twentysomething Adler was offered despite having neither written nor read much film criticism, was to replace old guard critic Bosley Crowther, who was finally pushed out after he mounted an unfashionably fogeyish attack on Bonnie and Clyde. It has the reputation of being a journalistic bloodbath—is it really so bad?

And why does Adler have the knives out for Kael? This rhetorical approach makes the description of her epiphany very convincing, as we follow her through the carefully arranged evidence. And then there is the fact that while Kael is exactly the kind of critic to write a bloody hatchet job—just as she wrote effusively about slasher films—Adler is not.

Richards, as well as her legal training, becomes apparent. As for why Adler has the knives out, Kael seems to represent all that is wrong with writers and readers in America, and ultimately what has gone wrong with America itself.


The critic, like the one time revolutionary hero, has become a despot with a sadistic lust for power. The third section of the book includes much of the legal and political reporting for which Adler, who completed her J.

Tall Timbers

Other moments in this section, however, made me want to swipe. I could only muster faint enthusiasm, for example, at the prospect of a lengthy analysis of the scandal surrounding failed Reagan-era Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. At the end of the book Adler finally begins to appear embattled, surrounded by powerful enemies.

But does she care? Not much, it seems. As it happens, the present decade has seen these venerable institutions, to varying degrees, adapt and regain some of their lost power. The Atlantic looks stronger than ever; The New Yorker is still on the town, a ubiquitous presence; The Times seems to be doing all right. So where does that leave us? Selma just passed its 50 th anniversary, and the ever-vital Adler is now an astonishing Julian Hanna was born in Vancouver and is currently self-exiled on the island of Madeira.

His research on modernism and digital storytelling appears regularly in academic journals; his creative writing has appeared in The Atlantic, 3:AM, Flash, Minor Literature[s], Cine Qua Non , and elsewhere.

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