Thomas Mann, Guilty Pleasures and Other Letters to the Editor

Mann’s Man

To the Editor:

Claire Barliant’s “More Bad Art Friends” (Nov. 7) imagines the line between being inspired by others’ lives and stealing from them. In “The Magician” (a novel based on the life of Thomas Mann), Colm Toibin casts Mann as the world’s worst “art friend,” but with an amusing twist.

Unlike the pilfering Bellow, Hemingway and Sebald evoked by Barliant, Mann showed a gift for unsolicited largess — endowing his fellow expatriate Arnold Schoenberg with a fictional venereal disease. He had borrowed bits and pieces of a not-too-well-disguised Schoenberg as a model for the syphilitic central character in “Doctor Faustus.”

In the hands of Toibin, we are left with the tragicomic image of the father of 12-tone musical composition, wandering the aisles of a Southern California suburban supermarket, frantically proclaiming to one and all that he is, in fact, S.T.D.-free.

Farley Helfant

Hamer’s Legacy

To the Editor:

In the fall of 1966, I was a graduate student at Yeshiva University, pursuing a degree in education. My fellow students and I were idealistic to a fault, certain that we could improve the prospects of inner-city children with our commitment and passion to right society’s wrongs. The faculty fueled our enthusiasm with weekly visits from civil rights leaders.

The review of Kate Clifford Larson’s “Walk With Me” and Keisha Blain’s “Until I Am Free” (Nov. 7) resurrected my feelings of astonishment when Fannie Lou Hamer spent an afternoon with us. She regaled us with tales of determination in the face of racism, violence and discrimination. Hamer was not bitter; she had a job to do — registering Black voters in the United States and undoing structural racism, though she would not have called it such.

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