Big Secret

In his review of my novel, The Big Secret (Book World, Style, June 14), Patrick Anderson writes that the book contains "a rather violent attack on one of America's best-known journalists, The Post's Bob Woodward." The villain of The Big Secret is Andrew Middleton, a purely fictional creation. He is not Bob Woodward. Even the most casual reader should be able to discern between the real-life Woodward and a fictional investigative reporter who plots his fictional girlfriend's death by dispatching her on a fictional trip to probe a fictional lynching that happens in a fictional town. The fact that this fictional woman communicates with her equally fictional twin sister through their mutual dreams should be another clue that -- hey -- none of this is real.


Fairfax, VA

The Great Stoned Age

I very much appreciate Nick Gillespie's characterization of my book, Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000 (Book World, May 23), as "brave," along with his opinion of it as "a generally successful effort, in many ways as pleasantly and as richly intoxicating as a double hit of Humboldt County, Calif.'s finest." But I must vehemently disagree with his conclusion that the book is "a bummer -- maybe even a bad trip" because I happened to land in a 12-step recovery fellowship. As Gillespie describes it, my personal experience with drugs veered "between use and abuse," was "nothing if not unrepresentative," and its inclusion in my book "suggests that a truly measured discussion of American drug use is yet to come." However, I state unequivocally in the book that the vast majority of people who use drugs do not become addicts.

Gillespie's notion that Can't Find My Way Home is ultimately a "downer" because I end up happy but abstinent is revealing. Some critics of the drug war and proponents of reform are obviously discomfited by addiction because it is so frequently cited as the raison d'etre for prohibition; they are, moreover, critical of the "disease concept" and the increasing influence of the recovery movement. No doubt Gillespie would have been far more disposed to view my account of the American experience with illegal drugs as "measured" had it ended with the following words: "Today I remain a deeply committed secular humanist/rationalist/libertarian, perfectly capable of controlling my drug use, who uses marijuana recreationally, on occasion, and always in a moderate and responsible manner." But such was not, alas, where my journey took me.

The point of my book is that we must start telling the truth about drugs, and the two brief chapters that tell my personal story convey my truth; in those places I speak for myself and no one else. The view that my own experience with drug use, abuse and addiction makes this book, "for all its many merits," any less "measured" than anyone else's might be reflects a bias on Gillespie's part that is, in its own way, every bit as deep-seated and distorted as the bias of the prohibitionist.


New York, NY

Nick Gillespie replies:

Martin Torgoff misquotes me: I wrote that his account of his own drug experiences veered between "between abuse and abstinence," not "between use and abuse." Like the prohibitionists he rightly criticizes, Torgoff apparently has difficulty conceptualizing drug use that does not lead to extremes even as he recognizes that most people's experiences with illegal drugs are rarely so polarized. Certainly it's legitimate to wish that a book about the considerable role of drugs in postwar America -- even one as interesting and accomplished as Can't Find My Way Home -- might frame the discussion in a way that paid closer attention to the moderate way in which most people actually consume illegal substances.

I'm glad to learn that Torgoff is "happy but abstinent," and I'm confident that he, too, would rather live in a country where those of us who would prefer to continue to use drugs might do so legally.

Church Matters

Although Paul Baumann praised the psychological insight I brought to bear on the history of the Catholic Church sexual-abuse crisis in Our Fathers (Book World, May 11), he then sprinkled his review with so many wrong statements about my book that I wonder if he finished reading it. For instance, he casts doubt on my documentation for quoting thoughts and private conversations I "was not privy to." I direct him to my 36 pages of endnotes revealing my sources for every passage. Each attribution is faithfully rendered and cited.

Oddly, his main criticism is that I didn't "bother to sort out" the fact that most abuse cases happened 20 and 30 years ago, leaving readers "guessing about this chronology." In fact, this is the core of my argument, underscored by its chronological format: A generation of priests ordained from 1960 to the early 1970s was responsible. The abuse cycle ended in the mid-1980s, when changes in "priestly formation" introduced frank discussions about celibacy. "By just making this an acceptable topic of conversation in seminaries . . . . the frequency of priests 'acting out' with children plunged," I wrote. "Reports of abuse began dropping off for priests ordained in the mid-1980s and steadily declined every year after."

But that does not mean this was ancient history, as Baumann wistfully decrees. Almost none of the men who committed those crimes had been removed from ministry -- when the scandal broke in 2002 they were still in parishes, still counseling the faithful on matters of morals, still seemingly untouchable. Some 500 tainted priests have been removed from the pulpits since then.

The second half of my book details the tremendous coordinated effort of victims, parents, lawyers, judges and journalists that it took to accomplish this. Baumann suggests that victims were exploited by their efforts. He obviously has not spoken to victims or he would know the hard-earned dedication they share to narrating their own histories and forcing their truths out of the church vaults.


New York, NY

Mixed Messages

In her review of Danzy Senna's novel Symptomatic (Book World, Style, May 14), Carolyn See completely misses the point. She says the main character's boyfriend "takes her out for an evening with his odious white friends, who -- in the guise of playing charades -- shower her with racial insults." Senna actually makes it abundantly clear that neither the boyfriend nor his friends have any idea the protagonist is biracial. That's what makes the scene so gut-wrenching: She is witnessing the kind of racist behavior that white people only feel comfortable exhibiting when they think they are in the safety and comfort of an all-white group. See may have "trouble believing this scene," but this type of inadvertent fly-on-the-wall experience is actually very common among biracial and multiracial people.



Brooklyn, NY