For Whom the Bell Tolls

By Neal Comment

At first, with obituaries for Chinese historian Denis Twitchett and Californian cuisine chronicler Doris Muscatine appearing on the NYT website yesterday, and with both being 80, I was going to say it was a bad day to be an octogenarian. But then I realized that Twitchett had died well over a month ago—back on Feb. 24—and the word had only just spread to 43rd St.

Shortly after which, I further realized that Irish novelist John McGahern died (and he just 71), which resolves the questions many American fans had about the cancellation earlier this month of a tour to promote his new memoir, All Will Be Well. (David Mehegan of the Boston Globe called him on the phone earlier and was able to write a profile).

And then we heard this morning of yet another literary life expiring at 80 on the dot, as news of Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay‘s Monday death worked it way across the Atlantic to the Times