Dancing to ‘Yellow Submarine,’ Neanderthal Extinction and Other Letters to the Editor

The Band Begins to Play

To the Editor:

In Bill Maher’s review of Craig Brown’s “150 Glimpses of the Beatles” (Dec. 6), Maher asks rhetorically, “Who is this for?”

I would respond, “For everyone,” because the Beatles’ music is timeless. My parents enjoyed it in the 1960s. I’ve loved their music my entire life. And last year, for my children’s first concert, my wife and I took them to see Ringo Starr, where they happily danced and sang along to “Yellow Submarine.”

Stephen A. Silver
San Francisco

Mind Your Language

To the Editor:

After reading Yuval Noah Harari’s review of Rebecca Wragg Sykes’s “Kindred” (Dec. 6), I felt compelled to comment. While defending Neanderthals from a predicated pejorative image, Harari brings up the issue of their extinction. “Scholars always noted the suspicious coincidence that Neanderthals made their exit exactly when Homo sapiens appeared on the scene.” He notes that they vanished 40,000 years ago (about 10,000 years after we started using language) and attributes it to our “superior networking.”

In his own book “Sapiens,” Harari refers to the Neanderthal’s extinction as an ethnic cleansing. This was the result of Sapiens’ superior facility with language. The Neanderthal’s vocal apparatus didn’t accommodate our range of sounds. Language transformed Sapiens in ways Neanderthals could only dream of, which led to their demise.

Steven Lesk
Marine on Saint Croix, Minn.

One and the Same

To the Editor:

In her Hollywood roundup (Dec. 6), Lisa Schwarzbaum points out that Scott Eyman, in his biography of Cary Grant, “hedges” on the topic of the actor’s precise sexuality, and suggests that the book’s subtitle, “A Brilliant Disguise,” is a kind of tease.

Eyman contends that there was a vast gulf between the onscreen Grant and the real-life Grant in terms of confidence and deportment. Having read the book, I have to disagree. Grant supposedly once said: “Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”

But as complicated as this man could be, and occasionally unlikable (like most of us, I’d say), the Cary Grant I come away with does not starkly contrast with any of the characters he embodied onscreen. He was hired for the iconic roles he played not because he possessed staggering gifts for becoming another person — an acting chameleon like, say, Gary Oldman or Meryl Streep, he was not — but because he was right for those roles.

As Pauline Kael once wrote, he was too “self-aware” to appear in westerns, and never did. He spurned the offer to play Henry Higgins in the film “My Fair Lady,” because “the way I talk now is the way Eliza talked in the beginning.”

Grant retired from acting at age 62, when he was still a top box office attraction. He could have transitioned to character parts, as many actors and actresses do when their leading-role days recede.

Maybe he would have thrived in this, possibly winning the competitive Oscar so long denied him. But he wasn’t interested. Cary Grant enjoyed a long, celebrated and lucrative career without having to stretch that much, and that was perfectly fine with him.

David English
Acton, Mass.

No Sin, No Virtue

To the Editor:

In her review of “Mad at the World,” William Souder’s biography of John Steinbeck (Dec. 6), Brenda Wineapple mentions Steinbeck’s first novel, “Cup of Gold,” which she calls “deservedly forgotten.”

I read “Cup of Gold” many years ago, and certainly have never forgotten it. I found it as memorable as anything Steinbeck has written, and I believe I have read all of his books at one time or another. “Cup of Gold” is the masterly beginning of a great career. It’s a rollicking tale of pirates, conquest and political intrigue. It’s also a wonderfully readable and deeply insightful story of sexual obsession and power, giving us a man who drags down thousands of lives in an effort to serve his own gratification.

It is a perfect story for our times, and a fine precursor to Steinbeck’s later masterpiece, “The Grapes of Wrath.” Steinbeck’s first novel is neither unmemorable nor slight. Wineapple should read it again.

Kevin Kane
New York

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