Somebody – Octavio Paz, Robert Frost, I don’t know who but somebody – said that “Literature is journalism that stays journalism.” I’ve always taken it to mean that writing that truly reflects its time stays fresh and relevant.

Whatever it does mean, I thought of it while reading J. Michael Lennon’s huge and satisfying biography, “Norman Mailer, a Double Life.” Lennon recounts the famous scene in Mailer’s great book about the 1967 march on the Pentagon, “Armies of the Night,” when Robert Lowell tells Mailer, “Norman, I really think you are the best journalist in America.” Mailer, taking slight umbrage, replied that he sometimes thought of himself as “the best writer in America.” (I love that “sometimes”; Mailer thought he was the best every waking minute of the day and in his dreams.)