Book Review: Two fascinating new books search the dregs of the past

At 1,814 pages, the FBI file on the novelist and essayist James Baldwin may be the longest and most obsessive ever put together by a federal agency about an American writer; for comparison, the file on Henry Miller, the author of more than half a dozen books banned on grounds of obscenity, is just 10 pages, counting the cover sheet that just lists his name, while the one on Ray Bradbury repeatedly misidentifies him as “Roy.” That is to say, the Bureau’s Baldwin fetish had nothing to do with an interest in significant mid-20th century American literature. Or to put it cheekily, as Washington University In St. Louis professor William J. Maxwell does in his introduction to James Baldwin: The FBI File, the dossier “contains no evidence that J. Edgar Hoover ever remarked on Baldwin’s generous sentence lengths.” No, it had everything to with the fact that …