Clive James, Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts

Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts by Clive James My rating: 3 of 5 stars Is it possible to ask, without sounding like a morbid troublemaker, why the death of Clive James last November was not greeted with the outpouring of vituperation that marked Harold Bloom's demise the month before? Granted, Bloom … Continue reading Clive James, Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts

Joan Didion, A Book of Common Prayer

A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion My rating: 3 of 5 stars Joan Didion, though a journalist and a novelist, is a lyric writer. Purporting to give facts or tell a story, she conveys her own sensibility. I praised her for it when reviewing Play It as It Lays, as good a lyric … Continue reading Joan Didion, A Book of Common Prayer

John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich

Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike My rating: 3 of 5 stars There are two kinds of male authors you love to hate. The first is well-known and easily explicable: Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Ralph Ellison, Cormac McCarthy. Their works are all masculine self-assertion and lighting out for the territory; they describe the … Continue reading John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich

My Year in Books, 2019

I took a brief hiatus from writing these reviews in August and September. During that break, I read Cormac McCarthy's Suttree, a 1979 novel sometimes cited as its author's masterpiece, and not only because it is his longest single work. Influenced by Ulysses, Herzog, and Henry Miller, Suttree is a plotless, ribald, melancholy city novel: … Continue reading My Year in Books, 2019

Thomas Pynchon, V.

V. by Thomas Pynchon My rating: 4 of 5 stars Thomas Pynchon's astoundingly precocious 1963 debut is a double narrative. Its first plot, set largely in 1956, narrates the misadventures of ex-Navy sailor Benny Profane ("a schlemihl and human yo-yo") along with a company of bohemians called the Whole Sick Crew, as they drink and … Continue reading Thomas Pynchon, V.

Gertrude Stein, Three Lives

Three Lives by Gertrude Stein My rating: 3 of 5 stars One hallmark of modernism is a reversal in the priority of literature and painting. While theorists from antiquity through the 19th century debated in the abstract the relation between the two media, between word and image, literature pragmatically ruled over painting: the latter was … Continue reading Gertrude Stein, Three Lives

Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai My rating: 3 of 5 stars Back in the 1950s, Donald Keene thought he had to apologize to his Anglophone readers, in his "Translator's Introduction," for this classic 1947 Japanese novel's not being "Japanese" enough—for dealing in urban alienation, radical politics, and existential despair rather than cherry blossoms and … Continue reading Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Beloved by Toni Morrison My rating: 4 of 5 stars The other day, someone trying to sell a gimmicky book Tweeted the boilerplate provocation that "no novels by white men" should be taught in American high schools for "the next 20 years." She then predictably pitted Ernest Hemingway against Toni Morrison to sharpen her point. … Continue reading Toni Morrison, Beloved

Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson My rating: 4 of 5 stars I conclude this October's rereading of fin de siècle horror fiction—see also my entries on Dracula and The Turn of the Screw—with Robert Louis Stevenson's iconic 1886 novella, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The … Continue reading Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James My rating: 4 of 5 stars How did this 1898 novella become modern and postmodern literary theory's most inscrutable touchstone? According to Henry James's Notebooks—and scholars have disputed this, but then they dispute everything, as we'll see—he got the kernel of the novella, a ghost story, from … Continue reading Henry James, The Turn of the Screw