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

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

My Year in Books, 2018

Looking back, I see that I did a lot of rereading in 2018. Some of it was out of necessity (teaching), and some for pleasure. Some of it showed up in the reviews I post here, while some of it was devoted to books I've already written about in the last five years. I was … Continue reading My Year in Books, 2018

William Giraldi, American Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring

American Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring by William Giraldi My rating: 4 of 5 stars Though better known as the novelist who wrote the now-Netflixed Hold the Dark, William Giraldi has over the last decade been amassing a mighty corpus of literary criticism. Two tendencies set Giraldi's essays apart from those of his peers. … Continue reading William Giraldi, American Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring

Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life

Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life by Theodor W. Adorno My rating: 5 of 5 stars It helps to know that this 1951 book, an unclassifiable philosophical masterpiece consisting of 153 divisions ranging in length from the aphorism to the brief essay, was written largely in the light of Southern California. Adorno was a … Continue reading Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life

Wesley Yang, The Souls of Yellow Folk

The Souls of Yellow Folk by Wesley Yang My rating: 4 of 5 stars It was once a pop-socio-psychological commonplace of American foreign-policy commentary that terrorism on behalf of political Islam was motivated less by ideology and more by an intractable reality of gender: young men with no prospects in their societies will inevitably become … Continue reading Wesley Yang, The Souls of Yellow Folk

Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag My rating: 3 of 5 stars Susan Sontag's oeuvre is a long palinode. Identified for years with the positions she took, or at least appeared to take, in the 1960s, she seemed to spend the rest of her life strategically retracting or at least clarifying and qualifying … Continue reading Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

Samuel Johnson, Selected Essays

Selected Essays by Samuel Johnson My rating: 4 of 5 stars This Penguin Classics collection of essays by the great English critic and moralist Samuel Johnson is devoted largely to his periodical writing. In its introduction, the editor David Womersley notes that Johnson was known only (if at all) as an editor, lexicographer, and occasional … Continue reading Samuel Johnson, Selected Essays

Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World

How to See the World: An Introduction to Images, from Self-Portraits to Selfies, Maps to Movies, and More by Nicholas Mirzoeff My rating: 3 of 5 stars Mirzoeff self-consciously updates the late John Berger's Ways of Seeing with a new piece of popular Marxist pedagogy on how to read politics and history into images and … Continue reading Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World

Against Celebration: Bloomsday vs. Dallowayday

Two years ago, Elaine Showalter suggested that we balance Bloomsday (June 16, the day whereon Joyce's Ulysses is set) with Dallowayday: Like Joyce’s Ulysses, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway is set in a single city on a single day: London on 13 June 1923. But while Bloomsday on 16 June is the occasion of riotous celebrations … Continue reading Against Celebration: Bloomsday vs. Dallowayday