Commonplace Book: “Life Raised to a Higher Power”

Two essays on modern German-language literature caught my attention recently. First, a piece from 2017—which I saw linked somewhere as "timely" on social media—in The New Criterion by Jeffrey Meyers on illness in the life of Franz Kafka and the work of Thomas Mann. Meyers claims that Kafka might have been a character in The … Continue reading Commonplace Book: “Life Raised to a Higher Power”

Commonplace Book: Perversity and Paranoia, Sade and Steiner

Mitchell Abidor reflects on "Reading Sade in the Age of Epstein," with a useful history of the notorious author's welcome reception by the 20th-century intelligentsia: Then, in the aftermath of World War II, there was an extraordinary explosion of analyses of Sade. Pierre Klossowski, in his 1947 Sade, mon prochain, claimed that Sade was a … Continue reading Commonplace Book: Perversity and Paranoia, Sade and Steiner

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