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”

Alice Walker, The Color Purple

The Color Purple by Alice Walker My rating: 3 of 5 stars Alice Walker's 1982 Pulitzer-Prize-winning, Spielberg-filmed, Oprah-inspiring novel is a contentious contemporary classic. It remains widely read and loved but both the novel and its author have been scrutinized for every sin from New Age sentimentality to complicity with racism. In fewer than 300 … Continue reading Alice Walker, The Color Purple

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

Commonplace Book: Moral Philosophy, Religious Criticism, the Hatred of Literature, and the New Censorship

[Introducing a new series of posts: Commonplace Book, a weekly compilation of links to things I've read, with occasional commentary. Commonplace Book takes over from my now-dormant Tumblr, grandhotelabyss, and this first entry, to ease us all into the transition, is comprised of recent Tumblr posts.] Agnes Callard, "Who Wants to Play the Status Game?": … Continue reading Commonplace Book: Moral Philosophy, Religious Criticism, the Hatred of Literature, and the New Censorship

Don DeLillo, Great Jones Street

Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo My rating: 3 of 5 stars Don DeLillo's third novel, Great Jones Street (1973), is often billed as a classic rock and roll novel, but readers who expect an inside look at the rock scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s will be disappointed. The narrator and protagonist, … Continue reading Don DeLillo, Great Jones Street

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