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”

Marina Carr, By the Bog of Cats

By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr My rating: 3 of 5 stars Like many a literary work of the so-called postmodern period, Marina Carr's famous 1998 play By the Bog of Cats is a critical echo chamber of prior texts, whether near or far in space and time from its setting in the … Continue reading Marina Carr, By the Bog of Cats

Charles Portis, True Grit

True Grit by Charles Portis My rating: 4 of 5 stars Charles Portis, often hailed as a great but unsung American writer, died last month, so I read his most famous novel in memoriam. True Grit, published in 1968, is a Western and a bildungsroman. It is the elderly Mattie Ross's first-person recollection as she … Continue reading Charles Portis, True Grit

J. M. Synge, The Playboy of the Western World and Riders to the Sea

The Playboy of the Western World & Riders to the Sea by J.M. Synge My rating: 5 of 5 stars Yesterday for St. Patrick's Day I read these two classic early 20th-century dramas by the Irish playwright J. M. Synge. The texts I used were from the first edition of the Norton Critical Modern Irish … Continue reading J. M. Synge, The Playboy of the Western World and Riders to the Sea

Commonplace Book in a Time of Plague

Some august world body said not to say "plague," but surely literary people have a dispensation? How far this dispensation extends we will discuss below. Right now, I reintroduce a poem I wrote and posted to this website in the fall of 2014. I was writing a lot of poetry then: I had been hired … Continue reading Commonplace Book in a Time of Plague

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

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