Against Intellectual Biblioclasm II

I wrote my first manifesto "Against Intellectual Biblioclasm" over a year ago. I concluded it was time for an update when I read this earlier today: Yet I am more persuaded by a former jihadi named Shahid Butt, who now spends his time deradicalising misguided souls in Birmingham. To him, another rioter from 1989, Rushdie … Continue reading Against Intellectual Biblioclasm II

Iris Murdoch, The Bell

The Bell by Iris Murdoch My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Bell is Iris Murdoch's fourth novel. I had never read the celebrated 20th-century British philosopher and novelist before and decided to start with this 1958 book because it is often said to be her first novel that is characteristically "Murdochian" and also her … Continue reading Iris Murdoch, The Bell

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood My rating: 3 of 5 stars Some books are so famous, so ubiquitous in the culture, that you feel you have read them well before you ever read them. You feel, in fact, that you don't need to read them. This is what kept me from reading The Handmaid's … Continue reading Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo

Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed My rating: 4 of 5 stars Thomas Pynchon's freewheeling narrator of Gravity's Rainbow (1973) tells us, "Well, and keep in mind where those Masonic Mysteries came from in the first place. (Check out Ishmael Reed. He knows more about it than you will ever find here.)" Similarly, the underground cult classic … Continue reading Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Hamlet by William Shakespeare My rating: 5 of 5 stars Why is this bizarre, disorderly, long, and poorly transmitted tragedy from the turn of the seventeenth century the central work of the western literary tradition, its hero the keystone in the arch of modern literature? Because the distance he created between himself and the world … Continue reading William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Bernard Malamud, The Assistant

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud My rating: 5 of 5 stars The Assistant (1957) is Bernard Malamud's second novel. Frank Alpine, its eponymous anti-hero, becomes a clerk in the failing Brooklyn grocery store of Morris Bober after Bober is robbed and assaulted. The Italian-American orphan and drifter Alpine slowly intricates himself into the ways and … Continue reading Bernard Malamud, The Assistant

Dante, Paradiso

Paradiso by Dante Alighieri My rating: 4 of 5 stars Here is what you've heard about the Divine Comedy: the Inferno, with its poignantly vivid tortures and its cacophony of wicked voices, is the most entertaining canticle, beloved of various and sundry; the Purgatorio, with its wistful focus on the lives and ambitions of poets and its … Continue reading Dante, Paradiso

Dante, Purgatorio

Purgatorio by Dante Alighieri My rating: 4 of 5 stars Allen Mandelbaum begins his introduction to his wonderful translation thusly:   For the Virgil of Dante's Purgatorio, "love is the seed in you of every virtue/and of all acts deserving punishment" (XVII, 104-105). To find one same source for all good and all evil is … Continue reading Dante, Purgatorio

Toni Morrison, Paradise

Paradise by Toni Morrison My rating: 5 of 5 stars Paradise was not well received upon its publication in 1997—influential critics like Michiko Kakutani, James Wood, and Zoë Heller disparaged it, and even Oprah's audience, instructed to read it for the talk show host's book club, demurred, prompting Oprah to call Morrison to offer the … Continue reading Toni Morrison, Paradise

Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels My rating: 4 of 5 stars In this 1979 classic of popular non-fiction, religious scholar Elaine Pagels explains to a broad audience the theological significance of the trove of early Christian writings discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945. Not only that, but she also places these documents in their … Continue reading Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels