Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett My rating: 4 of 5 stars Like Arthur Conan Doyle, who begins The Sign of Four with Sherlock Holmes in a drug trance, Dashiell Hammett can't get his detective novel started without an infusion of aestheticism. The Maltese Falcon, named as it is for an objet d'art, opens with two descriptions… Continue reading Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

Grant Morrison, Sebastian O | The Mystery Play

Sebastian O / The Mystery Play by Grant Morrison My rating: 4 of 5 stars On the one hand, the best audience for this book might be Morrison completists, those willing to hack through the wilds of the author's varied oeuvre to find rare specimens and paths not taken. The 1993 Vertigo miniseries, Sebastian O,… Continue reading Grant Morrison, Sebastian O | The Mystery Play

J. D. Bernal, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil

The World, the Flesh and the Devil: An Enquiry Into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul by J.D. Bernal My rating: 3 of 5 stars When I saw Verso's 2017 reissue of this 1929 book in the library, I picked it up because I vaguely recalled that it had informed Grant… Continue reading J. D. Bernal, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil

Against Intellectual Biblioclasm

[This is an expansion of a brief response I posted yesterday to Tumblr in reply to user macrolit, who, upon being denounced for sharing a quote from Simone de Beauvoir even though she and Jean-Paul Sartre seem to have sexually exploited young women, wondered: I’ve already mentioned de Beauvoir and Sartre, but what about William… Continue reading Against Intellectual Biblioclasm

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf My rating: 5 of 5 stars Few novels have been as ill-served by their canonization as Mrs. Dalloway has. Assimilated to the classic tradition of the English novel, read alongside Austen by moodboard autumn rainlight with tea and crumpets, this slim modernist anti-novel was in fact a small-press (effectively self-published)… Continue reading Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

César Aira, Ema, the Captive

Ema, the Captive by César Aira My rating: 4 of 5 stars Reading and rereading Wilde over the years, I note a fact that his panegyrists seem not even to have suspected: the elementary and demonstrable fact that Wilde is nearly always right. —Jorge Luis Borges, "On Oscar Wilde" (trans. Esther Allen) Art never expresses… Continue reading César Aira, Ema, the Captive

In Defense of Aesthetic Criticism

Vox explains the new political pop culture criticism: But whether it’s superficial or perceptive, today’s pop cultural criticism can't seem to ignore social issues. Another excerpt, on how today's "your fave is problematic" approach differs from Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris's art-for-art's-sake critical stylings: Writers like Kael or Andrew Sarris (who disliked the anti-McCarthyite Western… Continue reading In Defense of Aesthetic Criticism

Is David Mitchell the William Faulkner of the Twenty-First Century?

Clickbait title, I know, but please bear with me. I think I'm onto something; call it— An Essay on Fiction and Reality, Eternity and Time In the mid-1970s, Hugh Kenner wrote an essay on William Faulkner entitled "The Last Novelist" (you can find it both in Kenner's book on American modernism, A Homemade World, where it forms… Continue reading Is David Mitchell the William Faulkner of the Twenty-First Century?

Philip Roth, American Pastoral

American Pastoral by Philip Roth My rating: 5 of 5 stars American Pastoral is a novel whose motto is famously the following, its narrator's exclamation just before he learns that the life he'd imagined for an old neighborhood and school acquaintance is not the life the man had actually led: The fact remains that getting people… Continue reading Philip Roth, American Pastoral

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle My rating: 3 of 5 stars A few years ago, while studying the fin de siècle, I figured I should read some Sherlock Holmes, beyond whatever redacted-for-children versions I’d read when my age was in the single digits (remember Illustrated Classic Editions? I absolutely loved them—they used… Continue reading Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four