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

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

Jack Kirby, Fourth World

Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus by Jack Kirby My rating: 3 of 5 stars Jack Kirby (1917-1994) was and remains the most revered artist in the tradition of American superhero comics. Born to working-class Jewish immigrants in New York City, he was there as a hustling and prolific young artist at the superhero genre's foundation … Continue reading Jack Kirby, Fourth World

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

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

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Beloved by Toni Morrison My rating: 4 of 5 stars The other day, someone trying to sell a gimmicky book Tweeted the boilerplate provocation that "no novels by white men" should be taught in American high schools for "the next 20 years." She then predictably pitted Ernest Hemingway against Toni Morrison to sharpen her point. … Continue reading Toni Morrison, Beloved