My Year in Books, 2018

Looking back, I see that I did a lot of rereading in 2018. Some of it was out of necessity (teaching), and some for pleasure. Some of it showed up in the reviews I post here, while some of it was devoted to books I've already written about in the last five years. I was … Continue reading My Year in Books, 2018

William Giraldi, American Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring

American Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring by William Giraldi My rating: 4 of 5 stars Though better known as the novelist who wrote the now-Netflixed Hold the Dark, William Giraldi has over the last decade been amassing a mighty corpus of literary criticism. Two tendencies set Giraldi's essays apart from those of his peers. … Continue reading William Giraldi, American Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring

Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life

Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life by Theodor W. Adorno My rating: 5 of 5 stars It helps to know that this 1951 book, an unclassifiable philosophical masterpiece consisting of 153 divisions ranging in length from the aphorism to the brief essay, was written largely in the light of Southern California. Adorno was a … Continue reading Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life

Wesley Yang, The Souls of Yellow Folk

The Souls of Yellow Folk by Wesley Yang My rating: 4 of 5 stars It was once a pop-socio-psychological commonplace of American foreign-policy commentary that terrorism on behalf of political Islam was motivated less by ideology and more by an intractable reality of gender: young men with no prospects in their societies will inevitably become … Continue reading Wesley Yang, The Souls of Yellow Folk

Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag My rating: 3 of 5 stars Susan Sontag's oeuvre is a long palinode. Identified for years with the positions she took, or at least appeared to take, in the 1960s, she seemed to spend the rest of her life strategically retracting or at least clarifying and qualifying … Continue reading Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

Samuel Johnson, Selected Essays

Selected Essays by Samuel Johnson My rating: 4 of 5 stars This Penguin Classics collection of essays by the great English critic and moralist Samuel Johnson is devoted largely to his periodical writing. In its introduction, the editor David Womersley notes that Johnson was known only (if at all) as an editor, lexicographer, and occasional … Continue reading Samuel Johnson, Selected Essays

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates My rating: 4 of 5 stars It is a poor period indeed which must assess its men of letters in terms of their opposition to their society. Opposition to life’s essential conditions perhaps, or to death’s implacable tyranny, is something else again, and universal; but novels, no … Continue reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Elizabeth Hardwick, Herman Melville

Herman Melville by Elizabeth Hardwick My rating: 4 of 5 stars A review with, or in, digressions: Elizabeth Hardwick, who died a decade ago at 91, is having a literary revival. Her collected essays are due later this year; articles abound, and will abound. Sentences are offered for our delectation. Sarah Nicole Prickett gives us … Continue reading Elizabeth Hardwick, Herman Melville

Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson

My Emily Dickinson by Susan Howe My rating: 4 of 5 stars The two greatest American poets are Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson; we have to take them together, like day and night. John Marsh's faith that Walt can save the nation's soul and his own is not exactly misplaced. What Emily can do for us … Continue reading Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson

Roberto Calasso, Literature and the Gods

Literature and the Gods by Roberto Calasso My rating: 5 of 5 stars Literature and the Gods is a short, dense essay rather than the more literary-historical or conspective account the title might lead one to expect. In fact, Calasso has a refined Continental theorists’s contempt for mere literary history, which he seems to regard … Continue reading Roberto Calasso, Literature and the Gods