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

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut My rating: 2 of 5 stars But was I wrong, in "In Praise of Semicolons," to be so severe in my judgment of Kurt Vonnegut, to castigate him for infantilism? I decided to find out by reading what is regarded as the author's masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). Slaughterhouse-Five is Vonnegut's sixth novel, and includes … Continue reading Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Anna Burns, Milkman

Milkman by Anna Burns My rating: 5 of 5 stars "I did not like twentieth century books because I did not like the twentieth century," says the narrator of Anna Burns's Milkman, the 2018 winner of the Man Booker prize. In one of the novel's many knowing ironies, the joke is that she inhabits what … Continue reading Anna Burns, Milkman

Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories by Raymond Carver My rating: 4 of 5 stars A character in this iconic collection's final story thinks of her daughter's truancy as "another tragedy in a long line of low-rent tragedies." This 1981 book, which perhaps more than any other made its author's name … Continue reading Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole My rating: 3 of 5 stars Published pseudonymously in 1764 by an English politician, The Castle of Otranto is usually praised as the first Gothic novel. It not only set off a craze for novels about haunted castles and abbeys, about predatory dukes and scheming monks and fainting … Continue reading Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto

Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill My rating: 3 of 5 stars This acclaimed 2014 novel of marriage, motherhood, and adultery is a perfect expression of the fictional and even critical style of our time. Five years ago, in homage to James Wood's famous censure of the late 20th century's "hysterical realism," I called this … Continue reading Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

Stephen Crane, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane My rating: 4 of 5 stars A man said to the universe: "Sir, I exist!" "However," replied the universe, "The fact has not created in me A sense of obligation." —Stephen Crane The short-lived and hard-living American writer Stephen Crane exemplifies the aesthetic ambiguity of the … Continue reading Stephen Crane, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett My rating: 4 of 5 stars One recurring theme of my reviews is that classic literary works often defy or exceed their traditional historical categorizations. The -isms of literary history are a necessary organizing system: they help us to locate books in time and context … Continue reading Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs

Jens Peter Jacobsen, Niels Lyhne

Niels Lyhne by Jens Peter Jacobsen My rating: 4 of 5 stars This 1880 Danish novel was once immensely influential: it and its author were cited or praised by Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, James Joyce, and Rainer Maria Rilke. That is reason enough to read it for those interested in literary history, but it is … Continue reading Jens Peter Jacobsen, Niels Lyhne

François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, The Theory of the Grain of Sand

The Theory of the Grain of Sand by Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Theory of the Grain of Sand (2016; originally published in 2007-2008 in France) is the 13th entry in Franco-Belgian collaborators Schuiten and Peeters's series of graphic novels, Les Cités obscures. It is the first I've read, so there is … Continue reading François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, The Theory of the Grain of Sand