Richard Ellmann, James Joyce

James Joyce by Richard Ellmann My rating: 4 of 5 stars Biography must be the most traditional, even rigid, of the prose genres, exceeding murder mysteries or romance novels. It marches from birth to death (or from family history to cultural legacy) at the stately pace of the old three-volume Victorian novel and with the … Continue reading Richard Ellmann, James Joyce

Renata Adler, Speedboat

Speedboat by Renata Adler My rating: 4 of 5 stars Almost every member of American literature's last unambiguously major generation, the giants passing from the scene, was born in the 1930s: Carver (b. 1938), DeLillo (b. 1936), Didion (b. 1934), McCarthy (b. 1933), Morrison (b. 1931), Oates (b. 1938), Pynchon (b. 1937), Roth (b. 1933), … Continue reading Renata Adler, Speedboat

Valeria Luiselli, Lost Children Archive

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli My rating: 4 of 5 stars Intellectuals played at crusaders and revolutionaries only to discover they were still patricians and liberals. [...] "Liberalism" seems a vast, obscure, swampy territory one never emerges from, no matter how one tries—and perhaps one never should. —Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh, … Continue reading Valeria Luiselli, Lost Children Archive

Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life

Hawthorne: A Life by Brenda Wineapple My rating: 4 of 5 stars What is the good of literary biography? I am not a great reader of the genre, possibly because every example I've ever read has had a passage like this in it, from Brenda Wineapple's popular and absorbing 2003 life of Nathaniel Hawthorne: Like … Continue reading Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life

Erich Auerbach, Time, History, and Literature: Selected Essays

Time, History, and Literature: Selected Essays by Erich Auerbach My rating: 5 of 5 stars [Elsewhere in the literary blogosphere—do people still say "blogosphere"?—Tom at Wuthering Expectations has wrapped up an informative and fun reading of Erich Auerbach's Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. This book was important to me at a phase in … Continue reading Erich Auerbach, Time, History, and Literature: Selected Essays

Manifesto, Advertisement, and Excerpt: Introducing The Class of 2000

What is fiction? What is it for? Hints at an answer to these imponderables turn up in the unlikeliest places. For example, in an old article on psychology's replication crisis: If it turned out that people were so variable that even very close replications threw up entirely different results, “it would mean that we could … Continue reading Manifesto, Advertisement, and Excerpt: Introducing The Class of 2000

Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany My rating: 4 of 5 stars In a coruscating epistolary critique of The Bluest Eye, innocuously titled "Letter to Q——" in the 2005 collection About Writing, Samuel R. Delany tabulates what he sees as the many flaws of Toni Morrison's classic first novel. The gravamen of his indictment is that Morrison … Continue reading Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17

Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment

Du Bois's Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment by Juliana Spahr The first thing to be said about this book is that it is brave. Poet and critic Juliana Spahr does not make her startling argument in general, nor does she make it in unreadably dense jargon that could only be followed by academic insiders. … Continue reading Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment

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

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