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

Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai My rating: 3 of 5 stars Back in the 1950s, Donald Keene thought he had to apologize to his Anglophone readers, in his "Translator's Introduction," for this classic 1947 Japanese novel's not being "Japanese" enough—for dealing in urban alienation, radical politics, and existential despair rather than cherry blossoms and … Continue reading Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human

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

Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James My rating: 4 of 5 stars How did this 1898 novella become modern and postmodern literary theory's most inscrutable touchstone? According to Henry James's Notebooks—and scholars have disputed this, but then they dispute everything, as we'll see—he got the kernel of the novella, a ghost story, from … Continue reading Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

Benjamin Moser, Sontag: Her Life and Work

Sontag: Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser My rating: 3 of 5 stars Who could begin an essay like Susan Sontag? "Great writers are either husbands or lovers," starts her piece on Camus; of Simone Weil, she announces, "The culture-heroes of our liberal bourgeois civilization are anti-liberal and anti-bourgeois." Or take On Photography's first … Continue reading Benjamin Moser, Sontag: Her Life and Work

Vladimir Nabokov, The Defense

The Defense by Vladimir Nabokov My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Defense, originally titled The Luzhin Defense, is Nabokov's third novel. It was published in Russian in Berlin in 1930 under the name V. Sirin, Nabokov's pseudonym from his émigré years. This 1964 English translation was done by Michael Scammell in collaboration with the … Continue reading Vladimir Nabokov, The Defense

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

Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre My rating: 2 of 5 stars In the Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's classic 1938 first novel, you can find many of the characteristics of the last decade or two's contemporary fiction: fragmentation, negative affect, indifference to plot or style, veiled autobiography, and a general conviction of ambient meaninglessness lit only by … Continue reading Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea

Graham Greene, The Quiet American

The Quiet American by Graham Greene My rating: 4 of 5 stars In a recent article, Leigh Jenco asserts that a "de-colonizing" approach to diversifying university humanities curricula has its limits. The problem is not only that the implicit leftist, progressive underpinning of such a program conflicts with intellectual traditions that developed outside the Christian-Enlightenment paradigm (a … Continue reading Graham Greene, The Quiet American

Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel

Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop My rating: 5 of 5 stars Elizabeth Bishop went to Brazil in 1951 and stayed for 15 years, living with her lover, Lota de Macedo Soares. The first half of this 1965 volume of poetry, her third, variously documents this extended sojourn: titled "Brazil," it includes not only lyrics … Continue reading Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel