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

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

José Revueltas, The Hole

The Hole by José Revueltas My rating: 3 of 5 stars The Hole was written in Mexico City's Lecumberri Penitentiary in 1969 and published the same year; a classic of Latin American literature, one that Valeria Luiselli claims on the back cover has informed the works of Bolaño and Aira, the novella appears for the… Continue reading José Revueltas, The Hole

Christopher Isherwood, The Berlin Stories

The Berlin Stories: The Last of Mr. Norris & Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Berlin Stories collects Christopher Isherwood's two novels of the 1930s set in Weimar Germany, The Last of Mr. Norris (1935), published in England under the superior title Mr. Norris Changes Trains, and the… Continue reading Christopher Isherwood, The Berlin Stories

Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin My rating: 4 of 5 stars Let's get the literary-historical info and honorifics out of the way first: Berlin Alexanderplatz is one of the monuments of the modernist novel, often compared to Joyce's Ulysses ("quite wrongly and needlessly," says the present translator, about which more later) for its linguistic and… Continue reading Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz

Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann My rating: 5 of 5 stars Far out to sea the water's as blue as the petals of the loveliest cornflower, and as clear as the purest glass; but it's very deep, deeper than any anchor can reach. Many church steeples would have to be piled up one above the… Continue reading Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus

In Praise of Semicolons

Literary influence is usually amorphous, which is why an influence-obsessed critic like Harold Bloom has to bring in words like clinamen, tesserae, and apophrades as well as esoteric schools of thought like gnosticism, kabbalah, and psychoanalysis to explain it. Even when you can identify what one writer took from another, it is often a matter… Continue reading In Praise of Semicolons

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

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

William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses

Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner My rating: 4 of 5 stars Go Down, Moses (1942), though not always grouped with Faulkner's indisputable masterpieces, is nevertheless one of his most significant and influential books. On strictly formalist or literary-historical grounds, it is a beautiful example of the short story collection as novel, an idea that… Continue reading William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses