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Criticism 58 book

Genre: Non-fiction

Why do we need fiction? Why do books need to be printed on paper, copyrighted, read to the finish? Why should a group of aging Swedish men determine what “world” literature is best? Do books change anything? Did they use to? Do we read to challenge our vision of the world or to confirm it? Has novel writing turned into a job like any other? In , the internationally acclaimed novelist and critic Tim Parks ranges over a lifetime of critical reading--from Leopardi, Dickens and Chekhov, to Woolf, Lawrence and Bernhard, and on to contemporary work by Jonathan Franzen, Peter Stamm, and many others—to overturn many of our long-held assumptions about literature and its purpose.  

Taking the form of thirty-eight interlocking essays, examines the rise of the “global” novel and the disappearance of literary styles that do not travel; the changing vocation of the writer today; the increasingly paradoxical effects of translation; the shifting expectations we bring to fiction; the growing stasis of literary criticism; and the problematic relationship between writers’ lives and their work.  In the end Parks wonders whether writers—and readers--can escape the twin pressures of the new global system and the novel that has become its emblematic genre.

Genre: Prose

In steel-tipped prose, Craig Davidson conjures a savage world populated by fighting dogs, prizefighters, sex addicts, gamblers, a repo man and a disappearing magician. The title of the lead story, “28 Bones”, refers to the number of bones in a boxer’s hands; once broken, they never heal properly, and the fighter’s career descends to bouts that have less to do with sport than with survival: no referee, no rules, not even gloves. In “A Mean Utility” we enter an even more desperate arena: dogfights where Rottweilers, pit bulls and Dobermans fight each other to the death. Davidson’s stories are small monuments to the telling detail. The hostility of his fictional universe is tempered by the humanity he invests in his characters and by his subtle and very moving observations of their motivation. In the tradition of Hemingway, "Rust and Bone" explores violence, masculinity and life on the margins. Visceral and with a dark urgency, this is a truly original debut.

Craig Davidson was born in Toronto and now lives in Iowa City. His novel is also available from Penguin Canada.

Genre: Prose

An author (a version of Vila-Matas himself) presents a short history of a secret society, the Shandies, who are obsessed with the concept of portable literature. The society is entirely imagined, but in this rollicking, intellectually playful book, its members include writers and artists like Marcel Duchamp, Aleister Crowley, Witold Gombrowicz, Federico Garcia Lorca, Man Ray, and Georgia O Keefe. The Shandies meet secretly in apartments, hotels, and cafes all over Europe to discuss what great literature really is: brief, not too serious, penetrating the depths of the mysterious. We witness the Shandies having adventures in stationary submarines, underground caverns, African backwaters, and the cultural capitals of Europe."

Genre: Non-fiction

Forster's renowned guide to writing sparkles with wit and insight for contemporary writers and readers. With lively language and excerpts from well-known classics, Forster takes on the seven elements vital to a novel: story, people, plot, fantasy, prophecy, pattern, and rhythm. He not only defines and explains such terms as "round" characters versus "flat" characters (and why both are needed for an effective novel), but also provides examples of writing from such literary greats as Dickens and Austen. Forster's original commentary illuminates and entertains without lapsing into complicated, scholarly rhetoric, coming together in a key volume on writing by a novelist Graham Greene called a "gentle genius". 

EDWARD MORGAN FORSTER was born in 1879 in London and attended King's College, Cambridge, where he later became an honorary Fellow. After leaving Cambridge, Forster lived in Greece and Italy as well as Egypt and India. He is the author of six novels, , , , , , and , as well as numerous essays and short-story collections. He died in 1970 in Coventry, England.

E. M. Forster, one of England's most distinguished writers, was born in 1879 and attended King's College, Cambridge, of which he was an honorary Fellow. He was named to membership in the Order of Companions of Honor by the Queen in 1953. He wrote his first novel, , at twenty-six, followed by A in 1908, in 191 0, and other novels and critical essays. These in-elude (1924), (1927), (1936), (1951), (1953), and , the biography of his great-aunt (1956). Two books have been published since his death in 1970: (1972) and (1973)

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Genre: Non-fiction

Marketing consultant Blakemore finds that in moments of struggle and stress she revisits her favorite childhood women authors and their plucky heroines for respite, escape, and perspective. Jane Austen, who broke off an engagement and threw away her last chance at a respectable marriage, poked fun at polite society and its expectations of women in her novels, and she created a self-assured, self-respecting protagonist in Pride and Prejudice's Lizzy Bennet--who also doesn't need a man to complete her even if Lizzy does get a rich, handsome husband in the end. As Blakemore pushes against the boundaries of her own life, she also identifies with selfish Scarlett O'Hara, who, lacking in self-awareness and oblivious to the emotions of others, shoulders life's burdens and moves ahead, "her decisions swift, self-serving, and without compromise." The Little House on the Prairie series reminds Blakemore that when we focus on people and life instead of on material possessions, we learn to acknowledge what really counts. She finds inspiration, too, in Little Women, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Color Purple, and Anne of Green Gables, and offers some nuggets of wisdom, but for the most part, her observations are familiar and pat.

Genre: Non-fiction

In , Austen scholar William Deresiewicz turns to the author's novels to reveal the remarkable life lessons hidden within. With humor and candor, Deresiewicz employs his own experiences to demonstrate the enduring power of Austen's teachings. Progressing from his days as an immature student to a happily married man, Deresiewicz's is the story of one man's discovery of the world outside himself.

A self-styled intellectual rebel dedicated to writers such as James Joyce and Joseph Conrad, Deresiewicz never thought Austen's novels would have anything to offer him. But when he was assigned to read as a graduate student at Columbia, something extraordinary happened. Austen's devotion to the everyday, and her belief in the value of ordinary lives, ignited something in Deresiewicz. He began viewing the world through Austen's eyes and treating those around him as generously as Austen treated her characters. Along the way, Deresiewicz was amazed to discover that the people in his life developed the depth and richness of literary characters-that his own life had suddenly acquired all the fascination of a novel. His real education had finally begun.

Weaving his own story-and Austen's-around the ones her novels tell, Deresiewicz shows how her books are both about education and themselves an education. Her heroines learn about friendship and feeling, staying young and being good, and, of course, love. As they grow up, they learn lessons that are imparted to Austen's reader, who learns and grows by their sides.

A Jane Austen Education

Genre: Non-fiction

In a brilliant, nuanced and wholly original collection of essays, the novelist and critic Colm Tóibín explores the relationships of writers to their families and their work.

From Jane Austen’s aunts to Tennessee Williams’s mentally ill sister, the impact of intimate family dynamics can be seen in many of literature’s greatest works. Tóibín, celebrated both for his award-winning fiction and his provocative book reviews and essays, and currently the Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Columbia, traces and interprets those intriguing, eccentric, often twisted family ties in Through the relationship between W. B. Yeats and his father, Thomas Mann and his children, and J. M. Synge and his mother, Tóibín examines a world of relations, richly comic or savage in its implications. In Roddy Doyle’s writing on his parents, Tóibín perceives an Ireland reinvented. From the dreams and nightmares of John Cheever’s journals, Tóibín illuminates this darkly comic misanthrope and his relationship to his wife and his children. “Educating an intellectual woman,” Cheever remarked, “is like letting a rattlesnake into the house.” Acutely perceptive and imbued with rare tenderness and wit, is a fascinating look at writers’ most influential bonds and a secret key to understanding and enjoying their work.

In this searching and courageous work, Ayn Rand cuts through the haze of sentimentality and vague thinking that surrounds the subject of art. For the first time a precise definition is given to art, and a careful analysis made of its nature. With the uncompromising honesty Ayn Rand’s millions of readers have come to expect, the author presents a devastating case against both naturalistic and abstract art—and explains the force that drives her to write, and the goals she strives to attain. takes its place as a keystone book in the towering intellectual edifice raised by one of the most remarkable writers and thinkers of our age.

Genre: Non-fiction

In this bold and controversial examination of the past, present, and future of science fiction, internationally acclaimed grand master Stanislaw Lem informs the raging debate over the literary merit of the genre with ten arch, incisive, provocative essays. Lem believes that science fiction should attempt to discover what hasn’t been thought or done before. Too often, says Lem, science fiction resorts to well-worn patterns of primitive adventure literature, plays empty games with the tired devices of time travel and robots, and is oblivious to cultural and intellectual values. An expert examination of the scientific and literary premises of his own and other writers’ work, this collection is quintessential Lem.

Genre: Non-fiction

In this wonderfully intelligent, stunningly honest, and painfully funny book, acclaimed writer David Shields uses himself as a representative for all readers and writers who seek to find salvation in literature.

Blending confessional criticism and anthropological autobiography, Shields explores the power of literature (from Blaise Pascal’s to Maggie Nelson’s , Renata Adler’s to Proust’s ) to make life survivable, maybe even endurable. Shields evokes his deeply divided personality (his “ridiculous” ambivalence), his character flaws, his woes, his serious despairs. Books are his life raft, but when they come to feel unlifelike and archaic, he revels in a new kind of art that is based heavily on quotation and consciousness and self-consciousness—perfect, since so much of what ails him is acute self-consciousness. And he shares with us a final irony: he wants “literature to assuage human loneliness, but nothing can assuage human loneliness. Literature doesn’t lie about this—which is what makes it essential.”

A captivating, thought-provoking, utterly original way of thinking about the essential acts of reading and writing.

Cheryl Strayed is the author of the best-selling memoir . Strayed writes the “Dear Sugar” column on TheRumpus.net. Her writing has appeared in the , the , , , , the , , , , the and elsewhere. The winner of a Pushcart Prize as well as fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, her essays and stories have been published in , , and other anthologies.

Great books are born of grand passions. The best literature is made when authors refuse to rest easy, but instead dig into their obsessions in order to express not just what’s true, but what’s truer still. This greatness is apparent on every page of David Shields’s , a culturally searching declaration of the power and limitations of literature that’s also a highly idiosyncratic, deeply personal soul search by one super smart man who consumes and considers books as if his life depends on it.

Part memoir, part manifesto, is as wide-ranging as it is intimate, and much of its power lies in the ambitiousness of Shields’s reach. It’s a book that defies definition. My category for it is simply . It’s a serenade wrapped inside a cross-examination; an intellectual book that reads like a detective novel. In its pages, one reads about subjects as diverse as Tiger Woods, the theory that someday tiny robots will roam inside our bodies to reverse the damage caused by aging, Renata Adler’s Speedboat, and the private journals of Shields’s unsuspecting college girlfriend.

This is a long way of saying that is a book with balls. It doesn’t ask for permission to be what it is: an original, opinionated, gentle-hearted, astonishingly intelligent collage of the ideas, reflections, memories, and experiences of a writer so avidly determined to understand what literature means that the reader must know too.

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2013:

Amazon.com ReviewAmazon Guest Review of “How Literature Saved My Life,” by David ShieldsBy Cheryl StrayedAmazon.com Review

Genre: Non-fiction

Breaking Bad: Critical Essays on the Contexts, Politics, Style, and Reception of the Television SeriesBreaking Bad

Section two investigates how the series characterizes and intersects with current cultural politics, such as male angst and the re-emergence of hegemonic masculinity, the complex portrayal of Latinos, and the depiction of physical and mental impairment and disability.

The final section takes a close look at the series’ distinctive visual, aural, and narrative stylistics. Under examination are ’s unique visual style whereby image dominates sound, the distinct role and use of beginning teaser segments to disorient and enlighten audiences, the representation of geographic space and place, the position of narrative songs to complicate viewer identification, and the integral part that emotions play as a form of dramatic action in the series.

Genre: Non-fiction

When W.G. Sebald travelled to Manchester in 1966, he packed in his bags certain literary favourites which would remain central to him throughout the rest of his life and during the years when he was settled in England. In , he reflects on six of the figures who shaped him as a person and as a writer, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Robert Walser and Jan Peter Tripp.

Fusing biography and essay, and finding, as ever, inspiration in place — as when he journeys to the Ile St. Pierre, the tiny, lonely Swiss island where Jean-Jacques Rousseau found solace and inspiration — Sebald lovingly brings his subjects to life in his distinctive, inimitable voice.

A Place in the Country

Join Ursula K. Le Guin as she explores a broad array of subjects, ranging from Tolstoy, Twain, and Tolkien to women’s shoes, beauty, and family life. With her customary wit, intelligence, and literary craftsmanship, she offers a diverse and highly engaging set of readings.

The Wave in the Mind

“Essential reading for anyone who imagines herself literate and/or socially concerned or who wants to learn what it means to be such.”

“What a pleasure it is to roam around in Le Guin’s spacious, playful mind. And what a joy to read her taut, elegant prose.”

—Erica Jong
K.

Genre: Prose

From the internationally acclaimed author of comes one of the most significant books in recent years on a writer of perennial interest — a virtuoso interpretation of the work of Franz Kafka.

What are Kafka’s fictions about? Are they dreams? Allegories? Symbols? Countless answers have been offered, but the essential mystery remains intact. Setting out on his own exploration, Roberto Calasso enters the flow, the tortuous movement, the physiology of Kafka’s work to discover why K. and Josef K. — the protagonists of and —are so radically different from any other character in the history of the novel, and to determine who, in the end, is K. The culmination of Calasso’s lifelong fascination with Kafka’s work, is also an unprecedented consideration of the mystery of Kafka himself.

Genre: Prose

Brilliant, inspired, and gloriously erudite, Literature and the Gods is the culmination of Roberto Calasso’s lifelong study of the gods in the human imagination. By uncovering the divine whisper that lies behind the best poetry and prose from across the centuries, Calasso gives us a renewed sense of the mystery and enchantment of great literature.

From the banishment of the classical divinities during the Age of Reason to their emancipation by the Romantics and their place in the literature of our own time, the history of the gods can also be read as a ciphered and splendid history of literary inspiration. Rewriting that story, Calasso carves out a sacred space for literature where the presence of the gods is discernible. His inquiry into the nature of “absolute literature” transports us to the realms of Dionysus and Orpheus, Baudelaire and Mallarmé, and prompts a lucid and impassioned defense of poetic form, even when apparently severed from any social function. Lyrical and assured, Literature and the Gods is an intensely engaging work of literary affirmation that deserves to be read alongside the masterpieces it celebrates.

Genre: Non-fiction

Recent essays on Israel, literature, and language from one of the country's most respected and best-loved voices. Throughout his career, David Grossman has been a voice for peace and reconciliation between Israel and its Arab citizens and neighbors. In six new essays on politics and culture in Israel today, he addresses the conscience of a country that has lost faith in its leaders and its ideals. This collection includes an already famous speech concerning the disastrous Second Lebanon War of 2006, the war that took the life of Grossman’s twenty-year-old son, Uri. Moving, humane, clear-sighted, and courageous, touching on literature and artistic creation as well as politics and philosophy, these writings are a cri de coeur from a heroic voice of reason at a time of uncertainty and despair.

“A mock self-help book designed not to help but to provoke; a chapbook to inveigle us into thinking about who we are and how we got into this mess.” —

Published at the height of the 1980s self-help boom, is Percy’s unforgettable riff on the trend that swept the nation. Filled with quizzes, essays, short stories, and diagrams, is a laugh-out-loud spin on a familiar genre that also pushes readers to serious contemplation of life’s biggest questions. One part parody and two parts philosophy, is an enlightening guide to the dilemmas of human existence, and an unrivaled spin on self-help manuals by one of modern America’s greatest literary masters.

Genre: Prose

Written during Olsen's five-month stay at the American Academy in Berlin, . is part critifictional meditation and part trash diary exploring what happens at the confluence of curiosity, travel, and innovative writing practices. A collage of observations, facts, quotations, recollections, and theoretical reflections, it touches on a wide range of authors, genres, and places, from Beckett and Ben Marcus to David Bowie and Wayne Koestenbaum, film and architecture to avant-garde music and hypermedia, the Venezuelan jungle and Bhutanese mountains to New Jersey mall culture and the restlessness known as Berlin. is an always-already bracketed performance about how, by inhabiting unstable spaces, we continually unlearn and therefore relearn what thought, experience, and imagination feel like.

Genre: Non-fiction

In this masterly, deeply personal, and provocative book, the internationally renowned Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, whose work has been called “a combination of Poe, Baudelaire, and Isak Dinesen” (), steps back to survey the wellsprings of art and ideology, the events that have shaped our time, and his extraordinary life and fiercest passions.

Arranged alphabetically from “Amore” to “Zurich,” takes us on a marvelous inner journey with a great writer. Fuentes ranges wide, from contradictions inherent in Latin American culture and politics to his long friendship with director Luis Buñuel.

Along the way, we find reflection on the mixed curse and blessing of globalization; memories of a sexual initiation in Zurich; a fond tracing of a family tree heavy with poets, dreamers, and diplomats; evocations of the streets, cafés, and bedrooms of Washington, Paris, Santiago de Chile, Cambridge, Oaxaca, and New York; and a celebration of literary heroes including Balzac, Cervantes, Faulkner, Kafka, and Shakespeare. Throughout, Fuentes captivates with the power of his intellect and his prose.

Here, too, are vivid, often heartbreaking glimpses into his personal life. “Silvia” is a powerful love letter to his beloved wife. In “Children,” Fuentes recalls the births of his daughters and the tragic death of his son; in “Cinema” he relives the magic of films such as and . Further extending his reach, he examines the collision between history and contemporary life in “Civil Society,” “Left,” and “Revolution.”

And he poignantly addresses the experiences we all hold in common as he grapples with beauty, death, freedom, God, and sex. By turns provocative and intimate, partisan and universal, this book is a brilliant summation of an international literary career. Revisiting the influences, commitments, readings, and insights of a lifetime, Fuentes has fashioned a magnificently coherent statement of his view of the world, reminding us once again why reading Fuentes is “like standing beneath the dome of the Sistine Chapel. . The breadth and enormity of this accomplishment is breathtaking” ().

Genre: Prose

The major work of fiction in this collection, ‘A History of Books’, explores the relationship between reading and writing in twenty nine sections, each of which begins with the memory of a book that has left an image in the writer’s mind. The memory of the books themselves might have faded, but the images remain in their clarity and import — scenes of discord and madness, a stern-faced man, a young woman on a swing, a glass of beer and rays of sunlight, mountain and woodland and horizon — images which together embody the anxieties and aspirations of a writing life, and its indebtedness to what has been written and read. ‘A History of Books’ is accompanied by three shorter works, ‘As It Were a Letter’, ‘The Boy’s Name was David’ and ‘Last Letter to a Niece’, in which a writer searches for an ideal world, an ideal sentence, and an ideal reader.

Genre: Non-fiction

For decades, acclaimed author John Barth has strayed from his Monday-through-Thursday-morning routine of fiction-writing and dedicated Friday mornings to the muse of nonfiction. The result is , his third essay collection, following (1984) and (1995). Sixteen years and six novels since his last volume of non-fiction, Barth delivers yet another remarkable work comprised of 27 insightful essays.

With pieces covering everything from reading, writing, and the state of the art, to tributes to writer-friends and family members, this collection is witty and engaging throughout. Barth’s “unaffected love of learning” () and “joy in thinking that becomes contagious” (), shine through in this third, and, with an implied question mark, final essay collection.

Genre: Non-fiction

Charles D’Ambrosio’s essay collection spawned something of a cult following. In the decade since the tiny limited-edition volume sold out its print run, its devotees have pressed it upon their friends, students, and colleagues, only to find themselves begging for their copy’s safe return. For anyone familiar with D’Ambrosio’s writing, this enthusiasm should come as no surprise. His work is exacting and emotionally generous, often as funny as it is devastating. gathers those eleven original essays with new and previously uncollected work so that a broader audience might discover one of our great living essayists. No matter his subject — Native American whaling, a Pentecostal “hell house,” Mary Kay Letourneau, the work of J. D. Salinger, or, most often, his own family — D’Ambrosio approaches each piece with a singular voice and point of view; each essay, while unique and surprising, is unmistakably his own.