Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Nancy Pearl Interviews A.O. Scott

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

Librarian Nancy Pearl knows a thing or two about reviewing which adds extra interest to her interview with A. O. Scott, chief film critic for The New York Times. In the latest episode of her Book Lust Author Interview show, Nancy weighs what Scott says about films against what she knows about books.

9781594204838_caf64His book, Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth (PRH/Penguin; Recorded Books; OverDrive Sample), addresses criticism itself as well as the process of being a critic.

In the interview, Scott and Nancy talk about the importance of criticism and contrast movie and book reviewing (he’s done both). He maintains the fundamental difference has to do with scale.

With the huge number of titles released in a year, book critics tend to focus on a narrow segment, literary novels and serious nonfiction. There are far fewer movies, so film critics can see a great many in the course of a year. As a result, they can cover a wider range of genres and have a broader perspective on what is interesting and valuable.

He also notes that book reviewing, since so much of it is done by other authors with vested interests, can be incestuous.

His own book is getting of attention. How could it not,  as a comment on criticism for other critics to take on?

In what could be called an incestuous action of its own, Scott’s own publication, the NYT runs a strong review by Michael Wood. The Atlantic does not agree, saying the book “says nothing.” The New Yorker, LA Times, Slate, and The Millions have all weighed in as well.

Professional Encouragement: LIT UP

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

How does literature change and shape lives? What are the best ways to share the empowerment of reading with teens? Those questions are dear to librarians, and also to a staff writer for The New Yorker.

9780805095852_73ce4David Denby wondered if kids were still reading books in an age of Twitter and Snapchat. To find out he spent a year embedded in a 10th grade English class and then another year in several other schools researching how teachers teach kids to appreciate literature. The result is Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives (Macmillan/Henry Holt; Macmillan Audio; OverDrive Sample).

The book has received the glowing attention of USA Today, The Washington PostSomewhat less enthusiastic, the New York Times calls it a “a lively account” but fears that “it isn’t clear whether the students are getting as much out of the books as [Denby] believes they are.” 

NPR just posted a web-only interview with Denby, who says of reading literature:

“It’s an enormously powerful critical tool … It’s not simple lessons, of course. And it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s incremental. It happens over your entire life.”

We couldn’t agree more.

New Title Radar: October 29 – November 4

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Next week, new memoirs arrive from Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Richard Russo and romance author Daneille Steel, along with a posthumous essay collection from David Foster Wallace and historian Thomas E. Ricks’ critique of the American military since WWII.  Booker finalist Emma Donoghue also returns with a historical story collection. Usual suspects include  George R.R. MartinRichard Paul Evans,  Karen Marie Moning, Jennifer Chiaverini, Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, plus there’s a new young adult novel from Fiona Paul.


A Gift of Hope: Helping the Homeless by Danielle Steel (RH/Delacorte; Thorndike Large Print) is the perennially bestselling author’s memoir of the 11 years she has spent working anonymously with a small team to help the homeless people of San Francisco after her oldest son committed suicide. Kirkus says, “With poverty programs shutting down, while at the same time, more people are homeless, Steel has felt the need to drop her anonymity and go public. A simple but moving call for action.”

Elsewhere by Richard Russo (RH/Knopf; RH Audio; BOT Audio) is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s heartfelt memoir about his fraught relationship with his fascinating but difficult mother from his childhood through her death. Librarians on GalleyChat say it’s so good that they were hard-pressed to decide what to read after finishing it

Full of Heart: My Story of Survival, Strength, and Spirit by J.R. Martinez with Alexandra Rockey Fleming (Hyperion) is an inspirational memoir by an American soldier who served in Iraq and survived burns over more than one third of his body and went on to become a beloved Dancing with the Stars contest winner.



Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Families and Friends by Pippa Middleton (Penguin) is by Prince William’s sister-in-law. Her family’s business is party supplies, so she has some background. It’s already getting advance media attention.

The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin Press; Thorndike Large Print) chronicles the decline of U.S. military leadership over the last 70 years. PW says, “His faith in the ability of great generalship to redeem any misadventure can sometimes seem naive. Still, Ricks presents an incisive, hard-hitting corrective to unthinking veneration of American military prowess.” His previous titles, Fiasco and The Gamble were both best sellers.

Both Flesh and Not: Essays by David Foster Wallace (Hachette/Little, Brown; Hachette Audio; Thorndike Large Print) gathers 15 essays not published in book form, including  “Federer Both Flesh and Not,” which many consider to be the author’s nonfiction masterpiece. 

Train Tracks: Holiday Stories by Michael Savage (Harper/ Morrow) is a collection of personal stories that celebrate family, home, and the holidays by the bestselling author and radio host.

Returning Favorites

Astray by Emma Donoghue (Hachette/Little Brown; Little Brown Large Print; Hachette Audio) is a story collection by the Booker prize finalist and million-copy bestseller Room. Set in Puritan Plymouth, Civil War America, and Victorian England among other locales, the stories turn on telling historical details inspired by newspapers and other documents. LJ says, “Donoghue has created masterly pieces that show what short fiction can do. Not just for devotees of the form.”

Usual Suspects

The Lands of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin (RH/Bantam) is a 16-page book of maps, intended for the gift market, but we are including it in case you get requests for the “new George R. R. Martin book.”

A Winter Dream by Richard Paul Evans (Simon & Schuster; Simon & Schuster Audio; Thorndike Large Print) is based on the Biblical story of Joseph and the coat of many colors – only this time Joseph is a CEO ousted from the family business. LJ says, “More sparkly holiday hope from the author of the outrageously best-selling The Christmas Box, soon appearing in a 20th-anniversary edition.”

Iced by Karen Marie Moning (RH/Delacorte) begins a much-anticipated new urban paranormal trilogy, set in the world of the author’s bestselling Fever series.

The Giving Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini (Penguin/Dutton; Thorndike Large Print) finds the quilters at Elm Manor working on a Thanksgiving quilt to benefit a real charity that’s a favorite of the author. This one has been climbing in Amazon’s sales rankings, to #65 in contemporary women’s fiction.

Victory at Yorktown by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen (Thomas Dunne Books; Macmillan Audio) is this duo’s third novel about George Washington during the Revolution. Kirkus says, “Augmented with character sketches of lesser-known patriots, the book brings Washington to life as a resolute and bold general.”

Young Adult

Venom by Fiona Paul (Penguin/Philomel) starts a romantic trilogy about a 15 year-old Contessa in Renaissance Venice who’s on the path to an arranged marriage when she falls in love with an artist who helps her investigate the murder of a friend. PW calls it “a steamy but fairly predictable romance.”

Movie Tie-ins

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, translated by Norman Denny (Penguin Trade Paperback) ties into the film of the musical which arrives in theaters on Christmas Day. It stars Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and amanda Seyfried.

On the Road: Movie Tie-in, by Jack Kerouac (Penguin Trade Pbk) ties into the movie arriving December 21. Directed by Walter Salles, it stars Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley and Kirsten Stewart.

New Title Radar, Week of 4/17

Friday, April 15th, 2011

The week leading in to the Easter holiday weekend is dominated by repeat authors, including a new David Baldacci.

GalleyChat RA Pick

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips (Random House) is the author’s fifth novel. About a long-lost Shakespeare play, PW gives it a starred review, and calls it “a sublime faux memoir framed as the introduction to the play’s first printing—a Modern Library edition, of course.” It got mentions in our recent GalleyChat: one participant called it “quirky and rompish” and likened it to Michael Crummey’s Galore. Entertainment Weekly gives it an A- in the new issue, “Phillips invests the metafictional gamesmanship with bracing intelligence and genuine heart. The fun starts with the opening line — ‘I have never much liked Shakespeare’ — and the energy never flags as the book develops into both a literary mystery and a surprisingly effective critique of the Bard.”

Usual Suspects

The Sixth Man by David Baldacci (Grand Central) is a new mystery with former Secret Service agents and current private investigators Sean King and Michelle Maxwell.

Eve by Iris Johansen (St. Martin’s Press) features forensic sculptor Eve Duncan in her 11th investigation, and the first installment in a new trilogy, in which she works to solve a case that has haunted her for years; the abduction and murder of her own seven-year-old daughter Bonnie. Fans will not have long to wait for the other books in the trilogy; Quinn is coming this July, followed by Bonnie in October.

The Priest’s Graveyard by Ted Dekker (Center Street) is the story of a vigilante priest and a woman dedicated to avenging the man she loved. Booklist says it’s “skillfully written, surprising, and impossible to put down. It might, in fact, be his best novel to date.” It arrives complete with its own book trailer.

Quicksilver: Book Two of the Looking Glass Trilogy by Amanda Quick (Putnam) is a paranormal romance, the latest in her Arcane Society series.

The Silver Boat by Luanne Rice (Pamela Dorman Books) is a portrait of three sisters who come home to Martha’s Vineyard one last time and has a 100,000-copy print run. Rice was a featured author at the ALA MidWinter Author Tea.


Reading My Father: A Memoir by Alexandra Styron (Scribner) is William Styron’s youngest daughter’s exploration of his talent, and whether it justified his alcohol abuse and the debilitating depression that cast a long shadow over his wife and four children. Entertainment Weekly gives it an A-.

Idea Man: A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft by Paul Allen (Portfolio) gives an insider’s account of the dawning of the digital age. “Allen offers a clearheaded diagnosis of Microsoft’s problems, including its complicated future,” says BusinessWeek, adding that “Allen can be a scatterbrain. That quality slips into his writing.” An excerpt in Vanity Fair, made advance headlines because of Allen’s pointed criticism of former partner, Bill Gates. Allen will appear on 60 Minutes on Sunday.

Young Adult

Twelfth Grade Kills #5: The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod by Heather Brewer (Penguin) is the final installment in this series about a teenage vampire who has spent the last four years trying to handle the pressures of school while sidestepping a slayer out for his blood.

Keep an Eye on Griswold

Friday, August 13th, 2010

The Tenth Parallel by Eliza Griswold was a Shout n Share pick for several librarians at Book Expo. At libraries we checked, holds are modest, but this account of the authors’ travels along the line of latitude 700 miles above the equator, where tensions run high between Christians and Muslims, may be one to keep an eye on.

For starters, it got a starred review from Booklist: “Griswold teases out the threads of a complex fabric of religious doctrine, capitalist economics, ethnic pride, and power politics… A compelling portrait of embattled human communities yearning for more-than-human succor.”

The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam
Eliza Griswold
Retail Price: $27.00
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux – (2010-08-17)
ISBN / EAN: 0374273189 / 9780374273187

Blackstone Audio; UNABR

11 CDs; 1-4417-5360-1; $109
1 MP3CD; 1441753632; $29.95
10 Tapes; 1441753595; $79.95

Other Notable Nonfiction On Sale Next Week

Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto by Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe (Morrow) FreedomWorks chairman Armey and CEO Kibbe outline the agenda of the Tea Party movement, including tips on organizing. Sure to be featured on the Glenn Beck Show.

Encounter by Milan Kundera (Harper) is a series of essays arguing the importance of art in a world that devalues beauty. In its reverent review, the Los Angeles Times observes that “the artists and writers with whom Kundera keeps company…produce counter-currents to the tide of kitsch and sentimentality in which we swim. They offer not only intellectual challenges but strong emotional attachments, no matter how crazy powerful feelings may seem in a world warped by banality, easy irony and noise.”

The Power by Rhonda Byrne (Atria) a followup to the Oprah-anointed The Secret.

Nancy Pearl on C-SPAN 2

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

This weekend, C-Span 2 ran a video of Nancy Pearl recommending summer books in the aisles at ALA (watch here).

Also on the site is Nancy’s ALA interview with Mary McDonagh Murphy, author of Scout, Atticus & Boo, which examines influence of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The video includes clips of interviews Murphy did for the book as well as from the movie (watch here). It’s worth watching, if only to hear Adriana Trigiani reading the part of Scout.

Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird
Mary McDonagh Murphy
Retail Price: $24.99
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Harper – (2010-06-01)
ISBN / EAN: 0061924075 / 9780061924071

HarperLuxe [Larger Print]; Trade Pbk; 978-0061979583; $24.99


Friday, June 4th, 2010

Weeks ahead of its release next Tuesday, The Facebook Effect by Fortune magazine’s David Kirkpatrick has received hundreds of mentions across the web in virtually every news article about Facebook’s latest adjustments to its privacy policy as it nears the milestone of 500 million worldwide members. The book is already at #409 on Amazon, and libraries are showing growing holds on light orders.

As CNET mentions, veteran tech journalist Kirkpatrick was granted unprecedented access to the company’s top executives:
This is the Facebook that Facebook wants you to see — both the glamorous and the ugly sides of one of the most successful, fastest-growing companies in recent memory… It’s fascinating. It’s well-written and masterfully reported. Still, one is left wondering if anything more sordid was missed.
There’s also an excerpt on And on June 8, Kirkpatrick will make the rounds on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” and on an ABC Radio Satellite Tour.
The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World
David Kirkpatrick
Retail Price: $26.00
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster – (2010-06-08)
ISBN / EAN: 1439102112 / 9781439102114

Other Major Nonfiction Titles on Sale Next Week

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook by Anthony Bourdain (Ecco) offers an unvarnished look at young superstar chef David Chang, the revered Alice Waters,  “Top Chef” winners and losers, and more.

The Only Game in Town: Sportswriting from the New Yorker edited by David Remnick (Random House) collects pieces from Roger Angell, A.J. Liebling, John Updike, Don Delillo and others.

The Talented Miss Highsmith

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

THE biography catching reviewers’ attention this month is Joan Schenkar’s The Talented Miss Highsmith.

Highsmith’s books have had an enduring appeal, but were brought to a greater audience through recent movies based on the Ripliad, five novels featuring the charming sociopath Tom Ripley.

In the Washington Post, Jonatham Lethem’s review of the bio. is not as laudatory as others have been. Instead, he encourages readers to turn to the novels themselves.

As Lethem says, “The antidote to literary biography is literature.”

The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith
Joan Schenkar
Retail Price: $40.00
Hardcover: 704 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press – (2009-12-08)
ISBN / EAN: 0312303750 / 9780312303754


The following are the Highsmith titles that Lethem recommends.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, Ripley’s Game (Everyman’s Library)
Patricia Highsmith
Retail Price: $27.50
Hardcover: 880 pages
Publisher: Everyman’s Library – (1999-10-12)
ISBN / EAN: 0375407928 / 9780375407925


The Cry of the Owl
Patricia Highsmith
Retail Price: $12.00
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press – (1994-01-18)
ISBN / EAN: 0871132907 / 9780871132901


The Blunderer
Patricia Highsmith
Retail Price: $11.95
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co. – (2001-11)
ISBN / EAN: 0393322440 / 9780393322446


This Sweet Sickness
Patricia Highsmith
Retail Price: $13.95
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co. – (2002-10)
ISBN / EAN: 0393323676 / 9780393323672


The Tremor of Forgery
Patricia Highsmith
Retail Price: $12.00
Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press – (1994-01-14)
ISBN / EAN: 0871132583 / 9780871132581


Deep Water
Patricia Highsmith
Retail Price: $13.95
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co. – (2003-07)
ISBN / EAN: 0393324559 / 9780393324556


A Dog’s Ransom
Patricia Highsmith
Retail Price: $12.95
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co. – (2002-08-17)
ISBN / EAN: 0393323366 / 9780393323368


Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

The New Literary History of America first caught our eye when book critic Alex Beam gave it a waspish review in the Boston Globe. Beam called it “wacky” because the volume doesn’t stop at discussing the Declaration of Independence and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, but also explores an unexpected array of cultural items, including Alcoholic Anonymous’s Big Book, movies, museum exhibits and music with words in it.

Now, other reviewers have weighed in – and most are enthusiastic about the idiosyncratic 1,100 page doorstop with more than 200 essays by contemporary writers and academics, including novelist Walter Mosley writing on what it means to be “hardboiled,” novelist Mary Gaitskill on why Norman Mailer moves her, and humorist Sarah Vowell on “American Gothic” and kitsch. Reserves are even creeping up into the high teens at libraries we checked, which have around three copies each.

According to New York Times, the book’s editor at Harvard University Press told Sollers and Marcus, “This is not an encyclopedia, but a provocation,” and to fashion the book accordingly.

Wes Daniels’ lively and erudite review in the Wall Street Journal does the best job of explaining why Marcus was the right person to create this book: as the author of Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, he helped explode the boundaries that traditionally separated literature, history and popular culture and “helped change American attitudes toward popular culture even as he transformed himself from rock critic to cultural critic.”

Writing in Salon, book critic Laura Miller calls the book, “not so much a history of our literature as it is a literary version of our history.” She adds,

“Instead of feeling obligatory or rote, the entries sing with the living, breathing engagement of individual voices and points of view. In the age of Wikipedia, a reference book like this needs more than just the facts; it need to tell us what the facts mean, and “A New Literary History” does just that.

And Entertainment Weekly adds, “You could read this 1,000-plus-page book forever and never use up its revelations and its pleasures.”

A New Literary History of America (Harvard University Press Reference Library)
Retail Price: $49.95
Hardcover: 1128 pages
Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press – (2009-09-23)

New Literary History of the US

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

“Wacky” — that’s what the Boston Globe‘s review editor, Alex Beam calls Harvard’s New Literary History of the United States

Beam tries to figure out why “this wildly uneven, 1,100-page doorstop” was published. The book’s editor, Greil Marcus tells him,

Harvard press conceived this as something that would be bought by libraries. But I think it’s going to have a much different life. You’ll see all kinds of people reading this, arguing with it, getting angry, and finding satisfaction in the work.

The angry part works for Beam, who hilariously tears apart some of the book’s essays, but does give the book a back-handed compliment, “With this many monkeys hammering away at this many typewriters, there is bound to be some good material,” including a “fabulous essay on Alcoholic Anonymous” (yes, AA’s Big Book is part of this literary history, indicating it’s not your run-of-the mill textbook).

Prepub reviews were much stronger. PW called it “an astounding achievement in multiculturalism and American studies, which in the age of Google and the Internet lights the way toward serious interpretive reference publishing.”

It’s on order by most of the libraries we checked.

A New Literary History of America (Harvard University Press Reference Library)
Retail Price: $49.95
Hardcover: 1128 pages
Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press – (2009-09-23)
ISBN / EAN: 0674035941 / 9780674035942

New Movie of Anne Frank

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

In her forthcoming book about Anne Frank, Francine Prose makes the case that neither the 1959 Broadway play nor the subsequent movie of The Diary of a Young Girl, come close to accurately portraying the Anne of the book.

David Mamet is set to take a new shot at it. Variety reports that Disney has acquired the rights for a new version of the The Diary, with David Mamet writing and producing. Variety says the film will be based on both the diary and the 1959 stage play. Co-producer Andrew Braunsberg spent a year getting rights from the various estates involved.

What will be different? Variety says “Mamet brings his own original take on the material that could reframe the story as a young girls rite of passage.” One of Prose’s objections to the earlier versions is that they don’t show Anne’s growth as either a person or an artist; “On the pages, she is brilliant, on the stage, she is a nitwit.” She also points out that they attempted to “universalize” the story to broaden it’s appeal; few mentions are made of the family’s Jewishness and Anne was made to seem more hopeful. Says Prose about the movie, “She sounds like an American girl. And why not? It’s an American movie.”

Mamet has written about anti-Semitism in his book The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-hatred and the Jews, Schocken, 2006. He also criticized the movie Schindler’s List for exploiting the Jews (Salon, Oct 24, 1997), so it’s very likely that he will bring a new view of The Diary.

When we will see the results is another question; Mamet is directing his new play, Race, which opens on Broadway in November.

Meanwhile Francine Prose’s book, one of the librarians’ picks of BEA, is a passionate fan’s analysis of the book and how it has been perceived through the years.

Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife
Francine Prose
Retail Price: $24.99
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper – (2009-10-01)
ISBN / EAN: 006143079X / 9780061430794

The Typo Sleuth

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Who of us could resist this headline — A Sleuth Goes to the Library?

It’s for the Wall Street Journal‘s review of a book most of us won’t be able to resist, Curiosities of Literature, “a book crammed with enough amusing trivia to fuel your cocktail-party conversation until Bernie Madoff’s memoirs come out.”

Indeed, the review is peppered with fascinating literary tidbits. 

Unfortunately, a full three paragraphs is spent detailing typos and errors in grammar.

Wait! Should my first line have started with “Whom of us…”?

Curiosities of Literature: A Feast for Book Lovers
John Sutherland
Retail Price: $22.95
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing – (2009-04-22)
ISBN 10:    

ISBN 13:



Happy Fiftieth!

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

We all know by now that Barbie turned fifty this year, but did you know that Strunk and White’s The Element of Style turns fifty today?

In celebration, Bob Minzesheimer put together some facts about the book for USA Today, giving the fiftieth-anniversary edition a nice boost in Amazon rankings (from #1,006 to #36).

The “deluxe” fiftieth-anniversary edition is a casebound version of the revised Fourth Edition, published in 1999.

Display your copies next to your Barbie collection.

The Elements of Style: 50th Anniversary Edition
William Strunk, E. B. White
Price: $19.95
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: Longman – (2008-10-25)
ISBN-10: 0205632645
ISBN-13: 9780205632640


The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition
William Strunk Jr., E. B. White
Price: $9.95
Paperback: 105 pages
Publisher: Longman – (1999-08-02)
ISBN-10: 020530902X
ISBN-13: 9780205309023

The Wood Method

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

James Wood is widely considered the best literary critic at work today. In the LA Times, Gideon Lewis-Kraus illustrates how eager his fans are to read his judgments;

…there is vast anecdotal evidence of subscribers to the New Yorker and the London Review of Books reading Wood’s essays huddled in entryways, coats and keys and umbrellas still in their hands. He has earned a rare and awesome cultural authority.

But this authority does not prevent his fellow critics from taking a few (very respectful) shots at Wood’s new book, How Fiction Works.

Before we get to the criticism, the review that makes you want to read How Fiction Works is in the current issue of Time magazine (7/28), 

Wood’s enthusiasm is glorious. Reading alongside him is like going birding with somebody who has better binoculars than yours and is willing to share…The great pleasure of Wood’s book lies in the examples, not the points they prove, and the lessons lie in watching him read, not think.

Time also points out that two other titles on reading fiction are available this summer;

Thomas C. Foster on How to Read Novels Like a Professor (Harper; 304 pages) and John Mullan on How Novels Work (Oxford; 346 pages), though Wood, as a book critic for the New Yorker, is the heavyweight of the field. 

Salon‘s Louis Bayard makes a great point about the value of reading books as opposed to reading about books;

What, finally, is better for the soul: reading Tolstoy or reading how to read Tolstoy?

Bayard votes for the latter, but also feels;

…there is at least one good reason to read How Fiction Works: Wood writes like an angel, with all the austerity and voluptuousness that implies. More to the point, he is one of the very few critics alive who can engage fiction on its own terms…the intoxication of his essays lies in how they seem to shake off the muck of theory and take fiction head-on

Bayard notes a missing element, however, an appreciation of plot. It’s the element most readers care about and yet, it’s the one most critics disdain;

I can’t help noticing what’s missing — namely, anything to do with story. This is no accident. Wood has always been impatient with what he calls “the essential juvenility of plot,” an attitude that comes through most clearly when he deigns to review genre writers. In How Fiction Works, he uses a not very representative sample from le Carré’s Smiley’s People to damn the whole school of “commercial realism,” its bloodless efficiency, its famished grammar of “intelligent, stable, transparent storytelling.” 

Is it better for the soul to read Wood, or to read about Wood? There’s plenty more opportunity for the latter (with more likely to come):

Libraries show light ordering, with reserves building (the highest is 7 to 1).

How Fiction Works

James Wood

  • Hardcover:  $24.00
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (July 22, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0374173400
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374173401