REQUIRED READING

WHY OUR AMERICAN CLASSICS MATTER NOW

Vigorous, engaging essays (many originally published in the New Republic) on the revolutionary impulses of 19th- and 20th- century writers, ``inspired practitioners of the American language,'' offering an explicit repudiation of the more arid contemporary forms of literary criticism. Delbanco (Humanities/Columbia Univ.; The Death of Satan, 1995, etc.) suggests in a brief preface that all the writers under consideration, from Herman Melville to Zora Neale Hurston, have in common the distinctly American idea that ``individual human beings can break free of the structures of thought into which they are born and that, by reimagining the world, they can change it.'' This democratic impulse to make things new seems clear with Thoreau (``to read him,'' Delbanco notes, ``is to feel wrenched away from the customary world and delivered into a place we fear as much as we need''), or Abraham Lincoln (the best example, Delbanco says, of a restorative ``universalizing impulse that cuts across the flimsy barriers by which people try to wall themselves off from those they deem unworthy of inclusion in their circle''), but less obvious in the work of Henry Adams or Stephen Crane. It is to Delbanco's credit that his highly original readings of these authors, as well as of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Theodore Dreiser, Kate Chopin, and Richard Wright, are all fresh and persuasive. Delbanco is also frankly dismayed at the kind of literary criticism that turns texts ``into excretions through which, while holding our noses, we search for traces of the maladies of our culture.'' He argues for a criticism that asserts that great prose, far from being an artifact of capitalist culture, is revolutionary, having the power both to change us and to give us pleasure. The first job of a literary critic, he asserts, is to incite readers to pick up a book. In that, Delbanco is entirely successful. A deeply felt, persuasive, and eminently useful work.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-374-23007-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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