Criticism is not indispensable to art,” James writes. “It is indispensable to civilization—a more inclusive thing.” His...

AS OF THIS WRITING

THE ESSENTIAL ESSAYS, 1968-2002

Superb collection of criticism at once deeply serious and deliberately accessible, more than justifying its author’s claim that “readability is intelligence.”

Born and raised in Australia, a London resident for four decades, James (The Man from Japan, 1993, etc.) possesses all the strengths of the best British literary journalists—wide-ranging erudition, a knack for the perfectly turned sentence, a seemingly effortless wit—without the besetting weakness many of his peers display for gratuitous nastiness designed to demonstrate how much smarter they are than their subjects. James, by contrast, always lives up to his declared principle that “a limiting judgment of an artist should be offered only after full submission to whatever quality made him remarkable in the first place.” (That comment occurs in one of the valuable “Postscripts,” which allow him to admit second thoughts or clarify intent without rewriting the original article.) Seamus Heaney, D.H. Lawrence, James Agee, and George Orwell are among the writers to whom he applies exacting yet appreciative scrutiny. Even when he more or less trashes John le Carré’s pompous later novels or Norman Mailer’s embarrassing Marilyn, he voices respect for previous achievements and shows no glee over his thumbs-down judgment. James can nail a work’s essence in a phrase (the “garrulous pseudotaciturnity” of Lillian Hellman’s memoirs, for example), but the generosity and perceptiveness of his full-length appraisals are even more impressive. Poetry arouses his particular passion, as vividly demonstrated in the essays on W.H. Auden and Philip Larkin, and he’s just as good on Primo Levi and Mark Twain. Like his idol, Edmund Wilson (subject of another excellent piece), James roams with assurance through world literature past and present, acknowledging no distinctions except those of quality. He couples a democratic belief that art must illuminate common human experience with an unabashed insistence on high standards; though he has written for and about television and does not disdain mass appeal, his assumed audience here is the serious general reader.

Criticism is not indispensable to art,” James writes. “It is indispensable to civilization—a more inclusive thing.” His stimulating and thrilling work forcefully makes a case for that bold declaration.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-05180-3

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON

This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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