An erudite tour of the American literary landscape from one of its most important observers.

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THE AMERICAN CANON

LITERARY GENIUS FROM EMERSON TO LE GUIN

A deep consideration of significant American writers, from Emerson to Pynchon.

For more than 50 years, Bloom (Humanities/Yale Univ.; Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism, 2019, etc.) has produced incisive literary criticism, offering both close readings of writers’ works and their place in what he considers to be the American canon. Drawing from published volumes, several long out of print, and assorted other sources, Mikics (English/Univ. of Houston; Bellow’s People, 2016, etc.) gathers a sampling of Bloom’s essays on writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry to represent the scope and depth of the critic’s capacious interests. Organized chronologically by the writer’s birthdate, the collection begins with Emerson, whom Bloom considers “the inescapable theorist of all subsequent American writing. From his moment to ours, American authors either are in his tradition, or else in a counter-tradition originating in opposition to him.” Bloom is much focused on “the anxiety of influence” between one writer and another, a theme he explored in one of his early books, The Anxiety of Influence (1973), and which emerges throughout his criticism. Essays tend to focus on what Bloom considers a writer’s exemplary work rather than their entire oeuvre: The Portrait of a Lady dominates the essay on Henry James, whom Bloom deems the “subtlest of novelistic masters (excepting Proust).” He regards Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon a greater achievement than Beloved and The Great Gatsby more worthy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “canonical status” than “the seriously flawed Tender Is the Night.” Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts seems to Bloom a “remorseless masterpiece,” far above anything else West produced and surpassed only by Faulkner’s most well-known novels. Although he finds “West’s spirit” in some of Pynchon’s novels, “the negative sublimity of Miss Lonelyhearts proves to be beyond Pynchon’s reach, or perhaps his ambition.” Besides defending his own evaluations, Bloom sets his views alongside those of many major critics, including Lionel Trilling, Edmund Wilson, Nina Baym, Irving Howe, and Northrop Frye.

An erudite tour of the American literary landscape from one of its most important observers.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59853-640-9

Page Count: 500

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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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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