A bounty of tasty literary morsels—acerbic, whimsical, incisive and moving—spills from this anthology of short pieces culled from the online magazine Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and Humanities.
RALPH, descended from the much-praised Fessenden Review, is known for lively, opinionated book reviews that aren’t afraid to draw blood. An impressive selection is included here, including Lark’s barbed dismissal of Laura Esquivel’s Malinche (2006) (“the language heats up and runs off the page and falls into the toilet”) and Carlos Amantea’s revisionist attack—who hasn’t longed for one?—on James Joyce: “My own reading of Ulysses is that there are probably 300,000 words too many.” There’s also a generous helping of poetry, from Garcia-Lorca—accompanied by a winsome account of an English class entranced by the idea that he had an Afro—to Joseph Brodsky, Quan Berry and Sharon Olds. There are short stories, including Joyce Cary’s droll vignette on the class war between artists and rich dilettantes. And there’s a wide-ranging miscellany of nonfiction feuilletons, some original and some reprinted: Javier Marias’ evocative biographical sketch of William Faulkner; a snippet of food memoir by M.F.K. Fisher; L.W. Milam’s celebration of student diaries as literature; S.W. Wentworth’s atmospheric tribute to Mississippi Delta juke joints; a raft of light think pieces on humanistic design and urbanism à la Jane Jacobs; an interview with S.J. Perelman on the horrors of Hollywood; excerpts from Werner Herzog’s diary on the ghastlier horrors of the Amazon; a funny take on the similarities between academics and house cats; and grave speculation on the extraterrestrial origins of Bach. Sometimes, as in R.R. Doister’s Freudian-pacifist reading of a volume of letters from a West Point cadet, contentiousness tips over into heavy-handed polemic. Still, almost every page crackles with sharp writing and offhand—occasionally off-kilter—insights that will fascinate readers.
A thoroughly addictive collection.