A fine, accessible collection worthy of Dickstein’s former CUNY mentor, Irving Howe.




Twenty illuminating essays published over the decades on literature’s elusive, prophetic interpretations of a changing American society.

In his title piece, Dickstein (Distinguished Professor of English/CUNY Graduate Center; Double Agent: The Critic and Society, 1992, etc.) explains that the “mirror in the roadway” reflects Stendhal’s metaphor in Le Rouge et le noir that a novel is like a mirror carried along a highway, sometimes reflecting the sky, sometimes the mud in the road—and consequently you can’t blame the puddle for the mire but “the road inspector who lets the water stagnate and the puddle form.” The novel has a social function, and Dickstein explores it, beginning with the early mythmakers of urban centers New York (Poe, Whitman, Dos Passos, Melville, James, Ellison) and “Second City” Chicago (Dreiser, Richard Wright, James T. Farrell, Bellow). In considering the rise of American Realism, he argues that Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) truly “changed the course of history,” not only by exposing the unconscionable practices of the meat-packing industry, but also by revealing perhaps for the first time the “inner humanity of those trapped by birth or occupation near the bottom of the social hierarchy.” Dickstein has a facile ability to convey the great swath of literary criticism in a most readable fashion, sans clunky jargon, such as in “Edmund Wilson: Three Phrases,” where he explores the reasons this notably prickly critic continues to engage contemporary readers. Dickstein offers a cogent argument for reevaluating the work of Fitzgerald (“The Authority of Failure”) as a writer whose “reverses” made him more introspective, as well as more interesting to read. Other authors Dickstein reevaluates, moving from realism to modernism, include Mary McCarthy, Kafka and Raymond Carver. Céline (thanks to a 1966 translation) receives credit for the explosion of American vernacular, while “The Complex Fate of the Jewish American Writer” is a most thoughtful essay on American identity.

A fine, accessible collection worthy of Dickstein’s former CUNY mentor, Irving Howe.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-691-11996-1

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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


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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With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    


Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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