FROM PURITANISM TO POSTMODERNISM

A HISTORY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE

From Ruland (English and American Literature/Washington State Univ.) and critic-novelist Bradbury (The Modern World: Ten Great Writers; Unsent Letters—both 1988, etc.)—a sound, balanced account of how American writers created works that reflected ``a new nation with new experience, a new science and a new politics on a new continent.'' Neither idiosyncratic nor iconoclastic, this introductory history is, though, sometimes excessively respectful toward the academically au courant. Ruland and Bradbury, an American and Englishman, respectively, nervously tip their hats to multiculturalism, and will leave their audience of general readers scratching their heads over why more attention is paid to the structuralists and deconstructionists than to luminaries like John Cheever, Thomas Wolfe, Edmund Wilson, H.L. Mencken, and Tennessee Williams. American theater (with the exception of Eugene O'Neill) is inexcusably slighted, while popular genres such as detective and science fiction are more understandably ignored. When it comes to the early development of American literature, however, the authors are on surer ground and perform ably. In tracing the transition from the allegorical mode of the Puritans to the symbolist mode of the American Literary Renaissance, they explore how ``America became a testing place of language and narrative...part of a lasting endeavor to discover the intended nature and purpose of the New World.'' By examining authors in their historical as well as aesthetic context, they make a number of connections not commonly discussed (e.g., how Mark Twain and his contemporaries missed out on the combat experience in the Civil War). Despite its unwillingness to lance some academic sacred cows, then, this is a comprehensive, often vibrant history of how American writers declared independence from older European forms before making their own unique contributions to world literature.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-670-83592-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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