Not an essential critical resource, but one offering many pleasures.



A wide-ranging scholar ponders the manifestations of ancient gods in modern literature.

Calasso (Ka, 1998, etc.) does not attempt to cover his topic comprehensively. He focuses instead on what he terms “absolute literature,” those “most audacious and demanding” works “that leave the ancient pattern of genres and prescribed patterns far behind . . . forever abandoned in a flight toward a knowledge grounded only in itself and expanding everywhere like a cloud, cloaking every shape, overstepping every boundary.” These literary epiphanies are to be found in works as various as Nabokov’s Lolita, the lyrics of the German poet Hölderlein, Nietzsche’s notebooks, and the essays of Mallarmé. The seven essays were originally delivered as a lecture series at Oxford University, and the effect is rather like eavesdropping on a seminar in progress: the aphorisms, connections, and fleeting allusions come thick and fast. A critic in the belles-lettres tradition, Calasso makes large statements with great authority but little substantiation, rather than engaging in sustained close reading or reconstructing literary history. Like Harold Bloom, he apparently regards individualism and innovation as the only criteria of literary value, so that every text is praised for its originality, with “suddenly,” “for the first time,” “an abrupt turning point,” and the like peppering every chapter. Within the limitations of the approach, however, he comes up with charming observations and remarkable flashes of insight, including a fascinating discussion of Isadore Ducasse’s bizarre 1869 collection of poems, Les Chants de Maldoror, “the first book written on the principle that anything and everything must be the object of sarcasm,” uncannily anticipating both postmodern fiction and slasher movies. In the two most powerful essays, “Mallarmé in Oxford” and “Meters Are the Cattle of the Gods,” magnificently detailed analyses of poetic form offer ample compensation for the sweeping pronouncements, and Calasso’s delight in the textures of language and imagery pervades the text.

Not an essential critical resource, but one offering many pleasures.

Pub Date: March 21, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-41138-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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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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