Category Archives: Books About Books

Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris is another Book About Books for my ongoing reading project–the longest-running one on this blog. As I’ve noted before, I began reading this kind of book as a deliberate exploration of the genre (what do people say?) and now I am also always curious about voice (how do they say it?). Fadiman has lots […]

Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books

In the early days of Novel Readings, one of the things I was trying to figure out was how non-academics wrote about books, or (a slight variation) how academics wrote about books for non-academic audiences. So I read a lot of what I very ingeniously (OK, very literally) called “Books About Books“: Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree, Jane […]

Best of ‘Novel Readings’: James Wood, How Fiction Works

This review first went up in March 2008. My brooding over deep vs. broad reading has had me thinking again about Wood’s criticism, which I wrote admiringly about when I first discovered him in 2007. (This remarkably belated discovery speaks volumes, I think, of the divide between academic and public criticism.) I have also been […]

Jane Smiley, 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

From the Novel Readings Archive One of the reasons I began blogging in the first place was to experiment with writing about books in a non-academic way. One of the first blogging projects I took up, therefore (because research is an academic habit that is hard to give up), was reviewing examples of non-academic writing […]

Posner on the "Decline of Literary Criticism"

In the most recent issue of Philosophy and Literature, Richard Posner reviews Ronan McDonald’s The Death of the Critic (discussed previously here): The problem with “criticism conceived as magistrate”—the problem that McDonald not only does not solve, but does not acknowledge—is that there are no objective criteria of aesthetic distinction. The reason is that there […]

Recent Reading

As the new term gets underway, I feel my opportunities for “leisure” (a.k.a. “not required”) reading slipping away–not that I’m sorry, of course, to have an excuse to read Bleak House again, or The Remains of the Day (too late now to worry that the latter is way too subtle a pleasure for my first-year […]

James Wood, How Fiction Works

(Cross-posted to The Valve. Thank you to the regular Valve folks for the invitation to do some guest posting!) The dust jacket describes How Fiction Works as Wood’s “first full-length book of criticism.” Anyone led by this blurb to expect sustained analysis supported by extensive research and illustration will be disappointed, as in fact How […]

Some Notes on How Fiction Works

I got my copy of Wood’s How Fiction Works from the Book Depository a couple of days ago and in between finishing He Knew He Was Right and The Maltese Falcon and starting Middlemarch and An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, I have managed to read the whole thing–not nearly as hard as it might […]

Coming Soon: James Wood, How Fiction Works

Mark Sarvas links us to this write-up of James Wood’s new book, How Fiction Works: To the business of criticism, Wood brings his personal baggage as a self-confessed Presbyterian Calvinist. He is a seeker of truth and enlightenment, reading being a sublime form of communication, an act almost of religious application, which requires serious study […]

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer

This book has a simple premise–that the best way for aspiring writers to learn their craft is to read (closely, attentively, alertly, appreciatively) the work of other novelists. Prose proceeds to elaborate on what she sees as the pedagogical benefit of close reading by moving through a sequence of chapters addressing specific aspects of novel-writing, […]

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