Category Archives: Books About Books

Jane Smiley, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel

Of the array of ‘books about books’ aimed at general audiences that I’ve read in the last few months, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel is by far the most intelligent and engaging. Smiley writes as a novelist primarily, reflecting often on her own experiences and motivation as an author, but she also writes […]

The Company We Keep as Readers

Following through on the thread I outlined in my last post, I have been reading Jonathan Franzen’s very interesting and thought-provoking 1996 Harper’s essay. I actually feel that in some ways this piece (and the Marcus and Ozick that follow) are having a conversation that’s not really for me, mostly because they are novelists, for […]

Denis Donoghue, The Practice of Reading

The Practice of Reading lies somewhere in between standard academic literary criticism and the more populist ‘books about books’ that I’ve been reading for my ‘writing for readers’ project. I suppose its main audience is an academic one, but its project and contents are quite miscellaneous and so it contributes more by modelling Donoghue’s idea […]

John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel

How to Read a Novel is an eccentric, miscellaneous, diverting, informative and annoying book. Its basic premise is that we can all use some help deciding which of the overwhelmingly many books around us we should read…but at the same time, Sutherland shies away from offering any specific guidance, rather providing readers with tools they […]

Alberto Manguel, A Reading Diary

I haven’t entirely stopped reading ‘books about books,’ but this one sets me back almost as far as Book Savvy did, if for quite different reasons. Manguel is clearly a serious reader and intellectual in a way that the author of Book Savvy, alas, did not seem to be. But here is another case in […]

Cynthia Lee Katona, Book Savvy

According to its jacket blurb, Book Savvy is “an effective guide for the burgeoning book-club community as well as a tool for literature teachers struggling to spark the interest of their students.” I certainly hope book clubs and teachers will choose better guides than this volume. For one thing, it is superficial, even shallow, in […]

Sara Nelson, So Many Books, So Little Time

Unlike Nick Hornby’s Pollysyllabic Spree (see previous post), Sara Nelson’s book is really a memoir. Because she is a book enthusiast, she talks a lot about what she reads (or, sometimes, does not read, or reads only part of), but she does not seem to know very much about books, or to be able to […]

Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree

In addition to the reasons laid out in the introduction to this blog (see left), I wanted to try writing up informal notes on my reading because of my ever-increasing dissatisfaction with the kind of writing about books I am expected to do professionally, namely literary criticism. Although I believe that literary criticism has its […]

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