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Sentences

It’s Very Childlike

What is literary criticism for? The question came up years ago as the subject of a London Review of Books 25th anniversary forum that included Terry Eagleton, Frank Kermode, Zadie…

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Weekend Read: «Cliquez ici pour visualiser le séquence!»

I’ve been unabashedly ludditic this week, arguing for (or, at least, expressing a love of) the handmade book. Just to reassure you that I’m every bit the modern guy, I…

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Currents from the Moor

If the illustrated book for adults can, when the illustrations are undertaken by a hand less sophisticated than those of the author, produce an effect on the reader of distrust…

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Woefully Too Small

Writers labor to make the visual world visible in fiction. There are many ways to do it. Here’s how William Makepeace Thackeray, age 33, made us see the world, in…

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Weekend Read: “Sure as the stars return again”

A friend called the other day from a bench in New York’s Hudson Valley to report that the weather was, at last, perfect for reading outside. As his first book…

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Our Idleness, Pride, and Folly

TAX An impost; a tribute imposed; an excise; a tallage. Charge; censure. To TAX To load with imposts. To charge; to censure; to accuse. —A Dictionary of the English Language,…

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Lodged Within the Heart

A great sense of occasion is present when a friend publishes a book, but there’s a particular pulse of pleasure I’m getting from the arrival of Erik Reece’s An American…

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Weekend Read: Frederick Seidel, “A Poet of Great Innocence”

Every day in America, on public radio stations across the land, a short program airs called “The Writer’s Almanac.” Hosted by the writer, musician and impresario Garrison Keillor, the show’s…

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My Book is a Painting

Readers familiar with Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature, Lectures on Russian Literature, and Lectures on Don Quixote, know that Nabokov had a very vivid way of reading the texts that he…

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Tricks of Demeanor and Speech

“How one pines for a translation of Proust by the hand of Nabokov,” wrote Christopher Hitchens a few years ago in a review of Lydia Davis’s translation of Swann’s Way.…

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Weekend Read: “He wanted the overtones as well”

This week, I’ve posted around the uncontroversial contention that literary criticism is nothing if it isn’t reading closely, quoting abundantly, and parsing carefully. In the course of commenting on such…

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The Evil Thoughts of Man

Monday, I mentioned close reading as a practice indivisible from literary criticism. The thought was sparked by a letter I’d just received in response to an essay of mine in…

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Another Sensibility

Though it’s amazing to imagine, there are some people who are against close reading in literary criticism. A friend who attended a panel on long-form book reviewing recently reported that…

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Weekend Read: “What went wrong in Germany”

Jonathan Littell’s second novel, The Kindly Ones, has gotten a good deal of attention. There has been no shortage of reviews, from which composite one can glean a picture of…

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Similar Incapacities

Above you’ll see the prettiest of gatefold title pages of one of the most useful (out of print) books I know, The Craft and Context of Translation. As the fine…

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“Grammar and Style!”

Some of my favorite passages of English prose appear in Samuel Beckett’s Molloy. Written in French and translated into English by Beckett and Patrick Bowles, the novel’s language is, to…

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Weekend Read: “Frenzy finds its weapons”

There is no translation of any worthwhile book that hasn’t had its sometimes vigorous detractors. Jerome, who gave us the Vulgate, was forced to flee Rome to finish his work…

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Remote in Time, or Alien in Language

I’m inhabiting a pleasant little temporal interim right now, the lucky space that opens up when a new Bob Dylan record is announced. Dylan’s readers (more upon that apparently errant…

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The Forces of Conservatism and Obstruction

In a long letter from T.S. Eliot to John Quinn, dated July 9, 1919, one finds the following: I am sorry to say that I have found it uphill and…

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Weekend Read: “Whatever hole contains forever”

Zadie Smith certainly doesn’t need a great deal of critical subsidy. Her novels are bought and read in tremendous volume, and she is regularly looked to to hold forth critically…

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Hinged Mostly on Dedications

This sentence caught my eye in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune: Wells said that compared with the Cobbe portrait, the other representations now thought to be copies of it presented “an…

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Odd Bits of Wire That Came to Hand

One of the more charming books I’ve come across recently is pictured at left. I suppose Home-Made (Fuel Publishing) would qualify as a coffee-table book (if your coffee-table is about…

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Weekend Read: Three Kings

In my previous post, a few notes on D.T. Max’s piece on David Foster Wallace in the current New Yorker, I floated some preliminary ideas as to where the title…

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The Voice of Days of Old and Days to Be

I would have to think that there isn’t a writer who, by now, hasn’t read D.T. Max’s piece on David Foster Wallace in the current issue of the New Yorker.…

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See also: SIAMESE TWINS

Many years ago, I came upon a little book called The Misspeller’s Guide. It listed, alphabetically, commonly misspelled words, under the principle that if one only knew how to misspell…

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Weekend Read: “The upside-down carcass of a wolf”

There are many ways that one can complain about the state of the world of letters. The quantitative approach charts the reduction in sales of “serious literature,” and further bolsters…

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The Same Line of Inquiry

Much in the way that the glint off the snow where I am can seem, some days, like (forgive me) a miracle, being able to read, in the comfort of…

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Have Another Biscuit With Your Tea

Last night was the annual American devotional exercise to the excesses of second-class storytelling. I didn’t watch, so won’t bag on the particulars, much less the idea of such a…

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