The [Insert Superlative Here] Books of 2011: My Year in Reading

I recently, and much belatedly, got around to reading Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism. It’s brilliant—not a word I use easily—and really deserves its own post, but there is a point on which Frye and I disagree, in practice if not in theory.  “The demonstrable value-judgement,” he claims in his introduction, “is the donkey’s carrot [...]

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Wrestling with Geoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer’s new collection of essays and criticism is suddenly everywhere, but I have only just finished Out of Sheer Rage, which he published in 1997.  That I am behind schedule on Geoff Dyer feels appropriate, however, given that Out of Sheer Rage is, in essence, a volume about procrastination.  “Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence” is [...]

Grand Booming Nonsense: Dostoevsky’s Demons

It is often said that one is either a Tolstoy person or a Dostoevsky person, in the same way that one is either a cat person or a dog person.  I used to want to be a Dostoevsky person, just as I wanted to be a dog person.  Tolstoy and cats seemed the blander psychological [...]

Tolstoy vs. Tolstoy

I first discovered the insurmountable problem that is translation as a high school Latin student, trying to muster a serviceable version of the Aeneid without perverting the stately, deliberate structure of Vergil’s sentences.  As it turns out, I’m not much of a translator: I get too wrapped up in the internal architecture of the language [...]

On Books I Lie About Having Read

I have read Heart of Darkness. This is not a lie, but it was until yesterday.  Last month, Robert McCrum, in a short blog post in the Guardian, asked readers to share the most embarrassing gaps in their reading, as he himself trundled off on vacation with an unread copy of Middlemarch in tow.  The [...]

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On Lionel Trilling and The Princess Casamassima

One of my favorite essays in Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal Imagination is “The Princess Casamassima,” his impassioned reading of Henry James’s 1886 novel.  It’s always seemed to me one of the most incisive accounts of how a novel might address the social role of politics without resorting to pamphleteering.  In this essay, Trilling declares James [...]

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