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Some book reviews

No, these aren't the only books I ever read. It's just I'm usually too lazy to post a snapshot of my bedside table.

  • Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew (John Felstiner). I love biographies near-indiscriminately, but even I can tell that Felstiner's meticulous explications are something special. I started reading this so I could vicariously experience Celan's poems in the original German, and despite the impossibilty of that goal, I don't actually feel all that disappointed.

  • The Man Without Qualities (Robert Musil). The Man is Ulrich, an aimless Nietzschean bachelor, surrounded by a menagerie of "grotesques" (a la Sherwood Anderson) delineated with a clinician's dispassionate eye. All the characters are precise, vivid, and as believable as best friends-- except sadly for Ulrich himself, who has no qualities or flaws and therefore no personality; he suffers greatly by being the author's favorite, like a teacher's pet who is coddled out of a solid education. There is a plot somewhere in here, but it's buried under reams of fascinating character analysis and description... it's obvious that Musil lived decades before the advent of the creative writing workshop, with its iron edict to "show, not tell," since he does just the opposite. Helium has a nice take on this book.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J. K. Rowling). You've probably heard way too much about this book already. "Instant classic" is about the sum of it--not quite Narnia, but close.

  • Collected Poems (James Schuyler). I was driven to this by reading David Lehman's The Last Avant-Garde, and it looks like it will be one of the better purchases of books of poetry I've ever made.

  • New and Selected Poems (Stephen Berg). This book has been my refuge through hard times at work. I nip away for a second and gulp down one of these hard-hitting, life-affirming, lush offerings, and for a while all my trials are put into perspective.

  • Seven Types of Ambiguity (William Empson). This staple of the New Criticism is almost as hard to digest as Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence, which I've been trying to get through for three years.... Where Bloom has his six critical dwarves (Clinamen, Tessera, Kenosis, Daemonization, Askesis, and Apophrades), Empson has his seven ambiguities. I'd say more, but I'm not yet fully sure what an ambiguity actually is. All I'm certain of is that he has a very nuanced, accurate ear.

  • Cartooning the Head and Figure (Jack Hamm). Jack Hamm draws a whole lot like like Will Eisner or Harvey Kurtzman. In thousands of meticulous, explanatory illustrations, he tries to show you how. I'm not sure of the value of this book as a teaching method (since I can't draw) but it sure is a fun read.

    January 1, 1999 in Original writing | Permalink