[Read "The greatest Christmas story of all" by Allen Barra.]
Articles like Allen Barra's on "The Dead" are why I happily subscribe to Salon. Keep publishing articles like this and we'll be friends a long, long time to come.
James Joyce's "The Dead" is one of the most perfect pieces of writing in the English language. Thank you so much for reminding me to read it again.
[Read "Saga of a 'sex-crazed, genderless freak'" by Priya Jain.]
Helen Walsh may be right to say Liverpool hasn't produced that many fiction writers -- especially in recent years (Kevin Sampson and Colin Ginks spring to mind) -- but as for playwrights, Willy ("Educating Rita") Russell, Alan Bleasdale, Jimmy McGovern, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Jonathan Harvey, Helen Blakeman and Maurice Bessman have all written plays, TV dramas or films about the city in the last 25 years. As Liverpool considers itself "on the up" from the doldrums of the 1980s, it will be interesting to see who writes about the city's transformation into "the City of Culture" and what is lost in the process.
-- Derrick Cameron
[Read Charles Taylor's review of "The Polysyllabic Spree" by Nick Hornby.]
Thank you for writing about both one of my favorite authors and his column in one of my favorite magazines. Hornby and the Believer should savor the precious little attention that they get!
I have two comments about the review/book to make. The first is an addition:
The review mentions that "The New York Review of Books has established an entire imprint dedicated to books that have gone out of print." It might be worth noting here that the very company that Hornby is writing this column for, McSweeney's (which publishes the Believer and owns Believer Books, which published the book being reviewed), has done exactly the same thing. Granted, the books that McSweeney's Collins Library reprints are slightly odd. However, it seems like this claim is either a conscious decision by Hornby to have a contrarian viewpoint or it is, as the reviewer implies, something he would rather not have said. I'm more inclined to think it was a conscious decision.
My second point is more of a criticism of the book as a whole. I have purchased the book, and in true "reader" fashion, have yet to crack the spine. I do, however, subscribe to the Believer, and have read every column that Mr. Hornby has written for it -- which brings up the question, why did I purchase this book? I bought it for a couple of reasons -- first was that I wanted to support the Believer. I think the magazine is a great publication and probably needs every penny it can get to stay afloat. Second is the reason I purchase most everything that comes out of the house of Eggers, even if I have it in some form or another -- there is bound to be something different about this book than the columns it is ostensibly a collection of. McSweeney's (and Dave Eggers more specifically) has taken repackaging material to a new height. How many versions of "You Shall Know Our Velocity" are there? (A lot.) How many stories are there in "How We Are Hungry" that haven't been published elsewhere already? (Not many.) Why would you publish a book of stuff that is all freely available on McSweeneys.net, like "Written in Darkness by Troubled Americans"?
Don't get me wrong, I love the stuff this small publishing house puts out. But sometimes it gets just a little frustrating that the "new" books are nothing new at all. The game becomes trying to determine what has changed about the book/short story since the last time it was published -- rather than being able to just enjoy the pieces for what they are.
-- Chris Preston
It's nice that you like Hornby's essays (so do I), but do you have to use them as an excuse to expound on the nature of all reviewers? Surely there are gradations of criticism. Hornby is not so much a critic -- and I say this with admiration -- but an enthusiast, a fan. This makes him the ideal person to introduce one to a new work, or revisit a neglected classic, but as far as depth of interpretation goes I'll take James Wood any day. In many ways Charles Taylor is taking the anti-Hornby approach to appreciating Hornby: He is making a cynical, overly general statement instead of just sticking to the work, recognizing its value, and saying something nice!
-- Mike Goldbach
As a teacher of continuing adult education (usually involving the classic novels all of us wished we had read by the time we were 50 or 60), I deeply appreciated Charles Taylor's observation of how some critics are inherently snobs. It is amazing that some of those whose job it is to encourage people to "broaden their horizons" (teachers, critics, writers, "arts" columnists) get into name-dropping in a way that drips with condescension (unintentionally perhaps, but still). I find myself reassuring people that it's not just OK to read books like "Presumed Innocent"; it's actually a good thing. I won't send them to Nora Roberts, by any means, but there are a lot of wonderful books out there that may or may not achieve classic status and are still worth our time and "effort." Yes, it's nice to be able to better appreciate "Don Quixote," but don't forsake reading if you don't have the time or interest in it. Oh, and by the way, I think this "tone" (knowing what's good for you) is the same reason the Democrats lost the election.
-- Jim Hecimovich