Criticism
Review: Three Kinds of Motion: Kerouac, Pollock, and the Making of American Highways by Riley Hanick Print E-mail

Hanick.THREE-KINDS-MOTION.web(Essay Daily October 7, 2015)

#literatureasexhaustion

Around 1910, Vasily Kandinsky, the Russian artist, began a revolution in seeing by finishing the first abstract paintings in Europe, though the Navajo, the Chinese, and the Muslims had been making design art for centuries. It took a few years before he quit portraying mountains and horses’ heads and drew, instead, a phantasmagoria of floating and cellularly busy flat forms. The surprise was that Kandinsky’s subjectless swirls and smudges, lines and dots, said something, despite not representing recognizable images like peasants or churches. Voila, as he’d intended, form in itself was rapturously beautiful. As if the Western eye knew all along that a triangle and a splotch, when layered on canvas, would animate the space like geometric ballet. Why had we avoided the disjunctive so long in art?

Read more...
 
Review: The Little Locksmith by Katherine Butler Hathaway Print E-mail

little locksmith cover(River Teeth Blog October 1, 2015) Neglected Nonfiction Classic

An Inner Exuberance

One of the most poignant, absorbing autobiographical memoirs I’ve ever read is this gem from 1943, The Little Locksmith. I say autobiographical memoir for Katharine Butler Hathaway’s is old school, telling an outwardly undramatic tale about an exuberant inner life: she died at 58 just after this book, the first of several planned, was published. What gives it its memoirish intensity is her probity: she plunges into self-entanglements that would trip up most authors but gives her the freedom to invent herself in prose.

Old school autobiography has about it a fly-over quality. The ego and its accomplishments sees the life’s totality, plainly, in retrospect, as though the author has lain awake, waiting for just this later-in-life moment to reconfigure the whole. Written before the scenic enslavement our show-all memoirists practice today (The Little Locksmith has none of the yeasty worldliness of Eat, Pray, Love), Hathaway courts her own muse and style. Hers is a Thoreau-like capacity to paddle over a clear lake and behold the sandy bottom, the water a lens enlarging the world below.

Read more...
 
Review: One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Created Christian America by Kevin Kruse Print E-mail

One-NationUnderGod(The Humanist July/August 2015)

In 1952, with the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower as president, a small, chariot-driving clan of Christian evangelicals stormed the national stage, bent on foisting their religious claims into American law, custom, and ceremony. The chief drivers—the Congregationalist James Fifield, the Methodist Abraham Vereide, and the Baptist Billy Graham—enlisted the pliable Eisenhower, a self-described man of “deeply-felt religious faith,” and used his popularity to foment legislative and judicial changes dear to their cause. In return, these media-savvy pastors, along with fellow-traveling capitalists, delivered audiences to any politician blessing their credo. To vote is a faith-based proposition, believing in what the candidate stands for. The outcome was a new corporate-political movement, later termed “Christian libertarianism,” which mixed piety and patriotism and trademarked free enterprise as every American’s “divine right.”

Read more...
 
Review: Shepherd by Richard Gilbert Print E-mail

shepherd(River Teeth Blog June 1, 2014)

Growing the Soil and the Soul

Sometimes a memoir, spilling into the ken of autobiography, must grapple with an author’s lifelong enigma—his book’s story, the story. As we read, we feel this cyclonic summing-up, the best chance after the life (or as far as the life has got) to say what, in particular, shaped that life’s core meaning. Perhaps the revelation is that we don’t get another go-round (obvious but important), that we never knew the storm was gathering while it happened (as much good as bad), and that the life we thought we lived was not exactly the one we did live (the new self the memoir discloses to its surprised narrator).

Read more...
 
Review: Memoir: An Introduction by C. Thomas Couser Print E-mail

0538480(American Book Review, 35.2, May 13, 2014)

A book that intelligently and capaciously introduces memoir for the general reader is, like a Chicago Cubs pennant or a movie reuniting Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, long overdue. Such a flight I’ve been expecting, and I’m happy to say the bird has landed. So much about the memoir’s individuation in recent years, having gained traction as art and as therapy, C. Thomas Couser addresses. It seems there are few better qualified than he to take on the form. Since the late 1970s, Couser, American Studies professor at Hofstra University, has become a formidable authority on life-writing—with American Autobiography (1979) and Altered Egos (1989), about our national obsession for self-writing; Recovering Bodies (1997) and Signifying Bodies (2009), on the true stories of the ill and disabled; and Vulnerable Subjects (2003), about the ethical landmines authors face, writing about willing and recalcitrant intimates.

Read more...
 
Review: The Griffin of Literature: Three New Books of Prose Poetry Print E-mail

Knossos fresco in throne palace(TriQuarterly January 31, 2014)

I’ll admit it: I’ve never understood the prose poem, although it seems to be going strong in its third century. It’s the griffin of literature—an amalgam of the two literary arts that neither enhances their respective purposes nor makes the result stronger at the fused place. A definition is not much help; here’s the clearest definition I’ve found in a poetry handbook: “The point seems to be that [any] writing in prose . . . is a poem if the author says so.” It’s at odds with itself, which, I realize, may be the point. But when I reflect on the prose poem’s formlessness, I find it leaves me cold. A few descriptors may explain the chill: the prose poem is blocky, spatially inelegant, print-dependent, unmetered, and unsyllabic.

Read more...
 
Review: Cotton Tenants: Three Families by James Agee Print E-mail

cotton tenants(Los Angeles Review of Books June 2, 2013)

Lives Nurtured in Disadvantage

If the contemporary reader of nonfiction knows anything about the universe of American literature — or just its prose galaxies — she knows that James Agee and Walker Evans’s 1941 Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is our greatest nonfictional failure and the finest book-length lyric essay ever written. Five years in the making, Agee’s book was published by Houghton Mifflin (after Harper’s dumped it as unwieldy) to scorn, praise, and sales of 600 copies before it went out of print. (Agee didn’t endure well, either. He died in 1955 of a heart attack in a New York taxicab after three marriages, alcoholism, chain-smoking, a self-acknowledged crappy diet, and brilliant forays into nearly every form of writing he tackled. He was 45.)

Read more...
 
<< Start < Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Next > End >>

Page 2 of 14