Over the weekend I was glancing over Janet Malcolm’s great book-length description of Chekhov’s artistry, Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey. Looks terrific; will say more later.
Wanted to add some other favorite booklength bits of criticism. (Actually I will add titles as I think of them).
Besides the Janet Malcolm book, I would add Kafka’s Other Trial by Elias Canetti, Stranger Shores by my writing teacher J.M. Coetzee (basically reprints of his NYROB essays), Milan Kundera’s Art of the Novel, anything by Roger Shattuck (but especially Forbidden Knowledge), Seven Nights by Borges, Hugging the Shore by Updike (now with volume 2), anything by Sven Birkerts (I enjoyed Gutenberg Elegies), Edmund White’s Monograph on Proust, Irving Howe’s Politics and the Novel, Roland Barthes’ Sade/Fourier/Loyola (with generous excerpts in Susan Sontag’s Barthes Anthology). Just for oddity’s sake (and at Updike’s suggestion), I’ll throw in Nabokov’s Literary Lectures at Cornell (in several volumes), Stanley Cavell’s World Viewed (which is film criticism, not lit crit), Eliseo Vivas’ Creativity and Discovery and probably his other works as well. Although it belongs in its own category, I’ve also enjoyed the literary reference guides by Martin Seymour-Smith, including Who’s Who in 20th Century Literature.
A few thing should be clear from these titles: 1)I was never really into British or even American literature, 2) I was deeply affected by existentialism at an early age; I read all the major works by Dostoevsky by the age of 18, 3)I like criticism by other writers or by noncritics. I may enjoy the occasional essay by Northrup Frye or Stanley Fish, but I don’t find them interesting enough for books, 4)judging by the titles, my tastes seem awfully Eurocentric. That is surprising to me, because I always considered myself interested in Eastern literature, and I cannot think of a single work by an Eastern writer on criticism. By the way, here’s a list of all the books I currently own (a few months old) and some favorite novels. I just looked at this booklist and realized that I do in fact possess a copy of the Vivas book; it’s packed in Box Number 1, to be exact. Oh, how I love Save As HTML.
I know I’m forgetting a lot of works, but these were my favorites, especially the Canetti book. Feel free to recommend your own!