Posted in Uncategorized, tagged All the Time in the World, Anthologies, At the Fights, Book reviews, Boxing, E.L. Doctorow, Editing, George Kimball, John Schulian, Los Angeles Times, Short stories, The American Interest, The Oregonian on April 11, 2011 |
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Putting together a well-made collection of short writings takes special skills. One must have an eye for meaningful groupings and provocative juxtapositions. Literary collagists must find the happy balance between too much and not enough. They must also make plain the justification for gathering already published pieces.
When I saw that half of the stories in E.L. Doctorow’s All the Time in the World had previously appeared in some of his earlier volumes, including one that came out not that long before, I was skeptical about the need for the collection. However, the book succeeds because of the way the pieces fit with and play off of each other, as I argue in my review in The Oregonian (section O, p. 10 in the April 10, 2011, edition of the paper).
Particular challenges confront editors of anthologies of works by different authors, especially if they have a very specific organizing subject. They run the risks of, on the one hand, achieving comprehensiveness at the cost of wearying repetitiveness, and, on the other, of leaving out something essential. Compliers of such books unavoidably leave themselves open to criticism for faulty choices. A Los Angeles Times reviewer, for instance, spies an East Coast bias in George Kimball and John Schulian’s selections for At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing. While I might question some of the choices, on the whole I think they do an admirable job of constructing a cohesive story, albeit a rather dispiriting one, as I discuss in an essay for May/June 2011 issue of The American Interest.
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Book critics don’t start writing about others’ books out of a compulsive need to find fault or a twisted attempt to build themselves up by tearing others down. Or at least that’s not why I got in the book-reviewing game. A love of literature and a belief that it matters motivates my criticism, whether the reviews are laudatory or condemnatory. I admit to having penned a few somewhat negative assessments. Nonetheless, I also admit that it’s a real pleasure to enjoy without reservation a book assigned for review. I like to like what I read.
This happened with Kevin Canty’s Everything, which I reviewed for The Oregonian (“Glimpses from the front line of midlife,” Sunday, July 11, 2010, p. O12). Here are a few excerpts:
As his title Everything boldly announces, novelist Kevin Canty’s characters confront life’s big issues: shattered love, suffering, disappointment, death – and real estate. …
Canty shapes sharp, spare, highly quotable prose. … [H]e conveys his characters feelings of incompleteness in short, brightly polished sentences (or shards of them). …
While Canty’s themes might suggest gloominess, he animates a smiling existentialism, and Everything can be quite funny. … Even amid “epic pointlessness” a kind of grace operates. Loss may be a certainty, but this provides no “excuse not to live” – or not to laugh.
Simply put, Everything does everything a novel ought to do.
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