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Agitations: Essays on Life and Literature Hardcover – September 1, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0300092165 ISBN-10: 0300092164

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Essayist, reviewer, and editor Krystal (A Company of Readers: Uncollected Writings of W.H. Auden, Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling) pulls no punches in dispatching academic critics who view works of literature primarily as "semiotic tracts that reflect all sorts of nasty, royalist, elitist, patriarchal, sexist, and imperialist sympathies." He sees the activities of writing and reading as deeply connected to basic human questions of life, death, religion, value, and taste. In graceful, conversational prose, he both argues and demonstrates his points, easily combining his knowledge of history and philosophy with the personal to give readers a view of an engaged mind. The essays collected here have previously appeared in American Scholar, the New York Times Book Review, and Harper's. The most famous of them, "Closing the Books: A Once-Devoted Reader Arrives at the End of the Story," attempts to come to terms with his own loss of interest in reading. Is it his age, he wonders, or the age? Recommended for academic libraries.
Mary Paumier Jones, Westminster P.L., CO
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Vibrant, well-considered essays. -- Elizabeth Mary Sheehan, New York Times Book Review

[S]ensible, personable, and unafraid…This poke in the eye of literary opinion and knowledge feels oddly good. -- Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (September 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300092164
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300092165
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,368,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Hope on October 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I begin by acknowledging that I know the author and that our favorite pasttime over the years has been disagreeing with each other. With this book, however, I can find nothing to disagree with. The style is both elegant and chummy at the same time, and there is wit and cleverness on every page, and judicious quotation. The prose is classically balanced, the range of thought satisfyingly large and capacious, and the sharpness of opinion immensely provoking. I have not read a more satisfying book in ages.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Byrd on February 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
These sixteen essays, culled from the last fifteen years of the last century, hold up fairly well here at the end of the first decade of the new millennium, where it would seem that all contemporary essays concerning writing and literature are required to contend with the death of publishing. Mr. Krystal, writing for Harper's and The American Scholar, among others, hadn't reached that point yet, and was free to consider other aspects of the writing and reading life. That in itself is refreshing -- although even as he concentrates on universal topics, there is still a certain amount of age clinging to these pieces.

That is probably the severest criticism I have with this collection -- many of Mr. Krystal's observations concern impressions of the cultural mindset in relationship to literature, and I do think that mindset has subtly shifted in the quarter of a century since some of these essays were written. (Those who, like me, have a hard time believing that 1986 was twenty-five years ago will perhaps not notice this as much. Those who think that twenty-five years ago is, like, so last century, will probably think this 'subtle' shift is much more striking.)

The collection begins with pieces that are reflective: Mr. Krystal received a bit of notoriety in the mid-nineties for an essay called 'Closing the Books: A Devoted Reader Arrives at the End of the Story', which detailed his loss of interest in reading. This is the essay that leads the rest, followed by others about Mr. Krystal's ruminations on knowledge, death, religion, and those writers and their stories which create life-long readers. These first half a dozen or so essays are designed to entertain, which they do.
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