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No Other Book: Selected Essays Paperback – June 20, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (June 20, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060956380
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060956387
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,319,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Most critics," Randall Jarrell wrote in a 1952 essay, "are so domesticated as to seem institutions--as they stand there between reader and writer, so different from either, they remind one of the Wall standing between Pyramus and Thisbe." His complaint was as accurate then as it is now. Yet Jarrell himself had nothing of the literary obstructionist to him. The essays he wrote over the course of three decades--in which he mingled his assessments of poetry and prose with the occasional cri de coeur over the state of American civilization--always escort the reader directly into the inner sanctum of the work at hand. And they do so with such scintillating, comical brilliance that most other criticism seems to pale into testy insignificance. We should be grateful, then, that Brad Leithauser has assembled No Other Book, which returns to print many of Jarrell's imperishable picks and pans.

Jarrell's slash-and-burn style caused a certain discomfort among his fellow poets, particularly those who fell short of his sky-high standards. And indeed, his inspired jabs have lost little of their pungency or amusement: Oscar Williams's poetry, for example, "gave the impression of having been written on a typewriter by a typewriter." Even Walt Whitman, whose reputation Jarrell single-handedly repaired, gets the occasional spanking.

Only a man with the most extraordinary feel for language, or none whatsoever, could have cooked up Whitman's worst messes. For instance: what other man in all the history of this planet would have said, "I am a habitant of Vienna"? (One has an immediate vision of him as a sort of French Canadian halfbreed to whom the Viennese are offering, with trepidation, through the bars of a zoological garden, little mounds of whipped cream.)
A master of the sublime putdown, Jarrell was even more masterful when it came to praise: his essays on Whitman, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens permanently changed the way we read these poets. He also functioned as a early-warning system for his own generation and the one to follow--who else was sufficiently prescient to pick out Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, and Adrienne Rich as front-runners? And unlike his New Critical contemporaries, Jarrell never made the mistake of divorcing life from art. His comment on Frost's poetry applies equally to his own productions: "How little they seem performances, no matter how brilliant or magical, how little things made primarily of words (or of ink and paper, either), and how much things made out of lives and the world that lives inhabit." No other poet has ever written about his art with such electricity and intelligence--which makes No Other Book one of the true treasures of this or any other year. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Few have written as compellingly or as memorably about the topics and writers they loved best as American poet, critic and essayist Jarrell (1914-1965). This important collection of 24 essays (plus snippets from over a dozen others) restores much of Jarrell's best nonfiction to print. Jarrell's own poetry still occasions debate, but his essays about poets won admiration from the start. He gained his reputation in the 1940s as a killingly witty reviewer of current verse; some of his most famous barbs get included here. But his real work was detailed, enthusiastic praise. Jarrell taught his peers to appreciate first the young Robert Lowell and W.H. Auden, then Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Walt Whitman and Robert Frost. Moore "not only can, but must, make poetry out of everything and anything"; a love poem by Frost "expresses... the transfiguring, almost inexpressible reaching out of the self to what has become closer and more personal than the self." The later Jarrell divided his prose between appreciations of poets, digressions on idiosyncratic passions, and funny or sad indictments of 1950s-style popular culture. Leithauser quite rightly devotes the first three-quarters of his book to Jarrell's essays on poets, the last quarter to those on other topicsAon fiction by Kipling and Christina Stead, on grade school education, on sports-car races. As a convincing, above all personal, guide to modern poets, and as a captivating writer of criticism, Jarrell has no obvious 20th-century equal: his essays charm readers coming and going, even as they divert us from their own delights, back to the poems and other art works they describe. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The reader from Zion does have some legitimate points to make--that late essay on Stevens is sorely missed, and perhaps Brad Leithauser has indeed weighted the collection too heavily towards Jarrell's lamentations on contemporary culture. Yet I still can't understand how anybody with an ear for English prose could complain about this delightful, witty, supernaturally wise collection. And the nitpicking about the book's "precious" production values is even nuttier--what did you want, a volume bound in corrugated cardboard? Until the Library of America wises up and devotes a book to Jarrell--and really, between Poetry and the Age, Kipling Auden & Company, and The Third Book of Criticism, there's PLENTY of material--this one will have to do. And it does, handsomely. Can we stop the griping, please?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dafydd G. Wood on September 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
I came across this book about a year ago. I picked up a used copy of it, and read "The Age of Criticism." Afterwards I could not put the book down. I was not familiar with Jarrell's essays, and they amazed me. "The Age of Criticism" is one of the most prescient essays that I have ever read. These essays are in no way dated. They hold a position similar only to some of Dr. Johnson's best critical works. The only other comparison that I can make is to Paul Fussell. In other words, essays that are enornously insightful and will remain read (Unlike so many pieces of criticism).

After reading Mr. Leithauser's selection, I bought Jarrell's four books of criticism, and have read them all. Some of the reviewers have complained about Mr. Leithauser's choices. I think it is great. A wonderful introduction to Jarrell's great essays. Mr. Leithauser's short selections for "A Jarrell Gallery," demonstrate quite easily the epigrammatic nature and customary brilliance of Jarrell (they include short selections from many of Jarrell's essays that he did not include in this Selected). In fact Mr. Leithauser's selection made me re-evaluate the editor. I still don't care for his poetry, but he's an intelligent man.

I highly recommend this collection to anyone interested in poetry (his essays on individual poets are exceptional. Though I often disagree with Jarrell's estimate of Graves, Williams, Moore, Cummings and others, they are nevertheless a delight to read--should not criticism be enjoyable??), the state of criticism (in other words, atrocious, which Jarrell had predicted--"The first generation [of critics] wrote distinguishably well; the second wrties indistiguishably ill; who knows how the third will write?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The reader from St. Louis (below) must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. I can't see anything so onerous about Randall Jarrell's splendid work being "Palgraved"--ie, anthologized. Sure, I might have made some different choices than Brad Leithauser did (for one thing, I would've omitted the more academic pieces about Auden and Housman), but only an insane person would actually object to reading the superb and sparkling prose in "No Other Book." And given the out-of-print status of the other titles, I'm grateful that this one is now readily available. Viva Jarrell!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
So much of Jarrell's prose is either out-of-print or just so hard to find, that we are lucky to have this book. For those who lament the inclusion of so many pieces on pop culture, they need to remember that some of those pieces made Jarrell both popular but also got him in trouble. To not include them would be to misrepresent Jarrell historically (and deprive us of some very funny writing). Unfortunately, there really were only 2 Jarrell essays on Auden (he never got around to writing the book he planned), and one of those is here. Everything in this book is useful, and this is a good representative collection of Jarrell's prose.
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