From Publishers Weekly
Gass loves words. His prose is extravagant, lush, sometimes overly florid (as when he talks of Flann O'Brien's death on "the first Fools' Day of April, 1966"), and in this new collection, his words have a tendency to get in the way of his subject matter. Which is a shame, because Gass, a novelist and award-winning critic, writes about books and authors often ignored by mainstream readers: Rabelais, Robert Burton, Elias Canetti. Then again, Gass doesn't write for the mainstream. He is the strangest of academic amalgams: a self-professed lover of the avant-garde as represented by Gertrude Stein, Flann O'Brien and Robert Coover, while at the same time he extols the virtues of what he calls "the classics." His definition of classic is, to be sure, expansive, but he applies an old-fashioned standard to all literature, declaring the need for those classics as the basis for a varied literary diet. Despite the occasional gem, such as a touching, if rambling, tribute to William Gaddis, the essays often devolve into little more than a brief synopsis of plot. This volume is appropriately titled, because Gass approaches his subjects reverently, but as in a temple, the service depends as much on the ritual of devotion as on innovation in thought. (Feb. 20)
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It's unfortunate that the term critic
often connotes negativity and sniping. What novelist and professor of philosophy William Gass practices in his critical essays is more in the line of learned appreciation or ecstatic advocacy. Though many of these pieces first appeared in other books as forwards, afterwards, and introductions, reviewers feel that A Temple of Texts
may be his most cohesive collection yet. Gass's allusions and elaborate metaphors don't make for skimming. But for these willing to dig in, the author fulfills his mission "to provide suggestions of where best to start, what to expect, how to look or read or listen; and to give reasons why the work should be treated with seriousness and respect."
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