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The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays Hardcover – October 30, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

What makes Wood such a forceful critic is the drilling down of his intelligence, the rigor of his close scrutiny, and the precision, luster, and thrust of his prose. The title essay in his third collection, a book of 23 sit-up-straight critiques, provides intriguing clues to the source of his expressive powers. One of his subjects is Keith Moon, the late, legendary drummer for The Who. Wood’s strategy to unlocking Moon’s “many-armed, joyous, semaphoring lunacy” involves describing his own “austerely Christian upbringing” and “traditional musical education, in a provincial English cathedral town,” and secret devotion to playing the drums. So when he writes that Moon’s drumming “is like an ideal sentence of prose,” we think, ah ha! And so we read to the propulsive beat of his assured and vivid dissections of the writings of George Orwell, Geoff Dyer, Ian McEwan, Cormac McCarthy, Aleksandar Hemon, and Marilynne Robinson. Of particular note is how, in his delving essay on fellow critic Edmund Wilson, Wood parses the tricky art of literary criticism, a form much enlivened by his purposeful flams, rolls, and paradiddles. --Donna Seaman

Review

Wood is one of the best readers writing today. Devouring these pieces back to back feels like having a long conversation about books with your most erudite, articulate, and excitable friend. To read his essays on the works of Norman Rush, Aleksandar Hemon, Leo Tolstoy, or Lydia Davis is to relive the specific brand of joy created by a particular work of genius. Wood's reviews are never just evaluations; more often they are passionate, sensitive discourses on the variations of authorial voice, the nature of memory, or the burden of biography. … Wood's veneration of virtuosity reminds why we're reading at all--because we still believe that it's possible to find transcendence in great art. Isn't it fun to think so? (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

Wood is now unquestionably one of the most influential voices in contemporary literary criticism. (The Millions)

Literary criticism sometimes takes itself too seriously, so it's a pleasure to see that preeminent literary critic Wood's very title reminds us what literature is really about: fun. Here he offers his heartfelt views on writers ranging from Thomas Hardy, Leo Tolstoy, and Mikhail Lermontov to Cormac McCarthy, Lydia Davis, and Michel Houellebecq. . . Get ready for some bracing delights. (Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (October 30, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780374159566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374159566
  • ASIN: 0374159564
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #744,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Charlus on October 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is yet a third collection of Wood's essays and reviews, gathered from The New Yorker, The London Review of Books and The New Republic. While most are book reviews, the first title essay is an homage to the Who's drummer, Keith Moon and the last to his father-in-law. The pieces in this collection are far more accessible than those gathered in his first two, perhaps because of a gradual change in personal style but more likely due to the change in audience, The New Yorker having a wider readership than The New Republic, where he was originally writing many of his pieces. Nonetheless, the acute intelligent analysis remains the same even if the language has become less metaphoric.

An early piece on Sebald's novel Austerlitz represents Wood at his finest. Besides analyzing the themes of the novel, he discusses Sebald's use of photography to illustrate his novel and the blurring of reality with fiction:

"In Sebald's work, then, ... we experience a vertiginous relationship to a select number of photographs of humans - these pictures are explicitly part of the story we are reading, which is about saving the dead; and they are also part of a larger story that is not found in the book, which is also about saving the dead. These people stare at us, as if imploring us to rescue them from the banal amnesia of existence".

There is enough variety of subject matter to (hopefully) silence some of his critics who accuse him of being irrepressibly highbrow (clearly a bad thing in their estimation) and of not liking anything more current than, say, Saul Bellow, but in these pages he champions writers as diverse as David Foster Wallace (who he justly describes as being able to write ideal sentences of prose), Geoff Dyer, Lydia Davis, and Marilynne Robinson.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Stanley Crowe TOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
James Wood is a literary journalist with one foot in academic life -- he teaches at Harvard for part of the year. Reading his work, one finds it easy to believe that he could, if he so wished, have a very successful academic career. He has read everything, as they say, and he writes with exemplary clarity and a welcome freedom from jargon. It's tempting to think that that freedom from jargon represents for him one of the benefits of not being fully committed to an academic career. He writes mostly about books and writers, and there is really only one test that a writer like him must pass for a reader -- does he make one want to read the books and writers he is writing about (or reread and reconsider them if one once has done so)? The answer in his case is a definite "yes."

I think that a writer like Woods must have a faith that I find very engaging -- a faith that books can be enjoyed by reasonably well-educated readers and that literary journalists like himself are in the business of nurturing that enjoyment. In my own case, I've always believed that I enjoy and indeed admire Orwell, and especially his essays -- but I haven't read him in ages. Reading Wood's essay on Orwell in this volume makes me want to return to them. It's a fairly long essay, touching a number of issues, and not seeking to be the last word, but it's interesting and inviting, and it takes its starting point from an acute perception about Orwell: that while avowedly a socialist, she seems more interested in lambasting the privileged than in specifically addressing remedies for the poor and working folks. And his idea that Orwell is for revolution but isn't "a revolutionary" is worth pondering. It's the kind of judgment that makes you want to go back and test it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Noovella on January 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Near the end of these twenty-plus essays I flashed back to being in college in the early 1980s and discovering Garcia Marquez, Borges, John Fowles, Andre Gide, Robbe-Grillet, Italo Calvino, Philip K. Dick and on and on. Amazing, fascinating, cutting-edge, avant-garde literature endures with new writers and their works continue to fill an artistic literary void. This book is one place to fill that emptiness.
The Fun Stuff starts off a little off-beat with a homage to Keith Moon's early success filled with "noise, speed, rebellion" and his eventual decline. The rest of the essays are literary critiques of quality writers and their writing and most of the time both. Woods delves deep, breaks down, tears apart a few times, comes from all directions to decipher the meaning he derives from each subject. His literary knowledge and scholarship is mind numbing as he makes complex connections between varied works that is astounding. In addition, you may need to have a dictionary close by if you read this.

And the subjects he chooses are, for the most part, extraordinary and challenging works of art and at least a few should be on any literature lover's Goodreads read, currently-reading or want-to-read lists. Here are a few of the writers and books he devours.

W.G. Sebald's "beautiful novel" Austerliz, filled with real but fictional photographs and the "rubble of history" and memory.

Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let me Go, an allegorical and tender novel that brings fantasy to an eery and hollow day to day life of clones who become aware of their reason for existing.

Norman Rush's three novels set in Botswana, particularly the masterful Mortals, and its fine intricate plotting and real sense of understanding a place and a marriage falling apart.
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