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The Half-Life of An American Essayist Paperback – September 1, 2008

3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1567923728 ISBN-10: 1567923720 Edition: second

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Editorial Reviews


A vigorous case for the virtues of old-fashioned literary criticism. --The New York Times

Literate, original, conversational, witty, allusive, written for an educational general reader. --National Public Radio

Krystal makes a vigorous case for the virtues of old-fashioned literary criticism, twitting the navel gazers of 'creative nonfiction,' which he dismisses as just a fancy word for memoir. . . Krystal ranges widely, taking on subjects ranging from the typewriter to boxing, and he's not afraid of weighty topics: he slogs through the notebooks of Paul Valéry, ponders different theories of beauty and offers a defense of the seven deadly sins. --Matthew Price, New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Arthur Krystal is a full-time essayist, part-time editor, and sometime screenwriter. He has edited Jacques Barzun's The Culture We Deserve and A Company of Readers, a selection of essays written by Barzun, W.H. Auden, and Lionel Trilling for The Readers' Subscription and Mid-Century Book Clubs. Krystal's own reviews and essays have appeared in The American Scholar, Harper's, The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, The Washington Post Book World, The Times Literary Supplement, Sports Illustrated, and Arts & Antiques. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: David R Godine; second edition (September 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1567923720
  • ISBN-13: 978-1567923728
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,102,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Richard Cohn on June 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Here's my suggestion, put down that 600 page tome on what's happening behind closed doors at the White House, take a pass on the latest "woe is me" memoir and just sit back and let a smart, funny, and always stimulating conversationalist engage your mind with fresh insights into fascinating topics in impeccable style. It is the rare essayist who combines a cultivated and informed intellect with an enthusiastic and playful wit. Arthur Kyrstal does just that and more in this collection. The essays on Laziness and Sin are absolute gems, and the ones on Beauty, Faces, The Typewriter, and Boxing Writing are all first rate. For me, this is literary entertainment of the highest order--stimulating, surprising, challenging and smart.

When you're done, you can go back to that 600 page political pundit expose, or get Krystals' other essay collection, Agitations, and continue to treat yourself to the kind of reading that reminds you of what great writing is all about.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Barran on August 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Arthur Krystal's second collection of essays, "The Half-Life of an American Essayist," confirms the opinion of his writing that I came to after his first collection "Agitations" appeared. He has an instinctive grasp of the essay as genre and produces some of the very best contemporary examples of that misunderstood category. Now, we all wrote essays in school, some of us have even composed op-ed pieces or, at least, letters to editors. We know one when we see it. We know how to put an essay together, right? What's so intricate and demanding about writing essays? And just where does this sarcastic, name-dropping, self-indulgent, wrong-headed comedian get the right to call himself an "American Essayist?"

We should not react so hastily or give ourselves so much credit. About ten years ago, a contemporary Russian critic (Lidiia Ivanova) told me, "A successful essay should always be based on a paradox." I have kept this in mind for a decade, but the only essays I have read that really measure up to Ivanova's description are Krystal's. (As far as I know, the two have never met). Let's see how this works in Montaigne's essay on cannibals by using a syllogism:

a) Civilized people have refinements and human values.
b) Montaigne's cannibals have refinements and values, many that we lack;
c) The cannibals fall into the category of . . . wait a minute!

Montaigne throws us against the wall of his paradox. Krystal uses paradox effectively in an essay that appears at the beginning of "Agitations," "Closing the Books." Here he announces that he is throwing away his reading glasses, renouncing the reading of artistic fiction and erudite non-fiction, because he no longer reacts as passionately to books as he did in his younger years.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on October 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Essayist Arthur Krystal's work has previously appeared in such respected publications as "The American Scholar", "The New Yorker", "The Wall Street Journal", and more. The Half-Life of an American Essayist is a selection of twelve literary essays, written in a conversational tone yet addressing both political and semiotic precepts. Topics range from the growth of the Holocaust industry, to the life of Raymond Chandler, to the history of boxing. "While scholarly books and serious documentaries about the Holocaust are invaluable in learning about what happened and why, a certain kind of excess breeds indifference, and even this essay may be in some measure a form of betrayal. There is a part of me that feels that whatever I say for public consumption somehow cheapens the suffering of those who died and those who survived. If I have any justification for writing this, it is that I promised my father I would present his alternative to the pomp and circumstance of remembrance." An eclectic and thought-provoking assortment, recommended for intellectual and casual readers alike.
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