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Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution: Selected Essays, 1977-1992 Paperback – October 1, 1994
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From Publishers Weekly
A collection of essays from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author addresses prominent works of American literature.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Doctorow ( Billy Bathgate ; Loon Lake ) declares that he prefers to write fiction over nonfiction, but he does the reader a great service by using "his own voice" in these 14 essays on literary, political, and historical topics. Highlights of the collection are an extraordinary essay on the subjectivity of fact as opposed to the visionary nature of fiction ("False Document"); a sort of deconstruction of the Constitution; and a speech dated 1989 that deals damningly with issues of the Reagan/Bush era. The latter may irritate some whose political beliefs are not in accord with those of the author, but Doctorow's eloquent articulation to a commencement audience of that administration's legacy is admirable. These essays are, without exception, well crafted, thought-provoking, and entertaining; highly recommended. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/93.
- Janice Braun, Hoover Institution Lib., Stanford, Cal.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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I especially enjoyed Doctorow's thoughts on Hemingway who is one of my favorite writers as well as Jack London. I also found it interesting that he really didn't point out that London lived his life completely opposite of what he espoused. Yes he had some amazing adventures but he also lived an extravagant lifestyle.
It was fun turning back the clock but not really worth reading unless you need some background on the authors Doctorow covered.
The essay that I find most interesting is entitled "Commencement," and is,in fact, the Commencement Address that Doctorow delivered to the Brandeis University graduating class of 1989. A theme in the address is taken from Sherwood Anderson and Doctorow refers to it as "the theory of grotesques." It goes something like this: The world is filled with many truths to live by, and they are all beautiful. Two that he first mentions are the truth of thrift and the truth of self reliance. There is a problem, however, when one of these truths is grabbed up and made into a cause to the exclusion of all other truths.
Take thrift for instance: It is a good thing to be thrifty, and work hard, and scrimp and save in order to get a college education. You've done well. But if, later in life, long after it's necessary, you continue to deny yourself and those close to you, until the act of hoarding becomes an end unto itself, your thrift has become a lie. You've become a miser. You've become a grotesque.
Or take the truth of self-reliance: Doctorow states that it is undeniably beautiful. Self-reliance was the truth that underlay the whole Reagan Administration. In the name of rugged individualism and self-reliance, the truths of community and moral responsibility towards those with lesser advantages were forgotten. In the name of self-reliance, school lunch programs were halted, legal services for the poor, psychologocal counseling for Viet Nam veterans and Social Security payments for the handicapped, among many social programs, were taken away. The philosophy that this engendered has caused hundreds of thousands to suffer. Doctorow believes that much of the homeless problem that we see on the streets of our cities, and the rapid increase of drug sales, among other ills, can be directly traced to the advocacy of the truth of self reliance to the exclusion of other truths. This has certainly become a political philosophy of the grotesque.
In a way, concentrating on just one aspect of one essay does this book a real disservice, but there is just so much food for the brain here that I felt I had no other option. To get even an inkling of the connections between poets and presidents, between literature and lyrics, and between aspects of 19th and 20th century American life as Doctorow means for us to do, the book must be read in its entirety. That's exactly what I recommend.