Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Literary Forays

A few bits and pieces on literature and public intellectuals have cauight my eye in recent days. here's a rundown for your reading pleasure. After poring through them I feel a bit guilty about not providing some deep thoughts and well-constructed insights, but sometimes it's ok to let the work speak for itself.

At The New Republic Christopher Benfey reviews two vital Library of America collections of Edmund Wilson's work. Benfey describes Wilson as "a marmoreal figure, a sort of jowly Supreme Court justice of the literary imagination" in this long and often insightful review essay. The Library of America has been for a long time now creating an indispensible, well, library of American writers and their works with far-ranging tastes and interests. These two volumes fit perfectly into the LOA mission.

At the Chronicle Review historian Michal Kazin wrestles with living in the shadow of a towering figure in American intellectual life. I am far more familiar with the work of the father than the son, so the whole thing seems a bit dynastic for my decidedly not to-the-menner-born background, but Kazin treats his subject, which is in some ways himself, with honety and verve and in so doing tells us something about the changing nature of the American life of the mind in the past half century and more.

In the most recent New York Times Sunday Book Review Gil Troy reviews (Williams alum) Edward Larson's new book on the 1800 election, A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign. The review and the book now have me thinking about an op-ed I might write comparing the 1800 election to a more current affair.

Finally, for those of you into lists (and the untilately false but reassuring hierarchy and order they provide) the Sunday Book review has also provided lists of 100 Notable Books of the Year and the ten best books of 2007. I'd be interested to hear your choices for 2007's best books given that I am voting for just such an honor in the next few weeks and would like to be reminded of some of the good stuff, from all genres, that came out in 2007.

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