Babel No More

I have never thought of myself as particularly good at languages. This despite my reputation in my workplace as someone who can read anything. Indeed, on lection, in the past eight years, I have reviewed books written in French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Portuguese, as well as English. My Latin and Greek were once good enough to read Vergil and Homer, I’ve studied Old and Middle English – and many…

Bad Books

Recently The American Book Review released an article titled “Top 40 Bad Books,” in which a host of literary critics were invited to identify “bad books.” Some of the contributors went with the obvious: Bonnie Wheeler (SMU) listed Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code – which seems just a little bit too easy. Marc Bousquet (Santa Clara) listed David Horowitz’s right-wing screed, One Party Classroom, and Liedeke Plate (Radboud Universiteit) Pride…

Proof that novels about clergymen and spinsters can be good

Much as I hate to plaster my post over Tim’s diverting discussion of academic bureaucracy, it is time for me to report back on another “Neglected Classic,” which this time is F.M. Mayor’s The Rector’s Daughter. I had never heard of F.M. Mayor. Not that this necessarily means much, since twentieth-century literature was a blind spot of my undergraduate degree in English. In 1991, which is when I started the…

In Praise of the American Short Story

Last year, in an article for the New York Times lamenting the lack of appreciation many American readers have for the short story, Stephen Millhauser said, “…here in America, size is power. The novel is the Wal-Mart, the Incredible Hulk, the jumbo jet of literature. The novel is insatiable — it wants to devour the world. What’s left for the poor short story to do? It can cultivate its garden,…

Not the “Neglectedest” Classic

As promised in my last post, I am making my way (very slowly) through the nominations for “neglected classic” made by ten contemporary authors for the radio 4 program Open Book. This past two weeks I read The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico, and Samuel Johnson’s This History of Rasselas Prince of Abissinia. I will only have room here to address The Snow Goose—it’s just that kind of book, and…

Who Would Have Thought It?

Who Would Have Thought It?, indeed. María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s novel was published (anonymously) in 1872 to dismissive notices from the few reviewers who bothered to discuss it. In 2009, it has just been reissued as a Penguin Classic. The novel’s first reviewers, quoted in the Penguin introduction by Amelia María de la Luz Montes, opined that Who Would Have Thought It? “does not ask the most implicit belief…