Tag Archives: Literary Criticism

The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner

26114416 Title: The Hatred of Poetry
Author: Ben Lerner
Publisher: FSG Originals
ISBN:978-0865478206
Genre: Criticism and Theory, Poetry
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

This book’s title might make you wonder: The Hatred of Poetry? Really? It might even intrigue you to pick it up (which is a very good thing by the way). Most people hate poetry as an art form by the way. The book starts with bashing poetry and Ben Lerner even stating that he hates it as well. He goes on to even list other people and even poets who have said that they hate poetry. Ben Lerner then throws this right on its head and lets readers know why people hate poetry so much and then builds a very strong defense for it.

Lerner is a poet by the way, besides being a novelist. He has published three poetry collections in case you are wondering how does he get to be an authority on poetry and write on it. “The Hatred of Poetry” is almost a treatise and yet it isn’t preachy at all. Lerner is fair when he speaks of why people hate poetry (rhymes, meter, etc.) and at the same time he uses those very elements to convey why people would love poetry as well. To me, he also made a very valid point of the language sometimes used by poets that restricts it from connecting with people (this to a very large extent is also quite true).

This book also reminded me of the poetry open mic I had been to. Thank God, the only one I had been to. I say this because at some level I could also see the pretense of it (where some of them were concerned) and Lerner also makes a point to this perspective. All in all, “The Hatred of Poetry” will either make you stop reading poems altogether or will convert you to a fan. I love poetry. So I was safe anyway.

On Art, Literature and History: Essays by Naguib Mahfouz; Translated by Aran Byrne

51s8qRJdoUL Title: On Art, Literature and History: Essays
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Translated from the Arabic by Aran Byrne
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386050007
Genre: Essays
Pages: 172
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It will take you some time to get into this book of essays by Naguib Mahfouz, one of the finest contemporary Arabic writers, however, once you do wade your way through and read a couple of essays, you are in for a rollercoaster ride. Mahfouz’s range is wide as the title suggests is diverse – right from art to history to literature, you can read his opinions (yeah it is that after all) and more than just opinions, you can feel what he tries to tell you because he does such a good job of using words to communicate, which to me most humans cannot.

Anyhow, back to the book. “On Art, Literature and History” is a collection of essays, most of which were penned in the 1930s, that bring to life not just Mahfouz’s views but also deal with the Arab world then and development of Islam. To me, it was a very interesting read, given how he blends philosophy and art with politics, without making it too boring or uninteresting for the reader. I think I was a fan anyway since the time I read his very popular Cairo trilogy and this one just pushed me over to becoming a major fan, I suppose.

This is the first volume that Speaking Tiger has come out with so I am expecting there to be more such volumes of his non-fiction writing spanning decades. A lot of people aren’t aware of his non-fiction pieces but I really hope that they go on and pick this collection and are more aware of what he could dabble in.

The writing is complex but only when it comes to language to some extent. The reading then becomes easy once you connect with the authors’ ideas and way of thinking. After all, essays aren’t easy to write. A balance between having to say so much and brevity must be maintained at all times. I most particularly enjoyed the literature section the most – as he spoke of Chekov to other Arabic authors as well. His sense of observation is superlative and that of course will be seen as you go along from essay to essay. At some points, I did feel the pace to be languid but that is I think true of most essay collections. Maybe some can read it in one gulp and some take their own time with it. Whichever way you’d like to read it, this one is one hell of a firecracker of a read.

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables by David Bellos

Title: The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables
Author: David Bellos
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374223236
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books about Books, Literary Criticism
Pages: 307
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

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I love books about books. There is something magical about them that cannot be ignored, say what you will. Books talking about books is almost surreal – not even meta, it is just something that makes you want to pick up the books that are being spoken about and reread them or read them if you haven’t already. This is what happened to me when I finished reading “The Novel of the Century” by David Bellos.

This book is about Les Misérables and how it came to be. I remember watching Les Misérables – the movie when it released (the one starring Anne Hathaway) and crying. I couldn’t get enough of it and surprisingly I hadn’t read the book. I had to change that. I did read the book soon after and was mesmerised by it. I mean the characters – Inspector Jarvet, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette and even the minor ones that play such an important role in this book of power, politics and love. I can see how it came to one of the greatest novels of the 19th century or the greatest, I think.

David Bellos takes a leap and writes about this book. How did it come to me? Why was it written? What was Victor Hugo thinking when he wrote this? How did he come about such characters? What Bellos also does is explain why this novel fascinates us (most of us at least) and how it places itself so beautifully in the modern context. To me, that was the most favourite parts in the book.

Bellos’ research is spot on. I was reading a lot about the book and the times in which it was set while reading The Novel of the Century and that to me is the best thing an author can do to you while he is writing about another book. The writing then is truly powerful. This is also not a biography of Victor Hugo but of course it has to trace his life briefly and how he came to write Les Mis. The angle of prostitution in those times, religion playing such a major role and also just how women survived is fascinating when Bellos brings it to the fore.

“The Novel of the Century” isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. It is for people who love Les Misérables or perhaps want to really read it sometime in the future. Having said that, I couldn’t get enough of Bellos’s writing – crisp, to the point and very meticulous with his research. At times, I almost felt like I was watching the movie or reading the book again. The characters I went back to welcomed me back and I for one felt so nice meeting them after all these years. A book for book lovers and of course of the classic as well.

Literary Miniatures by Florence Noiville

Literary Miniatures by Florence Noiville Title: Literary Miniatures
Author: Florence Noiville
Translated by: Teresa Lavender Fagan
Publisher: Seagull books
ISBN: 978-0857421067
Genre: Literary Criticism, Interviews
Pages: 183
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Twenty-seven writers in one book. 27 perspectives on wide-ranging topics. What else could a literary lover ask for?
This book is all about the world and views of these writers. It is also about how their most famous works came to be. “Literary miniatures” is a wondrous world of words, books, and authors. Being a bibliophile, this volume was God-sent. Well not God-sent but Seagull sent and might I add here, that Seagull books publishes a lot of gems that are lesser-known and have to be discovered through their site.

Back to the book. “Literary miniatures” is a collection of interviews that appeared in Le Monde, a French daily evening newspaper and conducted by Florence Noiville. These are to me unparalleled in literary journalism. Why you ask?

Here are some reasons why:

The choice of authors. The length and breadth of authors chosen for interviews by Noiville are superlative. This collection has interviews with A.S. Byatt, Kazuo Ishiguro, Don DeLillo, Enrique Vila-Matas, Mario Vargas Llosa, William Trevor, Toni Morrison and more. Need I say more why you must read this?

The passion with which they speak of writing, reading and other topics. Trust me, as a reader I could not take my eyes off this book.

The writing is effortless. It is also easy and not taxing.

Even after all this, you don’t want to pick this up and you claim to love these writers, then I have nothing to say to you. But I still would urge you to read this one.

Affiliate Link:

Literary Miniatures (The French List)

Literary Miniatures (English)

Conversations – Volume 1: Jorge Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrari: Translated by Jason Wilson

Conversations - Jorge Luis Borges Title: Conversations – Volume 1
Authors: Jorge Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrari
Translator: Jason Wilson
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857421883
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Reading conversations with writers is fun. It is the best thing ever according to me. Their views, thoughts, expressions, blatantly calling out bull shit sometimes and most importantly their perspectives are to be cherished and worth going back to every once a while.

For me, reading about conversations with Jorge Luis Borges was a stunning experience. He doesn’t leave any stone unturned. His conversations are with Osvaldo – a poet and a university professor.

Jorge Luis Borges has always been my idol. I love everything he has written – from prose to non-fiction to his poems. They all make for some marvelous reading. What makes these conversations different, you ask?

These are two intelligent people discussing literature, art, poetry, politics and more. How much better than this can it get for you, humble reader? The sections are short, which means that you might read them fast, but it takes time to soak in all that the master (well to me he is) is saying.

The forty-seven pieces in the book are as varied and diverse than perhaps anything you’ve ever read. My favourite portions of course in the book are when they are discussing literature (which is almost all time) – from Dante to Henry James, on poetry, realist and fantasy literature (my most favourite piece in the book) to the detective story.

Borges’ fiction was always infused with dreams and so much magic realism – it makes you dizzy after a while but when you sink into the prose, it is something else. He speaks of his works (another aspect that intrigued me a lot) and the socio-economic condition (then) of Europe and the political atmosphere. Like I said, no stone is left unturned. To top it all, there is also a second volume in line which I will speak about soon. For all literary lovers, this is a treat like none other.

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Conversations, V 1

Conversations, Volume 1 (English)