The great literary critic James Wood has a new book out, and he is being publicly fellated in print all over town. Nothing gets a book critic more excited, it seems, than the success of another book critic.
“In studying how fiction works, Wood shows how the critical mind ought to work,” exclaims Peter Conrad at The Observer (UK).
“Wood’s reviews are events,” froths Delia Falconer at the Australian.
“Reading Wood, no matter the book under review, provides enormous pleasure; his prose is at once buoyant and momentous, his judgment swift with imperial grace.” That’s from Gideon Lewis-Kraus at the LA Times.
David Gates at Newsweek, in one of the more tepid reviews, still manages to remind us that Wood is “one of the best critics alive.”
And Louis Bayard, over at Salon, starts his review with this line: “James Wood makes me want to be a better man.” He follows that up with: “Wood writes like an angel, with all the austerity and voluptuousness that implies.”
Bayard’s review is actually one of the better ones, despite these ebullient lines. He brings some of his own insights to bear, including this one, on the question of whether fiction even really needs to be explained:
Surely, if it’s doing its job, it need only be experienced. If it can’t be experienced without tearing off its gown to expose the skivvies beneath, then it’s even more of a minority art form than we feared. What, finally, is better for the soul: reading Tolstoy or reading how to read Tolstoy?
I’d vote for the former, but then I’m a sucker for writing about writing and insights into literature, so I’ll be checking out the book anyway. There’s something about the reverential tone reserved for Wood that irks me, though, which is why I was amused to see this somewhat crass attack on the Wood oeurvre from the authors of the Vulture blog over at New York magazine. The great literary critic James Wood seemed to feel so misrepresented that he responded to their implied attacks on his intellect in person. That’s all well and good, James, but do you still collect dirt?