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Five Essential Books for The Critic

July 20, 2010 | by

Over on the National Book Critics Circle blog, Lorin Stein has shared five books that he believes belong in any reviewer's library. Here, Lorin explains the charisma of Susan Sontag:

If you are (or want to be) a critic, then sometimes I think it's good to ask what criticism is for. The first book that made me do that was Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation. "We need an erotics, not a hermeneutics, of art." I was sitting after school in a Swensen's ice cream parlor when I read that. I had to go home and look up the word hermeneutics. But the reviews gave one the gist. This was criticism as seduction. Sontag could make a semi-literate fifteen-year-old want to read Michel Leiris or Samuel Beckett or see a Godard film. She made it all seem both glamorous and accessible—which are things I still feel art should be.

And here, how Vivian Gornick shaped his own writing:

My favorite contemporary book of criticism is Vivian Gornick's collection The End of the Novel of Love. To me that book and Studies make a diptych—both are basically concerned with what Gornick calls "love as metaphor." I read The End of the Novel of Love in my twenties—twice, in the space of a day. Since then I have never written an essay that wasn't, deeply and superficially, indebted to Gornick. For years I tried to model my sentences on hers. My sense of criticism—that it must tell a story, that the story must be true, that the story must unlock a secret in the critic's own inner life—I owe entirely to her example. Whenever a reader points out the similarity of my approach (and my prose) to hers, it is the praise that pleases me most.

1 COMMENT

1 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Manus | July 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    I like Gornick’s End of the Novel of Love, too. I read it in my thirties. Mentally, I bookend this one with Carolyn Heilbrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life.