Five Essential Books for The Critic
July 20, 2010 | by Thessaly La Force
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.