Feature

Also of interest...in literary lives

Lives of the Novelists by John Sutherland; When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson; Reading for My Life by John Leonard; Life Sentences by William Gass

Lives of the Novelistsby John Sutherland (Yale, $40)If promising “a history of fiction in 294 lives” seems foolhardy, it is, said Allan Massie in The Wall Street Journal. This book doesn’t live up to its subtitle, but British professor John Sutherland has created an engaging read by using his own idiosyncratic tastes as a guide. Scores of writers spotlighted here are “usually excluded from the literary pantheon.” And what of those who didn’t make the cut? Harriet Beecher Stowe, Willa Cather, P.G. Wodehouse, and others make up “quite a salon des rejetés.

When I Was a Child I Read Booksby Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24)Marilynne Robinson often seems “like an intellectual who wandered into the 21st century from another time,” said Maggie Galehouse in the Houston Chronicle. The Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist believes deeply in the sacred yet “assumes nothing and questions everything.” This essay collection is predictably rigorous and thought-provoking. But you might need to share Robinson’s deep familiarity with Calvin, Walt Whitman, and the Bible to fully experience its “collective punch.”

Reading for My Lifeby John Leonard (Viking, $35)John Leonard, who died in 2008, was one of “the last and the best” of a dying breed—the lifelong book critic, said Phillip Lopate in The New York Times. “Rescued from the dust of past periodicals,” the writings collected here demonstrate how Leonard’s early love of books and “hunger for transcendent literary sorcery” led to a career of eruditely championing the likes of Vladimir Nabokov and Toni Morrison. This “cheerful investigator” of literature’s myriad byways clearly possessed “a touch of the poet.”

Life Sentencesby William Gass (Knopf, $29)William Gass’s latest “makes a major contribution to the understanding and appreciation of great writing,” said Chris Hartman in CSMonitor.com. In these exquisite essays, the octogenarian author lays out his literary judgments with passion and, in some cases, ire. “In Gass’s pantheon”—which includes Henry James, Gertrude Stein, and Friedrich Nietzsche—“great writers are highly perceptive observers of the human condition, though their faults are often as outstanding as their literary accomplishments.”

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