In the News, May 2015
Posted 05.28.15: Allen Mendenhall on The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime by Harold Bloom: "The Yale professor is a controversial visionary, a polarizing seer who has been recycling and reformulating parallel theories of creativity and influence, with slightly different foci and inflections, for his entire career, never seeming tiresome or repetitive. He demonstrates what is manifestly true about the best literary critics: they are as much artists as the subjects they undertake. Bloom's criticism is characterized by sonorous, cadenced, almost haunting prose, by an exacting judgment and expansive imagination, and by a painful, sagacious sensitivity to the complexities of human behavior and psychology. He is a discerning Romantic in an age of banality and distraction, in a culture of proud illiteracy and historical unawareness. Bloom reminds us that to be faithful to tradition is to rework it, to keep it alive, and that tradition and innovation are yoked pairs, necessarily dependent on one another. Bloom has been cultivating the image and reputation of a prophet or mystic for decades. His stalwart defense of the Western canon is well known but widely misunderstood. His descriptive account is that the canon is fluid, not fixed—open, not closed. It might be stable, but it's not unchangeable. The literary canon is the product of evolution, a collection of the fittest works that have been selectively retained, surviving the onslaught of relentless competition. Bloom's prescriptive position is that, because human agency is a controllable factor in this agnostic filtering process, serious readers can and should ensure that masterpieces, those stirring products of original, even genius minds, are retained, and that the latest works are held to the highest aesthetic standards, which are themselves established and proven by revisionary struggle. The merit of a work is not found in the identity of its author—his or her race, gender, or sexuality—but in the text proper, in the forms and qualities of the work itself." — Allen Mendenhall, The American Conservative
Posted 05.28.15: “In the introduction to his new book, The Road to Character, David Brooks breaks the columnist's fourth wall with a startling confession: “I was born with a natural disposition towards shallowness.” Brooks, who established a reputation for sometimes glib but often insightful cultural commentary with Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, his 2000 best-seller, has more recently specialized in applying the latest in brain science and social psychology to larger questions of morality on the op-ed pages of the Times. He continues, “I'm paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am, to appear smarter than I really am, to appear better and more authoritative than I really am. I have to work harder than most people to avoid a life of smug superficiality. The Road to Character is an account of Brooks's effort to find his way out of shallow punditry—or, as he puts it, to “cultivate character.” … There is something affecting in the diligence with which Brooks seeks a cure for his self-diagnosed shallowness by plumbing the depths of others…. Brooks's instinct that there is wisdom to be found in literature that cannot be found in the pages of the latest social science journals is well-advised, and the possibility that his book may bring the likes of Eliot or Samuel Johnson—another literary figure about whom he writes with engaging sympathy—to a wider readership is a heartening thought.”—Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker
Posted 05.27.15: "The capstone to a lifetime of thinking, writing and teaching. Bloom's project is ostensibly to trace the idea of the daemonic sublime, defined as 'the god within who generates poetic power,' through the work of 12 canonical American writers. His real agenda, however, appears to be twofold: to enter into complex meditations on the literature he loves, and to delineate the subtle web of interconnected allusion and influence among the writers who matter to him…. The primary strength of The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime is the brilliance and penetration of the connections Bloom makes among the great writers of the past, the shrewd sketching of intellectual feuds or oppositions that he calls agons…. Bloom's books are like a splendid map of literature, a majestic aerial view that clarifies what we cannot see from the ground."—Michael Lindgren, The Washington Post
Posted 05.20.15: The #3 New York Times Best Seller is Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich by Peter Schweizer; the #5 New York Times Best Seller is The Road to Character by David Brooks (May 31st).
Posted 05.19.15: "A concentrated, high-caliber, and exhilarating overview of the intensity and artistry that have made American poetry so splendidly varied and vital since 1988.... This is an anthology of broad scope, serious pleasure, and invaluable illumination." — Booklist, the magazine of the American Library Association, on David Lehman's The State of the Art: A Chronicle of American Poetry, 1988-2014
Posted 05.18.15: “Harold Bloom, who bestrides our literary world like a willfully idiosyncratic colossus, belongs to the party of rapture. He is himself no Whitman or Melville, no Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost or Wallace Stevens, no Hart Crane or Emerson. And yet he seems at times almost as large as any of these, so vital and particularized is his presence. If, as Emerson claims, the true ship is the shipbuilder, then is the true poem the critic who maps and parses and inhabits it? Can poet and critic be equal seers? Read Bloom, and you may be led to suppose it so. The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime, the enigmatic title of Bloom's newest work of oracular criticism, is strangely intransitive. What is it that the daemon knows? We are meant to understand that the daemon is an incarnation of an intuition beyond ordinary apperception, and that this knowing lies in the halo of feeling that glows out of the language of poetry. ‘To ask the question concerning the daemon is to seek an origin of inspiration,' Bloom asserts…. Well, never mind—at least while Bloom's enrapturing book is radiant in your hand. The daemon knows, and Bloom knows too.”—Cynthia Ozick, The New York Times Book Review, front page, May 24th
Posted 05.13.15: The #2 New York Times Best Seller is Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich by Peter Schweizer. The #3 New York Times Best Seller is The Road to Character by David Brooks. (May 31st)
Posted 05.12.15: A starred review from Kirkus for Michael Dirda: "Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books is as much about living with books, about serendipitous discovery, as about the boundless pleasures of reading…. Dirda's comradely essays are unfailingly informative and amusing, punctuated with poignant asides on the aging artist and paeans to great literary scholars. His almost single-minded passion, the exhilaration of a life in literature, glows on every page."
Posted 05.07.15: "Based on the evidence marshalled by Peter Schweizer, the new Clinton Doctrine seems to hold that wherever freedom and the rule of law are threatened, wherever corruption reigns and individual liberties are denied—there is money to be made. In such places, big windfalls can accrue to Clinton friends, who are nothing if not grateful and shower donations upon the Clinton Foundation and speaking fees upon the Clintons themselves. Almost every page of the fascinating Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich will be excruciating reading for partisans on both sides of the aisle. Mr. Schweizer, a former speechwriting consultant for George W. Bush, will have conservatives trying to imagine a Republican appearing to do so many favors for business allies and getting away with it. Liberals will wonder why they have to nominate someone whose friends and associates are getting rich in some of the world's poorest countries.... He takes us on a world tour of business magnates writing large checks to the Clintons or their foundation and receiving favorable treatment from various governmental bodies—including the U.S. Department of State where Mrs. Clinton served from 2009 to 2013."—James Freeman, The Wall Street Journal
Posted 05.01.15: The #1 New York Times Best Seller is The Road to Character by David Brooks.
Posted 04.30.15: The American Library Association's Booklist magazine on Harold Bloom's forthcoming The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime: "For five decades, eminent and contentious literary critic Bloom has energetically explicated the Bible, Shakespeare, and other giants in the Western canon, tracing the bond between spirituality and art. In his thirty-sixth book of erudite and passionate exegesis, Bloom illuminates the 'daemonic' or sublime aspect of American literature as expressed in the writing of twelve seminal American geniuses…. These Bloom analyzes at length with vigor and pleasure, quoting clarion passages and, moving forward in time, mapping influences and variations. His buoyancy and intrepidity as he navigates the grand river of myth, archetype, theology, and humanism; his unabashed gratitude for the beauty and power of the works he parses so meaningfully; and his unalloyed joy in the discipline and discovery of criticism charges his latest inquiry with inspiriting radiance."—Donna Seaman, Booklist (The book will be published May 12th.)
Posted 04.24.15: "With his new book, The Road to Character, David Brooks—New York Times columnist, PBS 'NewsHour' commentator and serial mensch—emerges as a countercultural leader. His goal is the recovery of ‘a vast moral vocabulary and set of moral tools, developed over centuries and handed down from generation to generation' His method is to profile ‘heroes of renunciation'—a diverse group consisting of men and women, minorities and whites, gay people and straight, aristocratic and blue-collar, generally shaped by tragedy and driven to make unsparing demands on themselves…. Brooks's selection of biographical examples is an exercise in cultural criticism. They are chosen to stand in contrast to currently ascendant forms of self-trust, self-love, self-expression, self-esteem and self-actualization…. The literary achievement of The Road to Character is inseparable from the virtues of its author. As the reader, you not only want to know about Frances Perkins or Saint Augustine. You also want to know what Brooks makes of Frances Perkins or Saint Augustine. The voice of the book is calm, fair and humane. The highlight of the material is the quality of the author's moral and spiritual judgments. Across the pages, Brooks is a reliable guide and a pleasant companion. But this description plays down the radical, disruptive ambition of the book. The Road to Character can't be reduced to cultural criticism, because the author doesn't take our communal struggle to be primary…. He finds the greatest drama in our sacred journeys — the saving and losing of souls."—Michael Gerson, The Washington Post
Posted 04.20.15: "Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, by Peter Schweizer — a 186-page investigation of donations made to the Clinton Foundation by foreign entities — is proving the most anticipated and feared book of a presidential cycle still in its infancy. The book, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, asserts that foreign entities who made payments to the Clinton Foundation and to Mr. Clinton through high speaking fees received favors from Mrs. Clinton's State Department in return. “We will see a pattern of financial transactions involving the Clintons that occurred contemporaneous with favorable U.S. policy decisions benefiting those providing the funds,” Mr. Schweizer writes…. “Clinton Cash” is potentially more unsettling, both because of its focused reporting and because major news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author to pursue the story lines found in the book."—The New York Times, Sunday, April 19. Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich will be published May 5.
Posted 04.16.15: The #1 Amazon Best Seller is The Road to Character by David Brooks. "A powerful, haunting book that works its way beneath your skin."—Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian
Posted 04.16.15: Vanity Fair features Harold Bloom's forthcoming book in its May issue with a column by Chrisopher Buckley and an illustration by Edward Sorel. Buckley writes: "Oh, what a lovely howling shitstorm Professor Bloom's latest slab of a tablet, The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime, is going to stir up in Litworld this spring. And oh what fun it's going to be to watch. Teeth will gnash. Garments will rend. Loud will be the lamentations. What's all the fuss? Brace yourself: Bloom has the cheek to enumerate America's twelve greatest writers.... And now that you've braced, strap yourself in tight, because they're all (a) dead, (b) white, and (c) Anglo-Christian, and 11 out of 12 are male.... Harold Bloom, though he demurely calls himself 'a worn-out exegete,' is, lit-crit-wise, our resident Owl of Minerva."
Posted 04.09.15: Library Journal highlights David Lehman's Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World: "This book offers 100 brief meditations on Sinatra and his music. Lots of fans out there could write 100 mash notes, but what makes this book so special is that the fan in question is distinguished poet Lehman, editor of the Best American Poetry series and The Oxford Book of American Poetry. So expect elegant writing and creative insight along with the outpouring of affection."
Posted 04.01.15: A starred review from Library Journal for The State of the Art: A Chronicle of American Poetry, 1988-2014 by David Lehman: "Lehman, though primarily known as a poet, is a fine editor and nonfiction writer who teaches in the graduate writing program of the New School in New York City. He has also written the forewords to the prestigious annual showcase of new poems, The Best American Poetry, since its inception in 1988. This volume gathers his forewords into a collection of 29 essays that encourage poets and readers to explore the evolution of poetry over the last 27 years…. This title offers insightful observations about the genre. Readers and scholars who love poetry will find much to return to again and again in Lehman's fine collection of essays." The volume will be published next week by the University of Pittsburgh Press.