What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Favorite Books of 2015

Here are five books published in 2015 that I enjoyed immensely:

1. James Wood’s The Nearest Thing to Life, a collection of four extraordinary essays blending personal history with literary criticism. One of the pieces, "Why?," originally appeared in The New Yorker. (See my post here.)

2. Helen Vendler’s The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar, a brilliant essay collection on poets and poetry, including two wonderful New Yorker pieces, “American X-Rays: Forty Years of Allen Ginsberg’s Poetry” and “Ardor and Artifice: Merrill’s Mozartian Touch.” (See my posts here and here.)

3. Julian Bell’s Van Gogh: A Power Seething, a superb, concise, stimulating study of Van Gogh’s life and work by one of my favorite art critics. (See my post here.)

4. Michael Hofmann’s Where Have You Been?, a delicious collection of essays on James Schuyler, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Zbigniew Herbert, Adam Zagajewski, and Les Murray, among others. It also contains an excellent piece on my favorite Canadian poet, Karen Solie. (See my post here.)

5. Colm Tóibín’s On Elizabeth Bishop, an exquisite study of Bishop’s poetry, including her great New Yorker poem, “At the Fishhouses,” which Tóibín ingeniously connects with James Joyce’s “The Dead.” (See my post here.)

Correction: I see now that Michael Hofmann's Where Have You Been? is not a 2015 book. It was published in 2014. But I read it this year, and so I'm going to keep it on my 2015 list. 

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