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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Glad To Be Unhappy

Which would you prefer to hear first about "The Fun Stuff" (2012) - the latest book of essays by esteemed critic James Wood - good news or bad news?

Good news, you say? OK, if you decide to tackle this book it's a safe bet you'll benefit because Wood might be one of the most well read people you'll ever encounter. He'll likely expose you to writers and books that might otherwise escape your attention. Of the twenty three authors featured in this feast for the mind, nine were names unknown to me. Among that group, the next new author I'm going to try - based on Wood's glowing endorsement - is Lydia Davis.

Bad news? OK, if you share even a portion of my day-dependent intellectual insecurity, if you decide to tackle this book it's a safe bet you'll be demoralized because Wood might be one of the most well read people you'll ever encounter. My first bad moment occurred as I read his scary smart essay on Edmund Wilson, perhaps Wood's closest analogue from the earlier part of the 20th century. Later came "Robert Alter and The King James Bible" when Wood compares several translations of the big book. Yikes. Lest I sound too pathetic, I'll leave out how my feelings of inadequacy nearly overtook me recognizing subtleties I apparently missed in several books we've both read.

But, I'll finish with good news. The title essay, the first one in the book and a finalist for the 2011 National Magazine Award, is about Keith Moon's drumming. It's a hoot and is also 100% accessible, thank goodness. "Rock music ... is noise, improvisation, collaboration, theater, pantomime, aggression, bliss, tranced collectivity. It's not so much concentration as it is fission." Wood's down-to-earth populism pulled me in right there and then sustained me during subsequent, if brief, spells on the pity pot. 

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