The Half-Life of an American Essayist

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9781567923285: The Half-Life of an American Essayist
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In his first book, Agitations: Essays on Life and Literature, which was heralded by such diverse crtics as Jacques Barzun and Morris Dickstein, Arthur Krystal demonstrated that the literary essay is alive and well. Conversational in tone, but capable of addressing the political and semiotic methods adopted by the academy, Krystal's clear and allusive style constituted a reprimand to the fashionable idea that literature is the theorists' domain. His new book, The Half-Life of an American Essayist, continues to demonstrate that the literary essay in the right hands can itself be a subset of literature. Whether he's examining the evolution of the typewriter, the nature of sin, the cultural implications of physiognomy, the works of Paul Valery and Raymond Chandler, or his own ineffable laziness, Krystal's buoyant prose always speaks to the common reader.

The twelve essays in The Half-Life - the title is from Goethe's "Experience is only half of experience" - go deeper than the standard book piece; they hew to the line first drawn by Montaigne and later extended by Dr. Johnson, Hazlitt, Woolf and Orwell. Although there may be no preordained way of writing about literature, Krystal takes his cue from Edwin Denby, who maintained that the first duty of the critic is to be "interesting." No matter how large the subject - whether it is the history of boxing or the growth of the Holocaust industry, Krystal paints broad subjects with precise brushstrokes. Erudite, lettristic, and informative, his essays are still accessible to the general reader. The reason is simple: as Dr. Johnson noted, "What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure." To this one might add that there is satisfaction to be had in the effort itself. How else could one write as committedly and entertainingly about Paul Valery's Cahiers as about Joe Louis's left jab?

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About the Author:

Arthur Krystal is a full-time essayist, part-time editor, and sometime screenwriter. He has edited Jacques Barzun's The Culture We Deserve and A Company of Readers, a selection of essays written by Barzun, W.H. Auden, and Lionel Trilling for The Readers' Subscription and Mid-Century Book Clubs. Krystal's own reviews and essays have appeared in The American Scholar, Harper's, The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, The Washington Post Book World, The Times Literary Supplement, Sports Illustrated, and Arts & Antiques.

Review:

Cantankerous freelancer Krystal (Agitations: Essays on Life and Literature) here offers his second collection of literary essays, including pieces previously published in The American Scholar, Harper's Magazine, and The New Yorker. The book's title is a riff on Goethe's phrase, "Experience is only half of experience." As Krystal notes in the opening, he's not one for churning out commercially viable personal essays, or as he bluntly puts it, "creative non-fiction nonsense." Instead, we are treated to a well-crafted set of eclectic essays covering subjects ranging from the history of the typewriter, to ex-slave turned pugilist Tom Molineaux, to the Mid-Century Book Society. As with his previous work, his latest output derives its strength from Krystal's dry wit and his seeming inability to pull any punches. Consider the way, for example, in an essay on Raymond Chandler, he dispatches Kingsley Amis's praise for Mickey Spillane's skill at moving his plots forward: "Arrant nonsense. Bad writing by itself is sufficient to stop the action and Spillane is 95 percent bad writing." Whether you agree with him or not, this is refreshingly good stuff. Recommended for all libraries. --William D. Walsh, Library Journal

Krystal makes a vigorous case for the virtues of old-fashioned literary criticism, twitting the navel gazers of creative nonfiction, which he dismisses as just a fancy word for memoir: Writing interestingly about Jane Austen requires more imagination than confessing to having slept with someone named Jane Austen from Beaumont, Texas. Krystal ranges widely, taking on subjects ranging from the typewriter to boxing, and he s not afraid of weighty topics: he slogs through the notebooks of Paul Valéry, ponders different theories of beauty and offers a defense of the seven deadly sins. ( On the whole, he writes, it helps to have sin around; it s like having a set of instructions for building a life that God approves of. ) In My Holocaust Problem, Krystal (whose grandparents died in the camps) complains that the profusion of Holocaust books, films and memorials the pomp and circumstance of remembrance has trivialized the event. If the argument isn t terribly original, he subtly ponders the obligations of remembrance. In his charming concluding essay, Who Speaks for the Lazy?, Krystal returns to justifying his underachieving ways: Let s face it, some boys and girls become writers because the only workplace they re willing to visit is the one inside their heads. --Matthew Price, New York Times Book Review

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Book Description David R. Godine Publisher, United States, 2007. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The twelve essays in The Half-Life-the title is from Goethe s Experience is only half of experience-go deeper than the standard book piece; they hew to the line first drawn by Montaigne and later extended by Dr. Johnson, Hazlitt, Woolf and Orwell. Although there may be no preordained way of writing about literature, Krystal takes his cue from Edwin Denby, who maintained that the first duty of the critic is to be interesting. No matter how large the subject-whether it is the history of boxing or the growth of the Holocaust industry, Krystal paints broad subjects with precise brushstrokes. Erudite and informative, his essays are still accessible to the general reader. The reason is simple: as Dr. Johnson noted, What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure. To this one might add that there is satisfaction to be had in the effort itself. How else could one write as committedly and entertainingly about Paul Valery s Cahiers as about Joe Louis s left jab?. Seller Inventory # FLT9781567923285

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Book Description David R. Godine Publisher, United States, 2007. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The twelve essays in The Half-Life-the title is from Goethe s Experience is only half of experience-go deeper than the standard book piece; they hew to the line first drawn by Montaigne and later extended by Dr. Johnson, Hazlitt, Woolf and Orwell. Although there may be no preordained way of writing about literature, Krystal takes his cue from Edwin Denby, who maintained that the first duty of the critic is to be interesting. No matter how large the subject-whether it is the history of boxing or the growth of the Holocaust industry, Krystal paints broad subjects with precise brushstrokes. Erudite and informative, his essays are still accessible to the general reader. The reason is simple: as Dr. Johnson noted, What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure. To this one might add that there is satisfaction to be had in the effort itself. How else could one write as committedly and entertainingly about Paul Valery s Cahiers as about Joe Louis s left jab?. Seller Inventory # FLT9781567923285

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