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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Literary criticism"..., 10 May 2011
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Living by Fiction (Paperback)
... the subject phrase grates like chalk pulled across an English classroom's black board. At least for me. It conjures up images of writing critical papers on a school-assignment novel, struggling with concepts like symbolism, and at more advanced levels, "deconstructionism." All in an effort to get the "right" answer, which was how the teacher wanted us to "see" a particular novel. I still remember giving a verbal "book report" to the class on Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception & Heaven and Hell (P.S.), and the "right" answer was to assure the teacher that drug use was bad. In the sciences the "right" answer seemed to come easier, and certainly more objectively. Which was why I only "had" to take two years of English in college, which may be a key reason why I still read.

Annie Dillard is best known to me for her excellent Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Perrennial Modern Classics) and An American Childhood. My appreciation of these works helped me overcome my natural aversion to the "subject" of literature. And I was richly rewarded. She wrote this book almost 30 years ago, when she was about 35, and just her erudition is dazzling (and humbling). Not only had she read so many of the major and minor contemporary writers, but she can deftly compare their strengths and weaknesses. There is Carlos Fuentes, Marcel Proust, James Agee, Nabokov, Borges and on and on. As she says in the introduction, she "...attempts to do unlicensed metaphysics in a teacup."

Dillard examines the transformations of various elements in modern fiction, noting that time is no longer linear, and that characters have changed from the familiar depictions of Charles Dickens to the more outlandish ones of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Thomas Pynchon. The point of view of the novel can now be multitudinous, from Faulkner's As I Lay Dying to Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet: Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea.

The author's style is dense and rapid fire. There is a lot to "chew over." Consider the following concept, which seems to become truer with every passing year: "Fuller's assertion was roughly to this effect: the purpose of people on earth is to counteract the tide of entropy described in the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Physical things are falling apart at a terrific rate; people , on the other hand, put things together." (Or, I guess that is the optimistic interpretation.)

As for the issue of our schooling in English literature, Dillard has the following observation: "Students also study Joyce, Faulkner, and Woolf in the classroom, but they usually read Nabokov and Pynchon on their own, just as our professors a generation ago read Joyce on the sly." She goes on to explain that modern language departments, fighting for their lives, insist that students need to read authors in the original language, and thus English students may therefore lack genuine knowledge of European and Latin American fiction. Oh, how true.
The novel most cited in this book is Nabokov's Pale Fire (Penguin Modern Classics)), enough so to place it high on my "to-read" list, and is just one of the reasons this stimulating book on the very nature of contemporary literature merits 5-stars.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on March 18, 2011)
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars stimulating and thought-provoking, 3 Jun. 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Living by Fiction (Paperback)
I thought Ms. Dillard distinguished herself with this literary piece of literary criticism. She got into some pretty deep and convoluted places with this book, but I felt that every point was well-made and well-taken. I feel the book is an education in itself. Loved it!
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Living by Fiction
Living by Fiction by Annie Dillard (Paperback - 30 Sept. 1988)
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