As Wood moves between his approved texts, I was reminded of Henry James’s short story “The Great Good Place”. This satirical tale conceives heaven as a “sort of kindergarten”; nothing provides a challenge (and hills resemble gigantic bosoms). There is something of this in Wood’s writing about the books he owns. It is, like Mrs Wix, “safe”. This is why I found myself wishing away his occasional grace notes. “What a piece of writing that is!” he exclaims about Henry James. “How fine that is”, he adds after quoting a sentence by Marilynne Robinson. It is sometimes hard to distinguish a gasp of admiration for another’s skill from the contented sigh when the books in one’s study satisfy one’s own theories. James Wood is best, it seems, when interrogating how fiction works, rather than exclaiming over it. In any case, one thing that novels teach you is that you have to feel things for yourself. (read the rest here)I agree that those do sound like some throwaway lines there, and also that any wide-ranging claims based on the books on your own shelves are bound to reflect and reinforce your own prepossessions (though as a professional reviewer, Wood does presumably own a lot of books that exceed the limits of his personal taste). Still, I must get my hands on this book--unfortunately it is not yet released in Canada, and, sadly, it's out of stock at the Book Depository (I'm still dazzled by my first experience with their low prices and free overseas shipping). Well, I suppose I have enough to read, what with starting He Knew He Was Right next week with my seminar and all.
February 6, 2008
The TLS Weighs in on Wood's Latest
The TLS has its review of How Fiction Works up: