Robert M. Adams (1915-1996) was a founding editor of the Norton Anthology of English Literature. He taught at the University of Wisconsin, Rutgers, Cornell and U.C.L.A. His scholarly interested ranged from Milton to Joyce, and his translations of many classic works of French literature continue to be read to this day.

A Self-Made Man

Alfred Kazin’s modest memoir, Writing Was Everything, marks its author’s entry into his ninth decade. This, if ever, is a proper time to summarize and retrospect. (I remember the surprise with which I learned that my classmate and coeval at Columbia College, Thomas Merton, had written and published to acclaim …

Wonderful Town?

Under the gleaming neon sign that reads HONEST JOHN, USED CAR SALESMAN you’re sure of at least one thing. Nobody advertises himself or his product as “honest” who doesn’t have very good reason to know that people will expect the contrary. Ann Douglas of Columbia University titles her new book …

Bloom’s All-Time Greatest Hits

The project is formidable, and to be approached from below, while one looks up to it: nothing less than an explanation and defense of the Western world’s literary tradition from beginning to end, supposing it has either beginning or end. To encompass the outline is one thing; to fill in …

Lighting Up Shakespeare

The author of four substantial scholarly books, numerous editorial interventions, and various critical articles, Anne Barton is a lucid and witty writer whose learning is both extensive and solidly grounded. Though born in America and a graduate of Bryn Mawr, she has lived and worked most of her adult life …

The Great Perhaps

Donald Hall’s brief memoir, Life Work, is, as he himself declares, a bit of a brag about the amount of work—poems, books, lectures—he has been able to accomplish since giving up an academic job. On this point he can expect widespread corroboration from graybeards scattered around the country. An awful …

Boys Will Be Boys

Though in colloquial usage it’s become something else, a guy began as a dummy, something to kick around, and out of a number of such masculine boobies, Garrison Keillor has made a book. Keillor has done sketches of this nature for rectial on television—he is best known as the laureate …

Death in Montana

The crucial event of Norman Maclean’s last book (he died in 1990) was a forest fire in the rugged western mountains of Montana. The fire took place in August of 1949; Maclean, who was then and had been for years a member of the department of English at the University …

Cornering the Market

Jim Crace is a British writer who has just published his third work of fiction without having made much impression in his first two. This seems likely to change soon. Born in London in 1946 but resident in Birmingham, Crace is apparently tied to no literary group of academic or …

Fatal Triangles

René Girard’s new book interprets Shakespeare’s plays psychologically, but from an unfamiliar perspective. Girard analyzes Shakespeare as a writer who was once alive and possessed of recognizable attitudes and intentions, some of which can be related to the patterning of the plays. An old-fashioned book about Shakespeare, in other words, …

Frontier Fantasies

William deBuys’s first book about New Mexico dealt with the Sangre de Cristo mountain range and its fate at the hands of trappers, miners, loggers, land-grabbers, naturists, and “sportsmen” who descended on it in successive waves. Each group had its own interests to impose on the hills, the southernmost range …

Fall of Valor

The new book by Robert Stone is a tough Irish-American novel set mainly in and around New York harbor. Its themes are contemporary and touched with cruelty; its prose is as hard as that of John O’Hara, which is high praise. Though basically it is an action story, and Stone’s …

The Wizard of Lake Cayuga

Outsize literary biographies have been appearing for a long time now; they used to carry a rider like “The Life of So-and-So Narrated in Connection with the History of His Times,” which allowed ample space for divagation. Nowadays the bare bones of a biography are likely to be covered with …

The Floating Operetta

Robert Pirsig’s first book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance(here-after ZAAMM), appeared in 1974—seventeen years ago—and the memory of it still lingers, green and cheerful, in the mind. It was a byproduct of thatlow-tech, do-it-yourself movement which produced, under the auspices of The Whole Earth Catalogue, a rash of …

A Good Minestrone

Harold Brodkey’s big book The Runaway Soul appears before us trailing a long prepublication history, many high commendations, and a counterfoil of questioning if not derogatory comments. Associated and overlapping materials have already been published in two collections of short stories (First Love and Other Sorrows, 1958, and Stories in …

The Reality Game

Describing his father in the early pages of “a novelist’s autobiography” boldly titled The Facts, Philip Roth said, “Narrative is the form that his knowledge takes, and his repertoire has never been large: family, family, family, Newark, Newark, Newark, Jew, Jew, Jew.” And, Roth adds, with a characteristically sharp reversal: …

Metropolitan Opera

The Conscience of the Eye is the third volume of what has developed into a trilogy—or at least a triad—on urban culture. The first two volumes were The Fall of Public Man (1977) and Palais Royal (1986). The first was a sociological study, the second a novel; the present book …

Was Cratylus Kidding?

The Platonic dialogue titled Cratylus is a long-standing puzzlement. Its theme is announced firmly and clearly in the first couple of lines; it will deal with the question whether names are natural or conventional—whether there is a truth or correctness in them which is the same for all, or whether …

Liberators

Some years ago a society of malcontents planted a large bomb under the roadway leading from Colombey-les-deux-Eglises to Paris. They exploded it almost on time, and blew up, instead of General de Gaulle, a car full of his bodyguards and secretaries. The general emerged from his undamaged vehicle, surveyed the …

Tripping Over the Future

Are we drifting anywhere in particular? How can we know where we’re going when we aren’t even sure where we are? Where, for that matter, are we coming from? And, to pay our respects to the ultimate question—who the devil is we? These are large and busy questions, much mooted …

Lucy and Lucifer

The situation of universities in societies where they’re allowed to have a situation at all (where, in other words, they’re not just part of the bureaucratic apparatus) has always had a monastic coloring. In the castle and on the plain, lord and peasant go about their accustomed pleasures and assigned …

From Abailard to Les Zutistes

The new mode in history seems to be upon us. Hard on the heels of Columbia’s vast Literary History of the United States comes Harvard’s New History of French Literature, both weighing in at over a thousand pages, and distinctively new and different in the number of authors employed as …

Juggler

The obsessed or distracted scholar, who knows so much about the cosmos in general that he doesn’t see what’s under his nose, is an ancient figure of fun. Thales of Miletus was the first. The foremost astronomer of his age, he was walking home one night with his eyes fixed …

Balancing Act

The new work of fiction by Julian Barnes is his fifth since 1981, and about as much entitled to the name of a “novel” as to the name of A History of the World. Like its predecessor, Flaubert’s Parrot, it is a novel in deep disguise. Setting aside the matter …

I Porni

The core of I modi is a collection of sixteen pornographic sonnets in Italian with sixteenth-century Italian woodcuts appended to most of them. How the book came into being, and the many vicissitudes through which it has reached us, make up a long story—so complex that it has to be …