Literary critic James Wood left a comment at New York's Vulture blog, objecting to its prior characterization of his new book How Fiction Works. It is not, he says, a "prescriptive guide to writing one kind of book," nor is there is any such thing as "the high realist novel," and even if there were, he would not be its Zhdanovite champion. He esteems "stylistic flourishes," for one — just don't go thinking you can write a pretty little book about nothing. In its defense, Vulture argues that nowhere does Wood actually deny being the leader of a new lit school; the original post referred to Leon Neyfakh's Observer profile of exultant, MFA-carrying Woodies, which quoted the master as saying that his favorite remarks are from writers who claim his essays helped them escape this or that brier patch in their own work. Not sure that makes him a didactic commissar so much as just good. Full comment after the jump:
With the publication of his newest book, How Fiction Works, James Woods has found himself the recipient of praise that struggles to contain itself. Frank Kermode in TNR compared it favorably ("a much more substantial study") to E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel. Gideon Lewis-Kraus in the L.A. Times panted through a Best in Show allegory about whether it was proper or paltry to call Wood our finest literary critic before deciding, at the end of his review, that that's just what he is. And today Judith Shulevitz in Slate sort of likens Wood to Dr. Spock because his treatment of literature reminds her of the advice given by a nurturing but authoritative parenting mentor (Emily Bazelon must have edited that piece). Yes, James Wood is very good indeed, but isn't this collective gush somewhat unexpected for a critic so long and notoriously associated with the New Republic school of moralizing discouragement? Either it's a testament to his unignorable genius or to the fear with which most other reviewers regard him that he's been pan-fellated in the press.
Leonine New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier comments on the New Yorker in the wake of that publication's hiring of TNR book critic James Wood: "It would be hard to comment on the difference between The New Republic's audience and The New Yorker's audience without sounding vain and snobbish. The pieces we publish, they're more argumentative. They're more agitated and more agitating. They make more fights. They're more scholarly. We allow a touch of wildness." Also a touch of bullshit!