Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Critical Library: George Scialabba

By Eric Banks

In this series, the National Book Critics Circle will post a list of five books a critic believes reviewers should have in their libraries. We recently heard from former Balakian winner George Scialabba, whose most recent book is the just published collection What Are Intellectuals Good For? Here is what he pointed out as worth keeping in your library at all times.

The Winners:
Marcus Aurelius, Mediations: In life’s stressful moments – you are expertly snarked; your piece is rejected; an enemy (or worse, a friend) wins a coveted award – open the Meditations and drink a long, calming draft. Better than Prozac.

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Red Bull for the thinking man or woman. Will make you much smarter.

D.H. Lawrence, Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers, vols 1 &2: Lawrence was either a dangerous madman (Bertrand Russell’s verdict) or an indispensable corrective for the ills of modernity. With all possible respect for Russell, I think Lawrence was the twentieth century’s greatest seer and sage.

George Orwell, The Complete Essays, Journalism, and Letters (4 vols): Says all the needful things and omits all the needless words.

Edmund Wilson, Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1930s and 40s (Library of America): How it’s done.

Honorable Mention:
Gore Vidal, United States

Lionel Trilling, The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent (ed. Leon Wieseltier)


Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (3rd edition, 1979):  A huge literary candy jar, which you will never get to the bottom of.

Fowler’s Guide to Modern English Usage (2nd – not the 3rd – edition): Still supremely authoritative, because he doesn’t merely prescribe, he also explains.