Critical Mass

Critical LIbrary: Joan Acocella

By Eric Banks

Each week, the NBCC will post a list of five books a critic believes reviewers should have in their libraries. We recently heard from New Yorker dance and books critic Joan Acocella. Here are the books she named:

Erich Auerbach, “Mimesis.” The great, and great-souled, review of Western literature as a history of changes in the representation of reality. Written in the forties in Turkey, where Auerbach was hiding from the Nazis, and probably awaiting the death of Western literature.

George Orwell, “A Collection of Essays.” The essays on Dickens and Kipling, both of them unfashionable at the time (World War II), are models of a morally informed criticism.

Edmund Wilson, “The Shores of Light.” ( book reviews of the 20s and 30s) and “Classics and Commercials” (40s). This is as good as journalistic criticism has ever gotten in the US.

Frank Kermode, “Romantic Image.” A clear discussion of an often befogged topic: how late nineteenth-century Symbolism turned literature into what it is now. When I read this book, I understand my time.

Dwight Macdonald, ed., “Parodies.” Parody is one of the higher forms of criticism, and a consolation to the critic in his/her dark hours. This famous collection includes A. E. Housman’s “Fragment of a Greek Tragedy,” the best parody ever written.

Joan Acocella writes about dance and books for The New Yorker. Her books include Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism, Creating Hysteria, Mark Morris, and, most recently, Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints: Essays. She will be appearing this Thursday at the NBCC’s panel on Edmund Wilson.