Critical Mass

What Are You Looking Forward to Reading, Richard Brody?

By David Haglund

Critical Mass has been querying writers all summer to see what they're reading. Here's what 2008 Criticism finalist Richard Brody had to say:

An unusual run of work has cut into my pleasure reading, which, lately, I find myself doing mainly on the subway or in the “third place” of a café. This makes portability a priority, which is why my summer-reading plans involve a big, fat, heavy book that I’ve been impatient to read since it landed in my eager hands: The Genius, the hitherto-unpublished original 1911 version of Theodore Dreiser’s The “Genius”. I’ve always been troubled by the quotation marks with which Dreiser ultimately burdened his quasi-autobiographical protagonist, as if he considered his subject to be society’s view of the artist rather than the inspired artist himself. (Of course, the censorship that the book faced proved him, at least to some extent, to have been right.) At home, I’ve started to read the original, more inward portrait of the artist; it’s more sprawling and contradictory than the later version, as if the material of his life were poured onto the page with less shaping and more immediacy. Dreiser was, indeed, a genius both of immediate experience and of collective power, and I’m curious to see how the battle between them tilted in these earlier rounds. But the lovely and treasured volume (of which the University of Illinois Press should be proud) is big and heavy, far too bulky to schlep around the city except as a particularly self-punishing form of exercise. That’s why, if our family vacation comes off as planned, I intend to spend a good part of it on a chaise longue, in a rocker, or at a kitchen table, exulting vicariously in the strivings of a crude, blundering, yet determined and visionary young man—in a similarly harsh yet energetic era—in pursuit of art, money, and love.

Richard Brody was a finalist for the 2008 NBCC Award for Criticism for Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard. He worked in various capacities in the film business (including documentary researcher, writer, and producer) and in advertising before writing and directing Liability Crisis, an independent feature film released in 1995. He began writing book reviews for The Forward in 1996 and started writing about cinema for The New Yorker in 1999. For the last five years he has been the magazine’s movie-listings editor; he also writes film reviews, a column about DVDs, and a blog about movies, The Front Row. (Photo: Alex Remnick.)