Critical Mass

From the Critical Mass Archives: Gary Giddins on Wilfrid Sheed

By Jane Ciabattari

In the early summer of 2007, NBCC winner Gary Giddins listed the books he most anticipated, including “The House That George Built,” the last book by Wilfrid Sheed, who died Wednesday at 80. Giddins called Sheed “the great comic novelist whose Max Jamison should be an honorary member of the NBCC, along with his creator,” continuing, “Sheed is also a devoted connoisseur of great songwriters, including George Gershwin, whose building involves such co-architects and tenants as Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Warren, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, and Frank Loesser. For seigniorial judgment, there is Alec Wilder; for wit, romance, and inspired digression there is only Bill Sheed.”

In his review of “The House That George Built,” Garrison Keillor wrote, “Sheed’s jazzy prose is a joy to read. It goes catapulting along, digressing like mad, never pedantic, a little frantic, which is just right: the jazz song, like all true art, is a flight from depression, indifference, the cold blank stare, the earnest clammy touch.”