Critical Notes

Roundup: Great Critics, David Foster Wallace, Joseph Heller, and more

By Mark Athitakis

What makes a great critic? Maria Bustillos asks the question at the Awl, and answers in part: “What we really need is a critic who has got something interesting to say. Who is writing something that we would like to read. Whose aliveness just comes out and grabs you by the throat and makes you think, or go pop-eyed with amazement, or throw your monitor across the room in a fit of rage. As a lover of good criticism, I am asking, or demanding (more like begging, really), that this passion and immediacy be the first quality that should recommend a critic to public notice.”

The “recursive self-second-guessing” that’s common in much of our discourse these days, Maud Newton writes, may have a chief instigator in David Foster Wallace.

Philip Turner recalls working with William Styron in the Barnes & Noble Review, quipping, “Being an editor allows me to express my latent religiosity, since I spend so much time praying for my books.”

Heller McAlpin reviews two new books about Joseph Heller in the Washington Post; Carolyn Kellogg covers them for the Los Angeles Times.

Jane Ciabattari interviews Lev Grossman about his new novel, The Magician King, at the Daily Beast.

Donna Seaman reviews Hilary Masters’ Post: A Fable for the Kansas City Star.

David Ulin reviews Laura Lippman’s The Most Dangerous Thing in the World in the Los Angeles Times.

Maureen Corrigan reviews Helen Schulman’s novel This Beautiful Life for NPR.

Adam Kirsch revisits Robert Stone’s 1998 novel, Damascus Gate, recently reissued in paperback, for Tablet.

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