Literary Critic

Who would you recommend? Who has given you the most insight into literature?

My favorite has always been Harold Bloom. Though as I get older, I find myself disagreeing with him more and more.

With literary critics you’re better off with getting a Norton anthology of literature up to the moderns … after that its all up in the air. Literary critics come in so many shapes and sizes now, with different agendas, its hard to reccomend one for anything general. Harold Bloom is good on getting most of the general authors down, but alot of his criticism is based on his theory of influence and alot of Freud shit… which is really more geared toward the modern and past that.

Sometimes authors themselves make the best critics… like TS Eliot on the symbolists and on poetry. Nabokov on Russian Literature (though he kind of despised Dostoevsky).

Actually I really don;t know much of critics that read alot of classic and contemporary that are even. So many are either marxist, feminist, freudian… i actually like to read more of the critics that come from a religious background and know there stuff…


I agree completely. One of my favorite critics is John Updike. Some of his writing in the NY Review of Books have been the best literary criticism I’ve ever read. The same holds true for poetry. Randall Jarrell was a good poet but an outstanding poetry critic and commentator. Alas, he died in 1965.

I don’t know any current critics I consistently like and look for.

I have a gift subscription to the NY Review of Books which I like though. About half the articles are stuffy and pretentious and about half are actually just essays that either aren’t reviews, or which list a couple of book titles at the top but then go on to talk about what the essayist is interested in. That leaves about 1/4 of the content each issue to be useful book reviews, and another 1/4 to be interesting essays. A lot of the reviews are on authors or artistic subjects I would never look into myself normally, so they are fairly educational and worthwhile to me. Oh yeah, the acerbic letter column wars between the reviewer and either the author or a defender of the author are quite amusing.

However, if you’re looking for a source of reviews of current fiction, the NY Review is just not a good place. From time to time something which would show up on the “new fiction” desk at a bookshop might actually be reviewed there, but it is pretty rare.

Jean Tisdale has done some great reviews of her favorite paperbacks.

It’s hard to know who to trust these days. A few years back, I read a story or two (one may have been in the late Brill’s Content) about all the under-handed stuff that goes on in this profession–like assigning an author’s mortal enemy to review his latest book, or the practice of “log-rolling” (two writers penning flattering reviews of each other’s books). It left a bad taste in my mouth and it’s still there.