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spoko

spoko

Currently reading

The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia
David E. Hoffman
The Master and Margarita
Mikhail Bulgakov, Diana Burgin, Katherine Tiernan O'Connor
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
Arun Gandhi, Marshall B. Rosenberg
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Eric Metaxas, Timothy Keller
Parting the Waters: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement 1954-63
Taylor Branch
The Path to Power
Robert A. Caro
The Nature of Nebraska: Ecology and Biodiversity
Paul A. Johnsgard
Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
Robin D.G. Kelley
Cutting for Stone
Abraham Verghese
Creationists: Selected Essays: 1993-2006 - E.L. Doctorow

Doctorow's collection of essays—mostly on authors and their works, with a couple of notable exceptions—is a fine idea, but not very compellingly executed. In any individual essay, his tone might be described as lofty, or academic. But consistent as it is throughout the collection, it takes on a rather imperious, even arrogant cast. These are a series of judgemental (rather than critical) essays, most of them composed in the thoroughly presumptuous first-person plural. Do "we" really see these things this way? Yes, we do; E.L. Doctorow said so.

It's probably no coincidence, also, that Doctorow concerns himself almost exclusively with men in this collection (again, with a notable exception), and that when he does speak of women (even in the aforementioned exception) he does so dismissively. He tosses away Dickinson in half a sentence. I'm not a particularly ardent fan of hers, but I have to admit that he never won me back over after that.

I can't recommend the book, but since I keep mentioning exceptions, let me carve one out. The penultimate essay on Einstein is very good. It's insightful and illuminating, and ironically tells more about the act of writing than any of the previous essays—all of which are devoted to literature. This essay also eschews the plural form of the first person which I mentioned above, and that helps immensely.