Writing About Writers

Creative Criticism 101

What could be better than reading great writers writing about other great writers?

Book Cover J.C. Hallman, editor of an inspired anthology, The Story About the Story: Great Writers Explore Great Literature (Tin House), has already exhibited a commendable ambidexterity with his nonfiction (soon to be a useless descriptor) tome The Devil Is a Gentleman: Exploring America's Religious Fringe, a companionable investigation of the chess culture (The Chess Artist: Genius, Obsession, and the World's Oldest Game), and a collection of short fiction (The Hospital for Bad Poets).

The anthology he has assembled of about 30 essays features an all-star list of writers (living and dead)--such as Frank O'Connor, William Gass, Wallace Stegner, Albert Camus, Milan Kundera, Dagoberto Gilb, Seamus Heaney, Susan Sontag, James Wood, E.B. White, Hermann Hesse, Cynthia Ozick, Geoff Dyer, Charles D'Ambrosio, Alan de Botton, Sven Birkerts, and Oscar Wilde--discussing the work of other literary greats, including Marcel Proust, J.D. Salinger, Franz Kafka, John Keats, Malcolm Lowry, T.S. Eliot, Anton Chekhov, Robert Lowell, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Henry David Thoreau, Cormac McCarthy, Truman Capote, and John Steinbeck. My favorites are Ozick's declawing of Capote and Gilb's homage to McCarthy's The Border Trilogy and Blood Meridien. But really, this volume is just overflowing with delightful prose and thinking.

Beyond the brilliant writing about outstanding writers is Hallman's astute brief for so-called Creative Criticism. People who know what I am talking about include The Quarterly Conversation:
Quite plainly, we were taken aback by how precisely the author had laid out our own aspirations for criticism in this magazine. The piece, in our humble opinion, points toward an educated, unpretentious form of literary critique that serves both literature and the everyday reader. When people want to know what we're looking for in this magazine, we'll point them to Hallman's essay and those he has collected in the book it prefaces.
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