The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays

James Wood. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-15956-6
This collection of 23 essays gathered from the New Republic, the London Review of Books, and the New Yorker offers the latest proof that Wood (How Fiction Works) is one of the best readers writing today. Devouring these pieces back to back feels like having a long conversation about books with your most erudite, articulate, and excitable friend. To read his essays on the works of Norman Rush, Aleksandar Hemon, Leo Tolstoy, or Lydia Davis is to relive the specific brand of joy created by a particular work of genius. Wood’s reviews are never just evaluations; more often they are passionate, sensitive discourses on the variations of authorial voice, the nature of memory, or the burden of biography. Wood’s critical writing on Cormac McCarthy, Joseph O’Neill, and Thomas Hardy is bookended by two moving personal essays. In the National Magazine Award–nominated riff “The Fun Stuff,” Wood exalts the skills of Keith Moon, writing that the drummer’s “playing is like an ideal sentence of prose... a long, passionate onrush, formally controlled and joyously messy, propulsive but digressively self-interrupted, attired but disheveled, careful and lawless, right and wrong.” Wood’s veneration of virtuosity reminds why we’re reading at all—because we still believe that it’s possible to find transcendence in great art. Isn’t it fun to think so? (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 07/30/2012
Release date: 10/30/2012
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