The Fun Stuff And Other Essays
There are critics, and then there is James Wood. After successes, resounding at that, with "The Broken Estate," "The Irresponsible Self" and "How Fiction Works" the man now delights with "The Fun Stuff And Other Essays." This time around, he casts a critical eye over the modern novel.
Basically, this is a collection of Wood’s work published in some of the greatest magazines on the newsstand today, ranging from The New Yorker, The London Review of Books and The New Republic. And he skips no one, critiquing the work of authors from Norman Rush (from "Mating" fame), Garcia Marquez, John Fowles, Calvino and Kazuo Ishiguro (the genius behind "Never Let Me Go").
Wood himself is enough of a luminary in academia (think: Harvard) to bring the selection, and I guess all his writing, to a simpleton and give it serious fizz, pizazz, and extra oomph. He teaches about life, the universe and all of it in between, but that’s just his way. It seems easy to digest and even to swallow at first -- but it remains pertinent and delicious long after.
The man also writes to entertain: From homage to Keith Moon to expansion on W.G. Sebald’s "Austerliz" and a nod to V.S. Naipaul, an illuminating essay on Ian McEwan... and let us not forget a question-dripping session on Cormac McCarthy and "The Road." Could you read it again and again? Yes, and you have to as the insights are far reaching.
The author, probably one of the best currently writing, knows what you should have read and what you’re still going to read, and so he points you in all the right directions to tackle a modern novel from the best places. He’s not too snobby, a little resistant and most of all critical -- not just when it comes to theme and structure, but in terms of essence. He allows you to bring yourself to the brink along with his critique and show you the face in the pond is, well... you.
But maybe most valuable, in a time of NSA and Snowden madness, is the way in which the great Mr. Woods looks at Orwell (oh so very different to the fantastical Christopher Hitchens’ "Why Does Orwell Matter") and breaks his oeuvre open yet again. Is Orwell truly the socialist? What is he after when he poisons the rich and feeds the poor? Is this just the sideswipes of a Big Brother in the making? But only Wood can take you down this road, because you cannot but help trust him completely. Maybe less fun stuff and more necessary stuff indeed.
"The Fun Stuff And Other Essays"