Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Knock on Wood

Over at The Elegant Variation, Mark Sarvas has posted the entirety of James Wood's list of Best-Written Books Since World War II. The surprises, at least I think they'll be surprises, for his many web-based detractors include: William Burroughs, The Naked Lunch; Toni Morrison, Sula & Beloved; Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 & V; and Don DeLillo, White Noise. There are also two authors in this list immediately adjacent that struck me as an interesting pair: John Ashbery, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror & Selected Poems; Geoffrey Hill, Collected Poems. Interesting because where Hill is too little read, too little known, to easily dismissed for his subject matter, Ashbery is perhaps exactly the inverse.

This post mentions two of the great powder kegs of the internet literary rabble: James Wood and John Ashbery. I wonder if they'll be any notice. But while we're on the subject of James Wood, Scott at Conversational Reading (who recently interviewed my boss) shares his thoughts on Wood and on an article by Daniel Miller at Prospect that dethrones a king who never was one.

All this fuss about the man when all he wants is for us to talk about the books!


Matt said...

The only thing wrong with his Ashbery pick is that he didn't choose the entire Collected Poems, 1956-87.

Daniel E. Pritchard said...

Perhaps it was a conscious choice? I've found reading his collections cover to cover tedious for long stretches.

Matt said...

I've found reading his collections cover to cover a lotta fun for long stretches. Ah, opinions...

Stephen said...

I took your sentence from about a year ago here, of January 19, 2008, to mean you don't think much of Hill:

"a poet whose work is obtuse but not often of much merit, [...] an author who dislikes readers and who, in the end, is not much more than a very late (and not successful) faux-Modernist."

But lately you've mentioned him a couple of times favorably. Were you just paraphrasing William Logan's dismissal in that post, or were you paraphrasing and agreeing? If the latter, I'm wondering what changed your mind. And if the former, apologies for my not making out the sense.

And I like the idea of someone being an unsuccessful faux-modernist, like a nuclear technician's incompetence making him a fine pastry chef.


Daniel E. Pritchard said...

Stephen —

Yes, I was paraphrasing WL there, which wasn't clear in the post. I'd only known of Geoffrey Hill at the time as a name infrequently but favorably dropped when I encountered the review; I'd intended to comment really to the prominence of the article.

I'm still not familiar with Treatise on Civil Power — I will be soon though; I'm working on a long essay regarding Hill — but I have since come to admire Hill's work enormously. It might become my pet project to see that his work is more well-known.