I first became aware of Vivian Gornick through her collection of essays, including quite a number of book-review items, Essays in Feminism, and her book-length survey, Women in Science. (It didn't hurt my feelings any that many of my favorite writers within the 1960s-onward resurgence of feminism were particularly interested in literature, from Joanna Russ to Gornick to Joyce Carol Oates to bell hooks.) In this small, charming book she highlights what she learned from some of her favorite male writers, not only in how to put prose together but also in how to handle the pressures and slights, the alienation and disappointments life is likely to dump on writers...even when they are men from the dominant ethnic and even social groups of their time and place...they are each given their own short essay: V. S. Naipaul, James Baldwin, George Gissing, Randall Jarrell, H. G. Wells, Loren Eiseley, Allen Ginsberg, Hayden Carruth, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth. (Of these, I'd barely heard of Gissing, and haven't as yet read any Carruth that I remember, but was glad to be introduced thus.) It's a charming, thoughtful book, a hardcover from Boston Review Books/MIT Press the size of a reasonably slim mass-market paperback, and while it isn't the Gornick to start with (that would probably be Essays in Feminism or Fierce Attachments), I'm glad we have it.
I'd cited the publication of this one previously, but decided it's time for a capsule review...Algis Budrys, more than anyone else reviewing books in the fantasy/sf media with the occasional exception of his fellow critic in the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the 1970s, Joanna Russ, was passionately engaged in not only limning the qualities of individual works in question but also helping to place the significance of the art at hand within world literature, and not afraid to draw our attention to works supposedly outside our canons (it didn't hurt that he was also reviewing a wide range of books for The Chicago Sun-Times and contributing critical-historical essays to the likes of TriQuarterly in those years). And he did so with a dry wit and elegance that few others could match. The latter '70s were a relatively hopeful and prosperous time within the fantasy/sf community (even as the wider US economy, at to some extent that of the West generally, was stagnant at best) and the efflorescence of various interesting new developments in publishing didn't escape Budrys's sometimes skeptical, sometimes enthusiastic attention...he even had not completely implausible (if slim) hopes of being on a major television chat show to plug his first new novel in more than a decade. With Tolkien setting new sales records for hardcover fiction and this new guy Stephen King beginning to reliably appear at the top of bestseller lists (and not they alone), and science-fantasy films repeatedly dominating pop culture, and fantasy and sf generally seeming to gain ever more attention from wider audiences at various levels, it was an interesting time to be looking critically at the fields. As this volume demonstrates.
Please see Patti Abbott's blog for more of this week's books.
David Redd's much better review of the Budrys than any I have yet written.