How do you describe the life and times of John Horne Burns? He was in turn a military intelligence officer, a schoolteacher, a critical darling after he published The Gallery, a pariah after he published anything else, and a gay man in post-WWII America. In characteristic concision, Ernest Hemingway summed the whole thing up thusly: “There was a fellow who wrote a fine book and then a stinking book about a prep school, and then he just blew himself up.”
“We live in the age of opinion — offered instantly, effusively and in increasingly strident tones. Much of it goes by the name of criticism, and in the most superficial sense this is accurate.” The New York Times approached six accomplished critics, Stephen Burns, Katie Roiphe, Pankaj Mishra, Adam Kirsch, Sam Anderson, and Elif Batuman to explain, in the spirit of Alfred Kazin, “what it is they do, why they do it and why it matters.”
At The New Yorker, Sarah Miller humorously learns why only positive book reviews might be a bad thing. “If St. Petersburg is the Little Engine That Could of city names, then the main character, Raskolnikov, is the Little Engine That Could of elderly pawnbroker murderers,” she writes in her review of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
“I war-gamed out everything. My biggest fear was that somebody tries to play out my book and finds out it won’t work.” At The New York Times, Alexandra Alter writes about the new Minecraft novel by Max Brooks, author of World War Z: “In the process, he may have also created a strange new entertainment category, one that hovers somewhere between fan fiction, role-playing games and literature — a novel set in a game, that can itself be played within the game.” And while we’re on the topic of games, let’s also talk about geekdom and race.