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These two brilliant novellas from a great American writer and friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald are the best of his work before he was killed in a car accident in 1940. They are darkly satirical. Miss Lonelyhearts is about a man who takes on writing the agony column in a paper as a joke, before he is changed utterly by the raw emotion of his correspondents. The Day of the Locust one of the first great works written about Hollywood with great prescience is nigh apocalyptic and provides the namesake for Homer Simpson. West was a greatly gifted writer with a particular facility for remarkable similes and metaphors. ~ Reviewed by Dafydd Wood
I’m really not sure why Lewis isn’t remembered or read as much as he used to be; he wrote some of the most gorgeous, memorable sentences of any early- to mid-century American novelist. A winner of the Nobel (largely for this book), his political novel It Can’t Happen Here is perennially reissued depending on the state of the republic. But I think Babbitt is his masterpiece. George F. Babbitt is a stereotypical American businessman and the progenitor of the classic type of conservative, materialistic consumer yearning for conformity familiar to all readers. But he is humanized and transformed by the end of the novel (and caused the word “Babbitt” to enter the lexicon). H. L. Mencken loved this book, and Edmund Wilson said that Lewis had a great gift for “making people nasty.” ~ Reviewed by Dafydd Wood
Like the other modernist poets, there are things not to like about Yeats the person and some poems and plays here that might best be skipped (e.g., "A Stick of Incense," the plays in general, and his arcane theosophy), but he very well might be my single favorite poet (at least sometimes). His early work is gorgeous, magical, and rightly remembered like the "Lake Isle of Innisfree" with its “lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore.” But it’s really his late work, after a profound transformation in his style, that catapults him to his stature as one of the greatest poets in the language. Beyond the consistently-anthologized poems like "The Second Coming," virtually everything from 1928's The Tower through to the end of his life is remarkable. Even if one might not agree with his politics, his metaphor for the turbulent times of the Irish Civil War is perennially apropos – “We are but weasels fighting in a hole.” His long poems and sequences are major accomplishments, even if he is, as the Welsh poet Leslie Norris said, "the greatest stupid poet." ~ Reviewed by Dafydd Wood
This collection of essays from the music critic for the New Yorker is a delightful grab bag of his best work (outside his contemporary classic The Rest Is Noise). The initial essay charts his personal musical growth from classical music to pop via the lunatic fringe of the experimental ends of both bleed into one another and where genre demarcations aren’t helpful. From there he covers Bach to Björk, Radiohead to John Luther Adams, Kurt Cobain to John Cage, with great stops on the way like the multifaceted effects of recording on music. ~ Reviewed by Dafydd Wood
This is Beckett at his funniest. I think it’s just about my favorite play of the 20th century. The blind, perpetually bleeding Ham can’t stand up. His servant Clov runs around to do his bidding and can’t sit down. Ham’s parents Nagg and Nell live in trash cans, having lost their legs to a tandem bike accident. The world is “corpsed.” There might be a crablouse, a rat, and a crawling survivor outside all of which the damaged survivors inside want dead. Witty, electric repartee and Buster Keaton-type pratfalls. Nihilism has never been this fun. ~ Reviewed by Dafydd Wood