Blatt’s approach sounds unorthodox, because, as he so aptly notes, we are used to studying literature in a granular way. We spend days, weeks, months on the reading and analysis of one work. We draw conclusions about culture and place until we exsanguinate it, and then we place it within a broader canon. What Blatt’s numbers can do is study the aggregate, massive swaths of work that can reveal broader trends than any single book can. More data, as far as science is concerned, is always better. The more points one can make coalesce into a picture, the better the odds of that picture being accurate.
“The line-by-line quality of that purple prose is the novel’s greatest strength and biggest flaw. There are flashes of stunning beauty, like when Mendelsohn describes Steven’s chest rising and falling like an empire or a dress of “threaded nothingness.” But Mendelsohn is at her best in House when things are at their worst. At times, she can come across as tautological (“She sees his fall as she sees her fall. The dropping from a great height. The gulf between high and low.”) To be fair, this is the bane of most florid writers, this reviewer included, who struggle beneath the weight of many metaphors and similes. There is, in the weakest moments, a sense of great talent with little aplomb.”
“The sociopathic Gerard, a fearsome boy who is introduced setting a kitten ablaze, torments both siblings. A genuinely disturbing and well-written villain, he is far more monstrous than the creature from the ocean; the terror he causes bleeds off the page, and the reader’s only response to his arrival is a despondence even the most famously savage of characters cannot hope to inspire. There are more disturbing constructs—the internecine consciousness of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman springs to mind—but few paralyze with their capacity for violence and blank-eyed brutality as Gerard does.”
Read the rest of my review of Carl-Johan Vallgren’s The Merman in Paste Magazine
“Perhaps it is the endless parade of titles from either side of the turn of the 20th century or the frequent allusions to reading as an older pleasure that leads one to feel that the bookman of Dirda’s stripe is an endangered creature, doomed to wander amongst the stacks of forgotten novels until one day the bones between the boxes resemble the much adored paper between the covers.
This could not be further from the truth. A cursory glance at the endless supply of book-themed articles, quizzes, lists and ephemera offered by such a new media institution as BuzzFeed proves the idea wrong. These are typically not reviews, literary criticism or even essays; they often appear to have little to do with the written word at all.
But they are a new generation—a new medium—bathed in books, the browsings of a culture of literary polymaths and ambassadors like Dirda have begot.”
“The peloton is the great pack of huddled cyclists whipping around whatever godforsaken corner of race course these animate skeletons have the greatest blessing and curse of propelling themselves through. It is the dangerous, many-limbed, many-wheeled core of the race.
Away from the dramatic ball lay the escape artists, the smaller, swifter packs battling amongst each other to propel one of their own, their chosen one, to victory in the race. And well behind the pushing, heaving mass are the stragglers, the world class made seemingly pedestrian, by virtue of injury, technical difficulty, force majeur, calamity or simply being out of their depth. And finally, behind all of these, there is the lanterne rouge.”