Selected Essays, 1993-2006
By E. L. Doctorow
Random House Trade, Paperback, 9780812975642, 176pp.
Publication Date: September 11, 2007
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Just what is Melville doing in "Moby-Dick"? And how did "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" impel Mark Twain to radically rewrite what we know as "Huckleberry Finn"? Can we ever trust what novelists say about their own work? How could Franz Kafka have written a book called Amerika without ever leaving Europe? In posing such questions, Doctorow grapples with literary creation not as a critic or as a scholar but as one working writer frankly contemplating the work of another. It's a perspective that affords him both protean grace and profound insight.
Among the essays collected here are Doctorow's musings on the very different Spanish Civil War novels of Ernest Hemingway and Andre Malraux; a candid assessment of Edgar Allan Poe as our greatest bad writer; a bracing analysis of the story of Genesis in which God figures as the most complex and riveting character. Whether he is considering how Harpo Marx opened our eyes to surrealism, the haunting photos with which the late German writer W. G. Sebald illustrated his texts, or the innovations of such
literary icons as Heinrich von Kleist, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Sinclair Lewis, Doctorow is unfailingly generous, shrewd, attentive, surprising, and precise.
In examining the creative works of different times and disciplines, Doctorow also reveals the source and nature of his own artistry. Rich in aphorism and anecdote, steeped in history and psychology, informed by a lifetime of reading and writing, "Creationists" opens a magnificent window into one of the great creative minds of our time.
"From the Hardcover edition.