Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs

James Wolcott. Doubleday, $30 (512p) ISBN 978-0-385-52779-8
In essays previously published in the 1990s and 2000s, Vanity Fair culture critic Wolcott (Lucking Out) fires off acerbic surveys of cultural fads and preoccupations, taking a special interest in punk rock, film noir, comedy, and the literary canon of “Great White Males.” The aesthetic that binds the volume is what the author succinctly calls “the writing I’m proudest of, happiest with, the pieces that carry a lift.” Of the school of “hard-throwing” criticism, distinct from “snack-dip entertainment” reporting and the nut-gathering of “squirrel-scholars,” Wolcott wields the same powers he admires in his subjects: “intelligence, wit, style, and a prodigious range of reading,” with an “eye for the succinct, telling detail.” Wolcott, quoting novelist Kingsley Amis, says, “Importance isn’t important. Only good writing is.” Wolcott’s prose is agile, alert, kinetic; the sentences swing and hustle, cratered with barbed metaphor. Wolcott has few idols and no saints; he deplores shoddy technique, gooey sentiment, platitudes and punditry, and takes the occasional goofy jab at himself. Forthright and fair-minded, but ferocious in disdain, with the sly, smart voice of someone in the know but never caught up in the moment, this collection might be “an uncoated pill,” but it preserves an unforgettable specimen of “that New York specialty—the well-informed wise guy.” Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse Cheney Literary Associates. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/19/2013
Release date: 10/15/2013
Open Ebook - 401 pages - 978-0-385-53691-2
Paperback - 528 pages - 978-0-7679-3063-5
MP3 CD - 978-1-5113-4038-0
Show other formats
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!